The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Vol. 18 No. 2 (Summer 2016)

A Word on Behalf of Good Haters

Jeffrie G. Murphy

The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Summer 2016

(Volume 18 | Issue 2)

Dear Bathurst was a man to my very heart’s content; he hated a fool, and he hated a rogue, and he hated a whig—he was a very good hater!
—Samuel Johnson

A good hater? Given the current influence of assorted bad haters, even in American politics, alas, many people have come to think that all hatred is a bad thing—a character vice of the worst sort that renders all haters loathsome and dangerous, and indeed lies behind much of the evil in the world today. So it is common to think that the worst sort of assaults are those motivated by hatred (hence the concept of “hate crime”), and that the worst sort of speech—now replacing obscene speech—is speech expressive of hatred (hence the concept of “hate speech”).

Such is the negative rhetorical power of the label “hate” that those who want to condemn some behavior will often do so by calling it hatred even if there is little or no reason to think that hatred in any ordinary sense of the word is involved. So anyone who opposes increased immigration will almost certainly be charged with hating immigrants even if the opposition is based solely on a desire to keep one’s society stable in its traditional form. Although some people who are concerned about massive immigration of Muslims into their country probably do hate Muslims, many of them may be motivated by a fear of increased influence in their country of people with little understanding of liberal democracy, whose accustomed form of government is totalitarian theocracy rather than strong separation of church and state, and who have not been taught the kind of respect for women that liberal democracies advocate. This fear may be largely unjustified, and may reveal insufficient sympathy for the plight of many refugees and other immigrants, but it is productive of neither intellectual nor moral clarity to call it hatred, since this will focus the discussion on an emotionally charged label in such a way that rational discourse will not be possible.

Since some hatred seems universal among human beings—if not, why is there so much preaching against it?—the emotion probably was once evolutionarily advantageous. Those entrusted with defense of their group against outside attack might have found in hatred of the enemy a bit of extra motivation. This might be useful for soldiers as well, since it might be easier to kill the enemy if one regarded him as a “rapist murderous monster” rather than “my fellow human being.” (Such hatred might be hard to turn off, of course, and lead to mistreatment of prisoners or civilians, since, as Nietzsche counseled, one who fights with monsters must take care not to become a monster; furthermore, being evolutionarily advantageous is not the same as being morally right.)

Where did the idea originate that hatred is, without qualification, a terrible vice? I suspect that, at least in Western societies, it came largely from Christianity. The Christian faith teaches that we are to love everyone—even those who persecute us—and must never hate other human beings no matter what they have done. Why? Because they have all been created in the image of God and are beloved of God—a God who commands love and forbids hate.1

But is such a view reasonable on secular grounds? Kierkegaard (a theologian to reckon with) thought not, and in his Works of Love—with his characteristic blending of wit, nastiness, and piety—said that even casual observation of human beings (“my very unpoetic neighbors”) reveals that many of them are anything but intrinsically lovable, and thus, absent a divine command, there is no good reason to love all of them, and perhaps good reasons even to hate some of them.

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  1. Christians, following the teachings of St. Augustine, generally profess that one may hate the sin but never the sinner. But how can this distinction be drawn in cases in which the sinner (I prefer to say “wrongdoer”) gleefully engaged in the wrongdoing (fully and enthusiastically threw his whole self into it) and subsequently remained unrepentant, and even delighted to have been its author? Think of some of those who have done the work of “ethnic cleansing” in concentration camps and remain glad of it.

Jeffrie G. Murphy is Regents’ Professor of Law, Philosophy, and Religious Studies at Arizona State University. He is a past president of the American Philosophical Association and presented the 2010 Stanton Lectures to the Divinity Faculty at the University of Cambridge. His most recent books are Punishment and the Moral Emotions (2012) and Getting Even: Forgiveness and Its Limits (2003).

Reprinted from The Hedgehog Review 18.2 (Summer 2016). This essay may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission. Please contact The Hedgehog Review for further details.

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Published three times a year by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, The Hedgehog Review offers critical reflections on contemporary culture—how we shape it, and how it shapes us.

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