Love and Hate





Love and Hate



Hate has had a bad rap for the last two thousand years. We have been urged to love not hate, especially by Christianity (the ancient world didn’t take this view, advocating wisdom as our chief virtue). Hate is thought to lead to violence, exclusion, and self-corrosion. We should try to extirpate hate from our soul, leaving only love and benign indifference. But this seems to me misguided: the well-regulated psyche must contain suitable amounts of both love and hate. Hate is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to suppress; instead it should be cultivated and even celebrated.

The OED defines “hate” as “intense dislike” or “strong aversion”. There is no moral component here, presumably because the lexicographers wanted to include things like hating asparagus or loud noises. But I want to focus on the kind of hate that comes with moral disapproval: intense dislike of, or strong aversion to, morally reprehensible things, for example cruelty and injustice. Surely we are entitled to hate cruelty and injustice—we certainly shouldn’t love these things or regard them with indifference (like curly hair or freckles). And we should hate people according to whether they instantiate these traits—we hate people for instantiating them (this is not to say we blame them for that). It is surely acceptable to dislike injustice and be averse to it, so how can it be wrong to do so intensely or strongly? If we love justice and kindness, shouldn’t we have the opposite attitude towards injustice and cruelty—and what is that but hatred? We hate what is wrong or evil, as we love what is right and virtuous. Don’t those who vehemently decry hatred actually hate it? Don’t they hate haters? Hatred is simply the natural, rational, emotional attitude towards the morally bad—it what we feel in the presence of evil.

            It might be replied that hatred is bad because it leads to persecution and violence against the innocent. But that is hatred of the wrong things: we must hate only what is hateful, as we must love what is lovable. Mistakes about what is hateful can be made, but that is a point about knowledge and judgment not about the emotion itself. Nor need the emotion lead to immoral actions in cases in which it is justified; hatred must be tempered and restrained. Feeling hatred is not the same as acting on it, still less acting immorally from it. Hatred must certainly be controlled by reason, and it must not become excessive or obsessive, but in itself it is perfectly right and proper. Some things are objectively hateful and hatred is our reasonable response to these things.

            Reasonable and also useful: for hatred stiffens resolve, motivates right action, and fires the engines of moral progress. Without a hatred of slavery it is doubtful that it would have been stamped out when it was—and I mean an absolute visceral hatred. Hatred of Hitler surely played a motivational role in ending his evil acts. Mild disapproval or indifference is not enough to rouse people to fight evil; it is necessary to feel real hatred in order to rectify certain wrongs. This is why I say that hatred should sometimes be cultivated and encouraged.

            But isn’t hatred an unpleasant emotion and one that can corrode a person’s soul? It is not the same as corrosive anger, though the two are connected, and it can sometimes lead to despair and a general lowering of the spirits. But it can also be invigorating, clarifying, and satisfying—it lets you know where you stand, what you really believe in, what you are prepared to die for. It sharpens your values; it shapes your character. It is not wish-washy or lazy or morally numbing. Hate is a sign of being morally alive—which is one way of being alive. Of course, one must hate the right things and properly regulate one’s hate-life (as with one’s love-life), but hatred is not in itself anything negative or nasty. Maybe it would be nice to feel nothing but love all the time, but in the world in which we live that is a luxury we cannot afford; and to try to force it upon people is a form of sentimentalism. Hatred is simply the appropriate response to the moral reality we encounter.

            Hatred distinguishes us from animals, or at least most of them. Animals can clearly love and clearly feel fear (and many other emotions), but they don’t seem to feel hatred. This is because hatred is a moral emotion: the antelope does not hate the lion because that would imply a negative moral evaluation—instead of simply fearing for its life. I wonder when hatred made its entry into the biological world and under what circumstances. It is certainly a universal aspect of human life now (I have never heard of a remote tribe who feel no hatred for anything or anyone). Did hatred arise from moral judgment or was it a precondition for moral judgment? Did those who felt no hate do less well in the evolutionary contest than those replete with it? Is hate innate?

            To be sure, there are questions about the role of hatred in our emotional economy, and dangers that it poses. How much should we hate? What is the proper degree of hatred towards this or that thing or person? When does hatred become excessive or pathological? Can we love and hate the same thing or person? Would it be healthy to hate more than one loves? What if a person was surrounded by hateful things and felt the corresponding emotion, with never any relief in the form of love for lovable things—would that be unhealthy or ill advised? Should we let our hatreds dictate our larger life plans? Does a person dominated by (justified) hate find it harder to love what is lovable? These are all good questions, but they don’t count against the general point that hatred is a good and useful emotion; in fact they are the questions that need examination once it is accepted that hatred is a legitimate and valuable emotion. Hate is not all we need, but it must be part of it.


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