Meritocracy and its Discontents   /   Summer 2016   /    Essays

A Word on Behalf of Good Haters

Where did the idea originate that hatred is, without qualification, a terrible vice?

Jeffrie G. Murphy

Portrait of Samuel Johnson, c. 1778–1780, by James Barry (1741–1806); National Portrait Gallery, London; Bridgeman Images.

What would a reasonable secular view on hatred look like?

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.

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