Benevolent Malevolence and the Rewards of “’Good ‘ Hate”

“We show our love towards our friends by the vigor with which we hate their enemies.”

Richard Hildreth, Theory of Morals (1844)

“Dear Bathurst (said he to me one day) was a man to my very heart’s content: he hated a fool, and he hated a rogue, and he hated a Whig; he was a very good hater.”

Hester Lynch Piozzi, Anecdotes of Samuel Johnson (1822)

When Dr. Johnson said that his friend Dr. Bathurst was a “good hater,” he meant that Dr. Bathurst was good at hating things that Dr. Johnson thought it good to hate. And about the things it is good to hate, Dr. Johnson was very seldom wrong. The same cannot be said about today’s vociferous haters of “hate,” since they believe they are “good haters” but are, in fact, sanctimonious sadists.  Some have said that one must be cruel to be kind.  These sanctimonious sadists are kind to be cruel.

To explain how this works, I must first explain the nature of sympathy.

Sympathy is our power to vicariously share the pleasures and pains of those with whom we sympathize. Those with whom we sympathize—many today say those with whom we “identify”—are those whose sufferings make us angry, those whose triumphs make us glad. Thus those with whom we sympathize are those whose side we take when they are in a fight. They are the ones we root for, the ones for whom we cheer. We feel the thrill of victory when they land a punch; we feel the agony of defeat when they take one in the kisser.

The first step towards a true understanding of sympathy is to understand that the word sympathy is virtually synonymous with the word partiality, and that a profession of impartial and universal sympathy is just sentimental slop in disguise. Impartial sympathy is actually impossible because an impartial man would not know with who, or what, to sympathize. If a man stubbbed his toe on a stone, an impartial man would not know whether to pity the stone or the toe. If a dog bit a man, an impartial man would feel the pleasure of the dog no less than the pain of the man.

When we view the innumerable clashes and conflicts that occur between humans, our sympathy decides which side we take, and therefore whose glories and injuries we vicariously share. There are always some portions of humanity that are, as it were, “our team.” There is always some nation, some race, some religion, some class, that enjoys our special regard, benevolence and concern. That is what it means to feel sympathy. Indeed that is what it means to feel love.

The American historian Richard Hildreth tells us that sympathy is a compound of sentiments that give rise to a particular and partial benevolence. These sentiments of sympathy “tend to render certain individuals, or collections of individuals, the special objects of our love,” and they result in “the warm attachment of a man to a limited number of individuals, his friends, his associates, his protégés, his party, his sect, his caste, his countrymen . . .”*

You may ask why a man cannot feel universal love and impartial sympathy for all mankind. The answer is that he can feel universal love and impartial sympathy, but only until some portion of mankind clashes and conflicts with a portion he particularly loves. Then his partiality and sympathy comes to the fore and he becomes what Dr. Johnson called a “good hater.”

* * * * *

Sympathy is properly vicarious feeling. The feeling is real but the source of the feeling is imaginary. If I sympathize with a man who has broken his leg, for instance, I imagine how painful and inconvenient a broken leg must be. If the man broke his leg by his own carelessness, I imagine how embarrassing that carelessness must be. If another man broke his leg for him, I imagine how wroth and angry he must feel towards that man.

If my best friend is passed over for promotion and comes to me for sympathy, he does not want my objective appraisal of the reasons he was passed over. Likewise if he is divorced by his wife or loses half his wealth in an unfortunate investment. He wants me to “imagine how he feels,” namelythat his boss is a bastard, his ex-wife is a bitch, or his stockbroker is a crook.

Sympathy is, in other words, a vicarious subjectivity that has nothing to do with objectivity, impartiality

* * * * *

In the American Civil War, a northern secessionist was called a “Southern sympathizer” because he agreed with the Southern cause and therefore felt all the hopes and fears of a Confederate. A Southern woman records in her diary the feelings of one such Southern sympathizer as he watched the Union army march to the First Battle of Manassas.

“He had seen them pass by thousands and thousands, first on one road and then the other, well armed, well mounted, in every respect splendidly equipped, only a few days before. As a Southern sympathizer, he had trembled for us, and prayed for us, that we might not be entirely destroyed. He and one or two others of similar sentiments had prayed and talked together of our danger.”**

Sympathy is seldom limited to hopes, fears and prayers, since sympathy naturally entails a desire to do something to help the cause with which one sympathizes. During the Second World War, American propaganda explained how “Nazi sympathizers” spread rumors to incite despondency and alarm among Americans.

“Why? Because he was a fifth columnist, a Nazi sympathizer, just a little one to whom Berlin had given a little job . . .”***

During the Cold War there was, of course, considerable concern about “Communist sympathizers” (i.e. “fellow travelers”), and more especially about the means by which they could be detected. As one U.S. government publication explained in 1946, a “Communist sympathizer” was most readily detected by what he would not say.

“A Communist in a non-Communist country will not hesitate to criticize the government and the state of affairs in his own country. He will never criticize rulers of the Soviet Union or its policies, foreign or domestic . . . . In no case will he criticize the Soviet Union—its foreign policies, its institutions, its system, or its leaders.”†

Men often mask their sympathies, and other men naturally try to pull off the mask. As the quote makes clear, one effective test is to listen to what a man will not say. There are, of course, masters of deceit, but most people betray their hidden sympathies by “pulling their punches” and then changing the subject. It was evasions such as these that once earned a man the reputation of being “soft on communism.”

* * * * *

Sympathy obviously entails antipathy. As we saw in the case of personal sympathy, I cannot sympathize with my injured friend if I do not feel and express anger towards, perhaps even hatred of, his boss, his ex-wife, or his stockbroker. In order to take his side, I must therefore share his antipathy for those who have injured him. (This is why it is very hard to remain friends with both parties in a bitter divorce: they will both demand sympathy, and if you give sympathy to both, they will know you are a liar.)

Social sympathy for portions of mankind likewise entails social antipathy for other portions of mankind, since sympathy answers the question, which side are you on? If you sympathize with one side in a conflict, you necessarily hope, and pray, and possibly work to defeat, confound and destroy the other side. We must never forget that sympathy has this Janus face: on one side the gentle smile of commiseration, on the other side the bare fangs of attack.

This means that benevolence necessarily entails malevolence, and benevolent malevolence is precisely what Dr. Johnson meant by “good hate.” Benevolent malevolence is the ill will that is borne by men of good will, it is hate in the service of love.

The historian Richard Hildreth, whom I quoted earlier, tells us:

“Sympathy . . . is chiefly displayed by a vigorous exercise of the sentiment of malevolence. We show our love towards our friends by the vigor with which we hate their enemies.”††

To understand how Dr. Johnson’s “good hate” becomes the “good” hate of today’s sanctimonious sadists, you must understand that benevolent malevolence becomes more ferocious (not to mention sadistically pleasurable) as it becomes more altruistic. To murder a man out of self-interest is harder than to murder a man “for the good of others.” And the more unlike those others the murders is, the greater his apparent altruism, the greater his “justified” ferocity, and the greater his sadistic pleasure. Here is Hildreth,

“Vast numbers of good haters feeling in themselves a vigorous dislike of persons and actions which appear to them bad and wrong, and great pleasure in that dislike, set themselves down, at once, as most benevolent and virtuous men; for as this dislike is not founded upon any evil suffered personally by themselves, they justly conclude that it must have its origin in sympathy for others who have suffered; and taking its commencement from so respectable and praiseworthy a source, they consider the entire compound emotion, the hatred as well as the sorrow, equally praiseworthy, and that to place any restraint upon it would be actually wrong.”†††

* * * * *

It is ironic that Hildreth was himself an abolitionist with a “vigorous dislike” of slaveholders and slavery, for he has here laid bare the sadistic root of much benevolent malevolence, or “good” hate. Slavery was not an evil Hildreth had “suffered personal,” so his sympathy for slaves appeared altruistic.  Thus it appeared “actually wrong” to “place any restraint on his “hatred as well as [his] sorrow.”  He did not take this as far as the sanctimonious sadist John Brown, but his psychology was the same.

I believe the same benevolent malevolence is employed by today’s Social Justice Warriors, because they sympathize with segments of mankind to which they do not belong, sorrow over sufferings they have not “suffered personally,” and thereby rationalize and excuse sadistic cruelty towards people who have done them no wrong (and in many instances have done them real good).

These are today’s vociferous haters of “hate,” and their hatred is the most hateful hate of all.

*) Richard Hildreth, Theory of Morals: An Inquiry Concerning the Law of Moral Distinctions and the Variations and Contradictions of Ethical Codes (Boston: C.C. Little & J. Brown, 1844), p. 231.
**Judith White Brockenbrough McGuire, Diary of a Southern Refugee, during the War (New York: E.J. Hale & Son, 1867), p. 48.
***) Harold L. Ettlinger, The Axis on the Air (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1943), pp. 13-14.
†) A Primer on Communism (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Information Agency, 1956), p. 96.
††) Hildreth, Theory of Morals, p. 232.
†††) Hildreth, Theory of Morals, pp. 232-233.

One thought on “Benevolent Malevolence and the Rewards of “’Good ‘ Hate”

  1. Pingback: Sunday Poem – Dark Brightness

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