“I confess that I do feel the differences of mankind, national or individual, to an unhealthy excess . . . . I hope it may be said of me, that I am a lover of my species . . . . [but] I cannot like all people alike.”
Charles Lamb, “Jews, Quakers, Scotchmen and Other Imperfect Sympathies” (1821)
It is quite possible to have goodwill towards men without having any desire for closer acquaintance with particular men, particular types of men, or even with men in general. I do not have to hate a man to take no pleasure in his society. I may dislike him because he is a bore, a bigot, a prig, a pest, a rube, a rascal, a snob, a sissy, a pedant, a pervert, a braggart, a brute, or a buffoon.
Good luck to all braggarts, brutes and buffoons, I say, but spare me their company!
There is, as Charles Lamb says, no necessary connection between abstract philanthropy and promiscuous gregariousness. Pickpockets are famously fond of large mixed crowds, as are wisecrackers, coquettes, and vote-hungry politicians.
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It is possible for me to having goodwill towards men without supposing that every other man feels goodwill towards me. Indeed it is a terrible and tragic error to believe that benevolence disarms malevolence, and that loving my enemies transforms those enemies into my friends. This is why Jesus might well have qualified his command by saying that we should love our enemies, but only from a safe distance.
You may not hate your enemies, but it is safe to suppose that your enemies still hate you.
And this is one more reason it is hard for us to like our enemies, or to enjoy spending time with them. It is tiresome to hear ourselves denounced, openly or by innuendo, and Christian love is hard to sustain while keeping a sharp eye to see that no one puts arsenic in our soup.
Here is an example from Lamb.
“I have, in the abstract, no disrespect for Jews . . . . But I should not care to be in habits of familiar intercourse with any of that nation. Centuries of injury, contempt, and hate on the one side, of cloaked revenge, dissimulation, and hate on the other, between our and their fathers, must and ought to effect the blood of the children. I cannot believe it can run clear and kindly yet; or that a few fine words, such as candor, liberality, the light of the nineteenth century, can close up the breaches of so deadly a disunion. A Hebrew is nowhere congenial to me.”
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We must all from time to time pretend that we like people we do not like, but we should, whenever possible, eschew this falsehood by eschewing promiscuous occasions where this falsehood is required. This is because we will become habitual liars if we do not avoid situations where good manners (or prudence) require us to lie. Politicians and actors are morally disreputable because they spend their entire lives in just such situations. Calumny is a sin, but I cannot see that it is a greater sin than hypocritical expressions of counterfeit liking and spurious brotherhood.
Loving our enemies does not require us to pretend they are our friends.
Here again is Lamb.
“I boldly confess that I do not relish the approximation of Jew and Christian, which has become so fashionable . . . . I do not like to see the Church and Synagogue kissing and congeeing in awkward postures of an affected civility. If they are converted, why do they not come over to us altogether.”
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This is why it is quite possible to have goodwill towards men without having any desire for closer acquaintance with particular men, particular types of men, or even with men in general. This is why we show no want of charity when we say, exclusively,
Spare me their company!
*) Charles Lamb, “Jews, Quakers, Scotchmen and Other Imperfect Sympathies” London Magazine, 4.20 (Aug. 1821), pp.152-156.