Magazine August 10, 2020, Issue

‘Hate,’ You Say?

Demonstrators kneel in protest while President Donald Trump’s motorcade passes, Washington, D.C., June 2, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
On the use and misuse of the word of the day

I  live in a neighborhood full of very nice high-income white progressives, which means that I get to take in a great deal of literal virtue-signaling when I go for a walk. It is, as the yard signs inform us pedestrians, “No Place for Hate.”

You have heard it before: “He must be banished — we are inclusive!”

Perhaps you have seen the signs in your own neighborhood: “In this house, we believe: Black Lives Matter, No Human Is Illegal, Love Is Love, Women’s Rights Are Human Rights, Science Is Real, Water Is Life, Injustice Anywhere Is a Threat To Justice Everywhere.” We have one of those signs every eleven houses or so in my neighborhood. “Love is love” — impossible to argue with that kind of cutting-edge thinking. (The Williamsons do not display any sign, but, if we did, it would read: “No Trespassing.”) Another sign features a red interdictory circle over the familiar tangerine-toned countenance of President Donald Trump and the slogan: “No Hate.”

“Hate” is a word that, like “inappropriate” and “empathy,” has been worn out utterly. It is like the steps on one of those ancient temples in Italy that, having been ground down by so many tourists climbing up, can no longer be used to ascend. “Hate” has become just another pile of evocative but structurally useless semantic rubble.

This was, to an extent, baked into the hate cake from the beginning of its evolution away from the Old English sense of to treat as an enemy. The phrase “hate mail” first appears in English in 1951, from way back when somebody had to hate you enough to buy a stamp to communicate the fact to you. “Hate mail” became a loose synonym for “criticism,” in much the same way that “hate” would later be used in a programmatic attempt to delegitimize criticism of the progressive social program.

But “hate mail” did not have the connotation of bigotry that “hate” acquired in the late 20th century, after “hate crime” appeared in 1988 and “hate speech” in 1990. (“Hate-speech” as the literal translation of the Anglo-Saxon hetespraece had appeared in a 19th-century translation.) “Hate crime” and “hate speech” were from the beginning ideological signals, part of a project intended to begin the suppression of certain unpopular and unsavory ideas. Critics of hate-crime proposals at the time asked, not unreasonably, “Is there a good reason to murder somebody?” But, like the yard signs in my neighborhood, this was more a matter of social affinity and aesthetics than one of moral reasoning.

“Hate” is now simply a magic word, part of an excommunication ritual.

Because we have the examples of Canada, the United Kingdom, and Western Europe, those of us who criticize the line of thinking implicit in the concepts “hate crime” and “hate speech” do so in the knowledge that these phrases are markers of a political style oriented toward delegitimizing opposition to whatever version of progressive utopianism is fashionable at any given moment. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which does a splendid little business in the hate space, is happy to lump in unreconstructed Christians, marriage activists, and right-leaning policy groups with the neo-Nazis and skinhead gangs — all of them “hate groups.” For example, the SPLC classifies the Illinois Family Institute as a hate group. IFI, in its own words, advocates one-man–one-woman marriage and believes that the “Obergefell ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court . . . erodes the public understanding of and respect for true marriage and the natural family (i.e., mother, father, and children) as the proper foundation of our society.”

Not exactly Mein Kampf.

But that is how these things go. Joy Behar, traumatized by watching eleven seconds of video from a Trump rally, demanded to know why the president was not charged with a crime for his purported hate speech. (We do not have hate-speech crimes in the United States — yet.) That is the job “hate” does in contemporary American political discourse: It connects dissident social attitudes with crime, criticism with violence, and social conservatism with the Aryan Brotherhood.

Hate, the genuine article, is difficult to pin down. “Hate” is not the opposite of “love.” The opposite of love is indifference, and hate cannot coincide with indifference. You don’t meet people in Kansas who walk around hating tall people or Belgians or model-railroad enthusiasts. The enemy must achieve a certain significance in our eyes — we must esteem him sufficiently to hate him. Think of Coriolanus’s estimate of his greatest enemy, Aufidius: “And were I anything but what I am, I would wish me only he. . . . He is a lion that I am proud to hunt.” We only hate what is significant to us.

Like “love,” “hate” properly used refers to a feeling of connection so intense that it takes on the character of a conviction rather than a mere sensation of the emotions; that feeling of connection is why both literature and history are full of stories of love suddenly transformed to hate at the individual level and vice versa; and, like “love,” “hate” is used promiscuously to refer to lesser phenomena, for example mere repugnance or revulsion.

Ludwig von Mises noted that the familiar kind of racist says he despises blacks because of certain vices and defects he attributes to them (laziness, low intelligence, criminality), whereas anti-Semites hate Jews because of virtues attributed to them (intelligence, thrift, commercial energy, etc.). Hate cannot avert its gaze.

Hate is oriented toward exclusion. In the language of the SPLC, hate in its contemporary political sense seeks to exclude an “entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics,” usually race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, or religion, but mainly when that religion is entangled in one’s ancestry, as with our contemporary anti-Semites and Jews or the old Ku Klux Klan and Catholics. The Jewish ghettos of Europe were an expression of genuine hate and consequent exclusion in its most literal medieval form.

There is an energetic effort underway to exclude certain people from political and community life in our time, but those people are not black, Jewish, gay, or members of any of the groups patronized by those who put out yard signs denouncing hate. Actually, some of them are black, Jewish, or gay (or more than one), but they are targeted because they are political nonconformists. The movement to purge such figures as Bari Weiss from the pages of the New York Times(and Ben Shapiro from the college campuses, etc.) parallels the exclusion of homosexuals in Hollywood back in the days of the “Lavender Menace.” In both cases, those who would enforce the exclusion pooh-poohed any suggestion that it represented organized repression, since the exclusion was done by private actors rather than by law. Both insisted that they were acting in the interest of public morality. Both attributed exaggerated moral defects to the object of exclusion.

In our time, hate exists only when and where it is politically useful for the Left to have it exist. So Mark Krikorian can be a hatemonger if he thinks the United States ought to enforce its immigration laws, but if Representative Ilhan Omar repeatedly traffics in anti-Semitic tropes, she is simply someone who expresses herself poorly (time after time after time), and Louis Farrakhan only adds to the variety and merriment of the American scene. Because the Left seeks to put the entertainment industry under political discipline, an NFL prospect was raked over the coals for having used a homophobic slur in a tweet years ago, when he was 13 years old. But the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s anti-Semitic dismissal of New York City as “Hymietown” has been consigned to the mists of prehistory, along with the Reverend Al Sharpton’s denunciations of Jewish “bloodsuckers” and the rest of the casual Jew-hatred that has long accompanied a certain strain of Democratic politics.

Hate excludes, but it also includes. Hate divides, but it also unites. Communities may be defined by what they hate. The American philosopher Josiah Royce offered the evocative phrase “community of hate” in contrast to the community of love he explores in his landmark work, The Problem of Christianity. For Royce, love is closely associated with loyalty, and the transcendent community of love is that in which our loyalty may supersede our self-interest to such an extent that we may willingly give our lives for it. But history also shows us mad, blind, and suicidal devotion to causes of hate — the community of hate that inspires a loyalty transcending self-love. For Royce and other serious Christian thinkers who have followed the same intellectual path to the same end, this is a matter of grace and a matter of the communal life that is embedded in history, not merely a question of the gradations of individual emotion or the intensity of individual sentiment. From this point of view, hate is loyalty in its cancerous form.

For the Left, it is politically necessary for hate to be simultaneously part of a fringe counterculture (one that must be fought in the streets by black-shirted and jackbooted “antifascists” who are little distinguishable from traditional fascists) and lurking beneath the mainstream culture that rejects race hatred. In a New York Times profile of a reformed white supremacist (“To Stop Hate, We Have to Understand It”), Seyward Darby writes: “White nationalists make explicit ideas that are already coded or veiled in the wider white imagination. Hate is what many people would see if they looked in a fun-house mirror: a distorted but still recognizable reflection.”

This is a cynical exaggeration constructed for obvious political use. But there can be no doubt that we are surrounded by “communities of hate,” and that notable among them are the self-satisfied cliques who, in pharisaic fashion, spend their days in the temple denouncing the sin of hate in others. The signs are all around.

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