Hatred for the Evil

A commenter on Sasha’s post about the anniversary of Lenin’s death seemed put off by the implicit notion that Lenin merits hatred:

Ahhh, how fitting for the Volokh Conspiracy, a message of hatred from the heart on Martin Luther King Day and on the day of President Obama’s second inauguration. Where do you draw the line in celebrating others’ deaths …? What about Czar Nicholas II, officially known as “Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias” and unofficially as “Bloody Nicholas,” whose brutal reign paved the way for Lenin’s accession to power? It’s worth noting that much of the world has regarded several U.S. Presidents as mass murderers….

Some of us are capable of finding joy in the good things without harboring hatred in the heart, which is a heavy burden and likely to fester. Celebrating someone’s death is beyond the pale in my view, but apparently acceptable today in right wing circles.

I just wanted to state for the record that I think it’s eminently fitting for us — and for anyone else — to feel and express hatred for those who are evil, and in particular to think that they eminently merited death and indeed would have merited an earlier one. Hatred is the normal and proper reaction to those who murder, those who enslave, and the like, both on Martin Luther King Day and on other days. (I respect those who choose for themselves to try to love the sinner even when the sin is very great indeed, but I don’t share that view.) Indeed, I think that both those on the right and those on the left hate a good many people, often with very good reason (and sometimes, I hope, they even hate the same people). I know that quite a few people declaim about how hatred is always wrong, and that this commenter isn’t alone, which indeed is why I’m writing this response. I just don’t see the merit of such a position.

Nor do I see the force of the “where do you draw the line” question. One can ask the same of love — oh, you love someone and celebrate their lives? But where you draw the line? If you celebrate Martin Luther King’s life, are you going to start celebrating the lives of those who aren’t as worthy? What about the fact that lots of people love others who are evil — hasn’t that put you off love yet? Well, no: Each of us has to draw the best lines we can, by our own lights. That others disagree with us about whom to love, hate, respect, or condemn doesn’t make love, hatred, respect, or condemnation improper.

And the psychological claim about hatred being supposedly bad for the hater strikes me as rather overstated. It may well be sensible when it comes to people in one’s own lives; forgiving them for their transgressions — unkindness, unfairness, even betrayal — may indeed be better than constantly focusing on how they wronged you, something to which hatred is conducive. But I’m pretty sure that those who hate Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, and the like suffer very little psychological damage as a result.

Finally, it is of course important not to let hatred blind one to other matters, such as the possible evil of the hated person’s enemies, the occasional good that the hated person might have done, the moral entitlement that even a hated person has to justice and fair procedure, the need for honesty in historical accounts of the hated person’s actions, the need to calculate pragmatically how to deal with the hated person’s ideological heirs, and so on. But of course that’s a normal concern with all emotions, including love.

So some might well think they are holier than me in their lack of hatred — come to think of it, being holier than me is no great feat — but I don’t buy it. Hating the evil, like loving the good, is in my view a perfectly sensible reaction to horrific crimes.

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