There Can Be No Justice Where There is No Hate

There is a car in the parking lot outside my workplace that bears a bumper sticker that says “Fight Hate.”  I presume the owner of this automobile is one of those sanctimonious simpletons who imagine that this is primarily a fight between social factions, between white hats and black hats, between angels and devils.  If I haven’t met the owner of this automobile, I have met many like him, sweet and sanctimonious simpletons for whom hate is an shameful psychosis that that afflicts other people.

I take hate to be a profound sense of injury and a profound thirst for revenge, and I accept that hate is a natural human emotion.  Like every emotion, hate must be curbed round with self-control and social sanctions, but there is no escaping hate, and those who claim to have done so are liars.

Have you ever smashed your thumb with a hammer, and then thrown that hammer on the ground with a curse?  If you are not the hammering kind, insert whatever tool you please.  That sudden and rather ridiculous flash of anger was hate.  You sensed an injury and you slaked your thirst for revenge by throwing the hammer on the ground.  Humans differ only in the drama with which they express such flashes of hate.

I mention this example of hammer and thumb only to indicate the ubiquity of hate.  In one of his short stories, Evelyn Waugh tells of a man named John Verney who had an acute sense of injury and a powerful but repressed thirst for revenge.

“In all the annoyances of army life that others dismissed with an oath and a shrug, John Verney’s eyelids drooped wearily, a tiny grenade of hate exploded and the fragments rang and ricocheted round the steel walls of his mind.”*

I believe every honest man will appreciate this metaphor of a “tiny grenade,” and my experience with women suggests that their grenades are not always tiny. But these tiny grenades do not make John Verney into John Verney.  What makes John Verney into John Verney is the “steel walls of his mind.”  These steel walls close the mind of John Verney, but not, I hasten to add, in the way that many sanctimonious simpletons may suppose.  These steel walls aggravate the damage by confining the blast.

Here is Waugh describing Verney’s flaring hate with another striking metaphor.  You will see that Waugh once again emphasizes Verney’s dangerous capacity for containment, and also that he lays his finger on the root causes of Verney’s hate.

“During the war he passed among those he served with as a phlegmatic fellow.  He did not have his good or his bad days; they were all uniformly good or bad; good in that he did what had to be done. . . . . bad from the intermittent, invisible sheet-lightening of hate which flashed and flickered deep inside him at every obstruction or reverse.”

Every human has a will, and every will wishes to have its way.  When your will is blocked by obstruction, or thrown back by opposition, you naturally feel a profound sense of injury and a profound thirst to assert your right to have your way.  This, as we will shortly see, is the root meaning of the word revenge.

We should first observe that injury is properly a moral rather than a medical term.  We certainly use the word injury when we mean wound, but the root meaning of this word is “wrong” or a negation of what is right.  The roots jur and jus have an identical meaning, so that injury and injustice are one and the same thing.  This is evident when we consider that, in our legal system, justice is ultimately in the hands of jurors, or that the highest legal degree is the Doctor of Jurisprudence.

Thus we can say that a man begins to hate when he senses that his will has been thwarted unjustly, and that his consequent thirst for revenge is really a thirst for justice.  This becomes clearer when we recognize that a thirst for revenge normally disappears when a man sees that he was not injured, but was instead wounded by accident or justly punished for his own misdeeds.  Hate is an enduring sense of injury, a sense that one has suffered intentional harm that one has in no way deserved.

This sense of injury may be groundless, but there is no doubt that people are often injured, which means intentionally harmed in ways they do not deserve.  The will of man is thwarted by accidental wounds, just punishments, and unjust injuries.  And in the last instance, it is sheer immorality to condemn his cry for justice by condemning “hate.”

In fact, you cannot be “for justice” and “against hate” because, as I have just argued, hate is the natural human response to a sense of injury or injustice.  Injury is a moral category and hate is a moral emotion.  It is, to be sure, a primitive emotion that must be kept on a very short leash, but to “fight hate” as such is to fight our natural instinct for justice.  Justice is not opposed to “hate.”  It is opposed to hating the wrong things in the wrong ways at the wrong times.

* * * * *

This obviously creates a difficult quandry for Christians who claim that they are working for justice and loving their enemies at the same time.  The most common solution to the quandry is expressed this way:

“Hate the sin but not the sinner.”

While this formula may have some practical utility, it also seems to propose a separation of ego and action that is gnostic rather than Christian.  On the Christian understanding, an unrepentant sinner is his sin.  His sin is not an accident that we can choose to overlook, as we might choose to overlook his unfortunate taste in socks.  So long as he regards it as no sin, it has entered into his essence and he has no being separate from that sin.  Christians of course believe that the sinner can repent and extrude this sin from his essential being, but until he does this, others cannot do the extruding for him.  He is what he is, and he is what he does—and if what he does is injure others, we would seem to have a duty to hate him.

I welcome solutions to this quandry, but will not accept the gnostic solution and will not pretend that the quandry does not exist.

* * * * *

In addition to the sense of injury (a.k.a. injustice), hate entails a thirst for revenge.  In many instances this is the impetuous revenge that “lashes out” with a blow or an insult.  The great objection to impetuous revenge is not that it is revenge, but that the impetuosity precludes examination of the injury to see whether it is, in fact, an accidental wound, a justified punishment, or a true injury.  A second objection is that impetuous revenge tends to be disproportionate to the injury, even when the injury is a true injury.  But I find it impossible to believe that there is anything wrong with revenge as such.

The word revenge means at root to assert a claim or righ.  If you have, for instance, injured my reputation by spreading the false and vile rumor that I am a uniquely bad man, I am right to assert my claim to a good reputation by taking revenge on you.  I may, of course, do this in a injurious or disproportionate manner, and that would be wrong, but to oppose my thirst for revenge is to oppose my thirst for justice.  

There is no real difference between revenge, reparation and restitution, since all describe the means by which justice is restored and injury is made right.  If you steal my bicycle and I assert my claim and ask for its return, I am taking revenge for an injury.  And this is no less true if I assert my claim in a way that causes a justified about of embarrassment, inconvenience and discomfort for you.

* * * * *

We should, of course, “fight hate” that is unjustified.  We should recognize that hate is a primitive emotion that is easily corrupted by egotism.  We should be aware of our tendency to magnify injuries and mete out disproportionate revenge.  Justice demands all of these things.  Beyond simple justice, we should also temper our hate with a good dose of mercy, tolerance and forbearance.  

But we should not “fight hate” as such, because there can be no justice where there is no hate.

*) “Tactical Exercise” (1947) 

24 thoughts on “There Can Be No Justice Where There is No Hate

  1. Pingback: There Can Be No Justice Where There is No Hate | Reaction Times

  2. I once saw someone propose that hate is “the emotion we feel toward that which threatens the things we love.” Therefore the many examples of unjustified hatred out there are ultimately caused by evil or misguided loves (as we might say all sins are).

    As for the quandary surrounding “hate the sin but love the sinner”: I don’t think it is Gnostic to separate a man from a particular action, or even a particular habit. Though evil and damaging, a sin doesn’t necessarily “define a man’s essence” enough to warrant hatred as long as there are other, positive aspects that make up that man’s soul.

    But I do think that changes when the man in question has become so thoroughly identified with a sin that it constitutes the greater part of who he is. Thus it would be wrong to hate a man who caused a great deal of pain to someone once, even if unrepentant; but it would be right to hate a professional torturer because the whole of his existence is tied to that evil. All I can say in the latter case is that perhaps we should love the man’s potential self if we can’t love his current self.

  3. Well, let me get dangerously close to the Gnostics but perhaps distinct enough for the dish to be palatable to you. Heresies are, after all, heresies rather than separate religions because they choose (elevate, emphasize, cherry-pick, ignore, pervert) certain doctrines. And so those semi-pagan Gnostics who caught a whiff of the Gospel nonetheless remembered the aroma of truth.

    God created you and knows you, from all eternity, as an idea in the divine mind (or perhaps as a nexus of ideas, but the metaphysical particularities are not needed here . . . I’m partial to haecceity’s being in the formal structure itself, but that’s another discussion). This ideal you can justly be said to be the “real” you. Hey, it’s what God intends — are you going to defend that Trigglypuff is the truer self of that poor unfortunate soul rather than the awesome creature that she was meant to — and hopefully will, one day, be??? (If you’re ignorant of Trigglypuff, she was an advance scout of the current invasion — look her up.) The Gnostics were not too far off target with their belief in divine sparkyness. You in this world (perhaps the only world, I don’t know) fall quite short of you as you are meant to be. You repeatedly fail at becoming and fulfilling God’s design for you. You miss the mark. I’m not sure about the original Gnostics (I haven’t read dear old Irenaeus in a long time), but I’d say that their intellectual and spiritual heirs in every age err not by recognizing a distinction between their idealized true nature and their historical selves in time and space — but rather by failing to acknowledge that their egos — rather, their souls — are the debased entities rather than the divinely arranged ones. It is not flesh but spiritual sin that has cloven the two — and their pride and lust are the main drivers of that wedge. They lie to themselves when they claim to be on the side of eternal light while they’re headed straight to the outer darkness.

    So, we can hate the sin — and the sorry actual state of a man in this vale of tears — but still love what God created in his own image. This should be confusing, troubling, and painful — because evil is confusing, troubling, and painful. We should not expect it to fall seamlessly in our mental framework; for it is ultimately unintelligible.

    • I agree that there is a right answer to the question of myself, and that the answer I have provided is wrong in many ways. My understanding of the gnostic error is that they say I am really that right answer no matter what answer I provide. My “divine spark” may become encrusted with a carapace of sin and degradation, but they say that this does not dim that inner spark. We see something similar in the more uncompromising forms of Calvinism, which is why it so easily slips into antinomianism. It seems to me that one major theme of the gospel is that actions (“fruits”) matter very much indeed, and that a barren tree is really a barren tree.

      I have no real answer to the question how a barren tree could have been otherwise than barren, and cover my nescience with a not very clear idea of metaphysical freedom. I think this is what St. Paul was talking about with the image of “fighting the good fight.” You know Whittier’s line: “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: what might have been.” It seems to me that the gnostics wish this tragedy away.

  4. “It seems to me that the gnostics wish this tragedy away.”

    This is a great way to put it, and it really marks the peculiar flavor of nihilism that our “Western Buddhisms” take — that this world is nothing . . . an illusion . . . and that our actions (and misdeeds) are likewise illusory and count for nothing. Similarly, that “matter” is unimportant and insignificant. I believe that our Roman friends of an Aristotelian heritage see this nonsense, reject it, and then overreact toward anything faintly resembling it — and thus consider Platonists guilty of it. I disagree, though sympathetically. There is a middle way between father Parmenides and the brute (and incoherent) acceptance of particulars as the really real. Both the Academy and the Lyceum charted this middle path, though each having taken a route closer to one extreme or the other.

    • If the Creation is a meaningless illusion, the Creator is a sadist. If life on earth isn’t a sort of school, then life on earth is a very cruel joke. At least it is a cruel joke for the many humans who are not rich or beautiful. “The unbearable lightness of being” may be agreeable to a hedonist whose life is full of pleasure, but it too much to tell a person that he must lead a life devoid of pleasure and meaning.

  5. I don’t know, I’m guessing anybody wielding the slogan “fight hate” is perfectly aware of its self-contradictory or ironic aspect (since fighting hate pretty obviously requires hating hate).
    If the irony is lost on you, that’s your problem, not that of the hippie with the bumper sticker.
    This kind of irony is found in the very core of liberal culture, One long-standing and well-known problem for liberalism is the requirement of tolerating the intolerant. Such tolerance is fine up to a point but eventually becomes suicidal; the illiberal will roll right over you.

    I presume the owner of this automobile is one of those sanctimonious simpletons who imagine that this is primarily a fight between social factions, between white hats and black hats, between angels and devils.

    That’s a strange conclusion. If it said, “fight fascists” or something like that, sure, but hate is not a faction, it’s something that every human contains to some extent.

    • This post is not ironic, and the hypocrisy of liberals was its occasion but not its theme. It was written as a protest against the representation of contemporary politics as a clash between Justice and Hate, and as a blog-appropriate discussion of the intimate relation between justice and hate. Readers addicted to irony would find much of it painfully earnest. I have reason to know that people with the sentiments of that bumper sticker are dangerous bigots. Like drunk drivers, they glow with artificial courage, run decent people off he road, and then curse the bad driving of those decent people.

      • Maybe you are right: society is built on hate and only fools would dream that it could be otherwise.

        Yet you say yourself:

        We should, of course, “fight hate” that is unjustified.

        So your entire post is based on what seems like a willful misreading, namely that this guy with a bumpersticker means literally to fight all hate, universally and as such, rather than the more sensible interpretation that it means “fight unjustified hate”, of which there is no shortage. From this questionable interpretation you conclude he’s a horrible person in every way.

        I’m curious: given that think we should fight unjustified hate, how are we to go about it? What would you have Mr. Peacenik do, since you don’t approve of his fairly minimal efforts? What do you do?

        It was written as a protest against the representation of contemporary politics as a clash between Justice and Hate,

        Oh I wouldn’t worry about that, peaceniks like your guy with the bumpersticker aren’t very important. The peaceful, nonviolent left never gets much done. The only way to really fight hate (and whatever your quibbles about “representation”, the current American right is clearly the party of hate and not much else) is with more hate, which is why we are seeing an increase in political violence from both sides.

        This is a very odd time to be complaining about peacenik bumperstickers. Hate is having a field day, it doesn’t really need your defense.

      • I expect that the owner of the bumper sticker shares your prejudice and thinks that hate as a property unique to the right (“the current American right is clearly the party of hate and not much else”). I believe this representation is false, dangerous, and transparently self-serving. I believe that hatred and the desire for justice are non-partisan sentiments, that hate is not always bad, and that the desire for justice is not always good. Hate is good when it is directed at its proper objects. The desire for justice is bad when it is inflamed by an illusory injury. What divides the right and left is a disagreement over the proper objects of hate and the most burning instances of injustice. I think we could lower the temperature a little bit if we talked about these things, and if one party stopped shrieking that politics was a contest between Hate and Justice.

      • hate as a property unique to the right

        Funny, I was saying the opposite of this – that the dynamics of hate and its expression in political violence are found on all sides, and hate from one side practically necessitates the other side adopting it as well.

        What’s different about the current Republican party is that it seems to be driven by nothing else. In the past, one could maybe think that it was animated by economic prudence, or a strong sense of traditional moral values, or something like that. Nobody could seriously believe that these days. It’s all lizard-brain hate, and its close relative fear.

      • Perhaps we can both learn something from this exchange. This is exactly what the Democratic party looks like to me, viewing it from the outside. I do not mean to say that the Democrats are the real haters, only that ferocity is very much in the mind of the beholder. I expect that some of this is due to fact that we discount ferocity when we feel it is justified, and so naturally underestimate the ferocity of our own side. We also notice and probably exaggerate ferocity that is directed against ourselves and the things we love.

  6. Mr. Smith, is there a single word that captures ‘unjust revenge’ or ‘revenge out of proportion’? Where no adjective is needed to declare it is excessive? My intuition tells me it’s somewhere near the word Bloodlust but I cannot find it.

    • I’m not aware of a word that always means excessive or unjust retribution, although your suggestion of bloodlust might fit the bill. I usually think of bloodlust as an emotion aroused in battle, but think it could bear other meanings in other contexts. I might use the word wrath, since this has to my mind the meaning of unappeasable rage. Of course many people would say that revenge implies excess, but that isn’t supported by the root sense of the word.

  7. Your quandry about loving your enemies is something that bothers a lot of people today. At least I know it bothered me. I think a big part of the issue is that love in the new testament is different from what we usually call love.
    I believe agape love, or charity is not a feeling as we think when we talk about love these days but more an act of the will. It is to will the good of people and to act for it. At such it is not incompatible with the hate you describe which is a feeling. We are to hope for the conversion of sinners and not their destruction, as in the story of Jonas. (This destruction is justice in the absence of conversion, but not after it.)

    • I agree that something appears to have been lost in translation. I think we should be on guard against cruelty, which continues to hate when justice has been satisfied, or that invents injury to excuse hate. Many sorts of hate are very bad indeed.

  8. Regarding this: “Christians of course believe that the sinner can repent and extrude this sin from his essential being, but until he does this, others cannot do the extruding for him.” We cannot. But don’t we need to at least try to forgive that sinner, to supplant the hate as immediately as possible when it presents itself as our “natural” impulse?
    Maybe it is separating the sin from the sinner, to say as Christ did on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” What worse evil could be done, than to kill the truly innocent Son of God; doesn’t His prayer stand as a standard for all of us who hear it?
    I don’t preach this to the abused. To them I point out the solidarity that Christ showed with humans in all the suffering and injustice they endure. Discerning who is unjustly wounded and shamed and who is heaping shame on the innocent is another matter.

    • I think that a festering hate should be “let go,” and that it is bad to brood over past injuries. Festering and brooding just add new injuries to the original one. But I also think there is a dangerous form of forgiveness in which the injured party treats the sinner as if he has repented when he has not. Say that a man beats his wife. Until he repents, he cannot be separated from the beating.

      • I see; thank you. The reality of what you say reminds me of The Great Divorce by Lewis, in which the narrator questions why a particular woman would have to go back to hell for such a little sin as grumbling. The guide explains that it depends on whether she is only a grumbler, in which case there is hope for her deliverance; or if she has grumbled so long and obstinately that she has become a grumble.

        I hadn’t thought before that maybe the drive within our being for unity of body, soul and spirit is so strong that it will win out for good or bad. In Lewis’s story there is also the picture of Napoleon as an example of the unrepentant who are not only stuck in their sins but have thereby become smaller and smaller as beings. Could Lewis have been thinking of Luke 13:3, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” — by withering away… ?

      • That is the way I understand it. Repentance is always possible, but a person crosses a line once he identifies with his sin and becomes proud and defiant about it. When he does that the sin changes from something he does into something he is.

    • That is true in the ultimate sense of judgment, by which I mean final judgment. But we mortals must judge whether it is safe to trust a man with our money, our property, our secrets, our children, and our lives. If a man borrows my car and smashes it because drunk, I may forgive him the smash, but I will not forget he is a reckless drunk. I think the Christian doctrine of forgiveness is too often twisted to make Christians the eternal chumps of the world. I think we are allowed to identify and steer clear of bad characters.


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