“Everything that opposes the strivings of his egoism awakens his dislike, his anger, his hate: this is the mortal enemy, which he tries to annihilate.”
Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality (1840)
If a fly begins to buzz round my nose when I am dozing in a lawn chair, I will strive to kill that fly. I may begin with a few threatening waves of my arm, but since few flies are daunted by threats, my annoyance will end with a swat. I desire peace, the fly desires whatever it is that a fly desires, and the resulting clash of our striving egos means there is not enough room in this world for the both of us.
Thus, my desire for the pleasure of a nap gives birth to my desire for the death of that fly. Sigmund Freud called this desire the death-wish, or really the death-drive (Drang nach dem Tod), a phrase by which he meant to indicate our drive to destroy anything that stands in our way.
In his words,
“In our unconscious we daily and hourly do away with all those who stand in our way . . .”*
And, sooner or later, everything and everyone stands in our way. For as Schopenhauer tells us,
“Egoism is, from its nature, limitless . . . . If it were possible, he [any given man] would like to possess everything for his own pleasure . . . . If each person were allowed to choose between his own destruction and that of the rest of mankind, I need not say what the decision would be in most cases.”
* * * * *
A man naturally hates anything that stands between him and the object of his desire, and utter annihilation of this opposition is the most primitive and natural expression of his hate. Speaking of the man who stood between himself and the throne of England, the future Richard III had this to say,
“Would he were wasted, marrow, bones and all,
That from his loins no hopeful branch may spring,
To cross me from the golden time I look for.”**
This is hatred pure and simple. Edward and his heirs stand between Richard and the “golden time” of kinghood that is his “soul’s desire.” Richard (a hideous hunchback) therefore desires their annihilation.
“And yet I know not how to get the crown,
For many lives stand between me and home.”
But he quickly perceives that to get the crown, he has only to act on his hatred and take those lives.
“Why I can smile, and murder whiles I smile.”
* * * * *
There is in this world a large and obstreperous cult of men who would have us believe that they could not hurt a fly. Like Tennyson’s poet, they tell us that they were born with a “hate of hate,” but that apart from this one antipathy, they are strangers to the death-drive or Drang nach dem Tod.*** They admit that they look upon “haters” with feelings akin to those with which Richard looked upon his brother Edmund and his sons, wishing them “wasted, marrow, bones and all,” and desiring that from their loins “no hopeful branch may spring,” but these haters of hate would have us believe that they look upon the rest of mankind with universal love.
The best I can say of these shriveled prudes is that they are hypocrites and liars, since the death-drive is just as natural to man as the sex-drive. It is also, to be sure, just as susceptible to perversion and just as conducive to madness, but a man (or woman) who lacks the death-drive is more grievously maimed than a castrated eunuch.
The death-drive is what the ancients called spirit, and as Plato explained in his Republic, spirit is the root of courage, fidelity and honor.
“And is he likely to be brave who has no spirit? . . . Have you never observed how invincible and unconquerable is spirit, and how the presence of it makes the soul of any creature to be absolutely fearless and indomitable?”
If you quail at the phrase “absolutely fearless and indomitable,” let me point out that its opposite is a man who is “more or less cowardly and servile,” and that any quantity of cowardliness and servility is contemptible in a man. Let me also point out that a “fearless” man is not always a fierce man, and that an “indomitable” man is not always a domineering man.
In other words, it is entirely possible—indeed it is eminently desirable—to combine gentleness and spirit in the soul of a single man. As Plato explained, men with “spirited natures” are not necessarily “savage with one another.” They are not always fierce and domineering. Making an analogy with a well-bred watchdog, Plato says that men can and ought to be “dangerous to their enemies, and gentle to their friends.” They ought to combine “a gentle nature” and a “great spirit,” because they will otherwise be as useless as a savage watchdog that always attacks, or a servile watchdog that always runs away.
Like a good watchdog, a good man hates the right things.
“A dog, whenever he sees a stranger, is angry; when an acquaintance, he welcomes him . . .”
In other words, a good watchdog has a healthy capacity for hatred (i.e. spirit or the death-drive), but he directs his hatred rightly.
“He distinguishes the face of a friend and of an enemy.”
And the same is true of any good man, as he is required,
“to unite in himself philosophy [knowledge of the good] and spirit and swiftness and strength.”
Or as Aristotle put it in slightly different terms:
“Good and worthy men are prone to be indignant; for they judge well, and hate what is unjust . . . . Men of a servile disposition, bad men . . . are not prone to indignation.”†
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It is said that Christianity imposes a cruel and crippling shame over the natural impulses of the sex-drive, but this is nothing compared with the cruel and crippling shame that it imposes over the natural impulses of the death-drive, or hate. I have known men of the cloth who went out of their way to assure me of their red-blooded appetite for female companionship, but I have yet to hear anyone confess to an appetite for red blood.
Beside this horror of spirit, the Victorian horror of sex looks positively bawdy.
There is, as it happens, a great deal of hate in the Old Testament, but the most interesting hate is that which God feels for those who fail to honor him and the things that he loves. In the language of the Old Testament, these hateful men “served strange gods,” but their idolatry appears to have been but the first step in a general moral inversion, or what Nietzsche called a “transvaluation of values.”
“Because they have forsaken me, and have sacrificed to strange gods, provoking me by all the works of their hands: therefore my indignation shall be kindled against this place, and shall not be quenched” (2 Kings 22: 17)
God’s hate is, in other words, the indignant hate that Aristotle’s good and worthy men feel for injustice. Do not be deceived by the narrow modern meaning of this word injustice, which properly means to give excessive or insufficient honor to anyone or anything.
Hate in the New Testament resolves into three classes. There is the hatred that Christians are told they must expect from worldly men (men who are indignant when Christians give insufficient honor to worldly men and things), there is the hatred that Christians are told not to feel for these “enemies,” and there is the hatred that Christians are told not to feel for their “brothers.”
With respect to the hatred that Christians are told not to feel for their enemies, I believe this means their enemies as Christians, or what we might call the enemies of Christ. In other words, Matthew 5:44,
“But I say to you, love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you,”
should be read in light of Matthew 10:22,
“And you shall be hated by all men for my name’s sake.”
Jesus came into the world to save sinners, not punish them, and is here telling his followers to do likewise. But he is not, I submit, commanding Christians to castrate themselves and become simpering and servile eunuchs without spirit. He is warning against religious enmity and the impulse to put infidels to the sword, but he is not, I submit, saying that a Christian must be a worthless watchdog who licks the hand of any burglar or assassin who climbs through a window or over a wall.
The third class of hate that the New Testament treats is found in John’s first letter, and as I said, this is the hate that Christians are told not to feel for their “brothers.” For instance, here is 1 John 4:20:
“If any man say, I love God, and hateth his brother; he is a liar.”
I am of the opinion that, if John had meant to say “anyone whatsoever,” he would have written “anyone whatsoever,” and that he therefore chose the word “brother” with a reason. I am also of the opinion that the words “brother” and “neighbor” were synonyms in a tribal society where most people lived in villages that were the compounds of extended families. Thus the command to “love thy neighbor” is semantically equal to a command love thy brother, and a command not to hate thy brother is semantically equal to a command not to hate thy neighbor.
I am lastly of the opinion that this command must be understood using the uniquely Christian definition of brotherhood that is given in the parable of the Good Samaritan, surely one of the most abused passages in scripture. This parable was given, you know, in answer to the lawyer’s question, “who is my neighbor?” And as I just said, he could just as well have asked, “who is my brother?”
Jesus answers this question with a parable that asks, who shows true brotherhood to the Jew in the ditch? Jesus is telling the lawyer that he is in the position of the Jew in the ditch; he is not telling the lawyer (as abusers of the parable would like you to believe) that he is in the position of the priest, the Levite or the Samaritan on the road. The point of this parable is not that the lawyer should be like the good Samaritan and help strangers out of ditches, but that good Samaritans who help him out of ditches are his real “brothers.”
The brother of the Jew in the ditch is, therefore,
“He that shewed mercy to him.”
Now, if we interpolate this with 1 John 4:20, we get,
“If any man say, I love God, and hateth he that shewed mercy to him; he is a liar.”
The sin of which John speaks is therefore the form of injustice we call ingratitude, and as we have seen, every form of injustice arouses the indignant hatred of God. God especially hates the man who returns evil for good, and this is what is meant by the phrase “hateth his brother.”
* * * * *
Like the sex-drive, the death-drive can get out of hand. Hatred can be directed at the wrong object, and it can be stoked to incandescent levels by a pornography of violent resentment. But, again like the sex-drive, the death-drive is part of man’s natural endowment, is essential to his survival, and is sure to putrefy if it is repressed by a shameful horror of spirit.
It is well that we remember Schopenhauer’s dictum that “egoism is, from its nature, limitless,” and that men are therefore prone to fall into a universal war of egos in which, as Plato said, all men are “savage with one another.” Savagery is boundless egoism and indiscriminate hatred, and I have no wish to bring us any closer to that.
I did not write this essay in the hope that you will become more like Richard III.
But it is also well that we remember that mortification of the death-drive can get out of hand. When men are taught “hatred for hate,” they become either hypocrites or castrati of the soul.
Remember Plato’s question:
“And is he likely to be brave who has no spirit?”
Obviously, he is not. A man with no spirit is a worthless watchdog who licks the hand of any burglar or assassin who climbs through a window or over a wall.
And given what scripture tells us about the sinful injustice of ingratitude, we can only suppose that God hates a worthless watchdog, be that watchdog savage, or be that watchdog servile.
*) Sigmund Freud, Reflections on War and Death (1918)
**) Shakespeare, Henry the Sixth, part 3 (1591)
***) Tennyson’s “hate of hate” is not exactly equivalent to the “anti-hate” zealots of today, and really reflects the New Testament meaning discussed below. The most natural reading of the line “hate of hate” is “hatred of those who hate the good.” In any case, the line comes from his poem “The Poet,” whose date of composition I am too tired to run down.
†) Rhetoric, chap. xi.