Hatred Alone is Immortal

Why we should be concerned, above all, with the education of the passions.

Alan Jacobs in The Hedgehog Review: Recently I happened to read, in the course of a single day, two interesting, intelligent, and well-meaning essays. The first, by New York Times columnist David Brooks, concerned the dominance in our own moment of doom-mongering, catastrophism, and (of course) the endless festival of blaming associated therewith. The second, by Harvard University law professor Jeannie Suk Gersen, addressed the attack on freedom of speech from both left and right and how that attack threatens the conditions required for academic freedom.

Both of these essays are admirable in many ways, but both of them, I believe, fail to reckon with the essential thing: Many Americans, as far as I can tell, don’t want to shape their views in accordance with the data; many Americans, again as far as I can tell, don’t want to create an environment in which a broad range of perspectives are freely articulated and peacefully debated. They don’t want to be hopeful about the possibilities of America. Nor do they want academic freedom in our universities. What many people want, what they earnestly and passionately desire, is to hate their enemies. A few years ago J.D. Vance—now a senator, then a political neophyte—uttered The Creed of Our Age: “I think our people hate the right people.”

Hate as much as you can, and in the end it will never, can never, be enough; and all that will be left to you then is self-loathing… This, I think, is where the culture of our media, and our academic life, is headed…we are moving toward…an ever-blooming festival of contempt and blame that will—inevitably: caveat lector —culminate in all the varieties of self-loathing.

And that’s why the essential text for our time is an essay written almost exactly two hundred years ago by the English writer William Hazlitt: “On the Pleasure of Hating.”

Hazlitt begins by noting the presence of a spider in his room—a spider which, let us say at the outset, he does not kill. Indeed he prides himself on refraining from violence. “A child, a woman, a clown, or a moralist a century ago, would have crushed” the creature—but “my philosophy has got beyond that.”

Perhaps we today flatter ourselves similarly. After all, little more than a hundred years ago, as Beverly Gage has documented in her fascinating book The Day Wall Street Exploded, a captain of industry or a king or a president stood a good chance of being assassinated by rifle, handgun, or bomb… More here.