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Don't underestimate the politics of hate



The Prioress in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales had a brooch alluding to Virgil's phrase, 'love conquers all'. In her case, her love for her two lapdogs beat her affection for mere people.

Face expressing hatredBut in public life one wonders about the truth of the epigram. Indeed a good case could be made that hatred conquers all, and that it is stronger than love.

The advent of Donald Trump with his individual style has occasioned lament that the public world is now dominated by hatred and contempt. But there is nothing new in it. The genesis of today's rule of hatred has long been visible in social media and in the rhetoric of shock jocks.

The response to the politics of hatred has often been to deplore and to dismiss it as primitive and ineffectual. Particularly in comparison with love. Well, primitive it may be, but in my experience it is often more energising and effective than love.

A grumpy and uncommunicative priest I once knew had been a spiritual counsellor in a large and authoritarian seminary. In his role he provided an ear for the frustrations and petty injustices experienced in such institutions. Meeting him as a somewhat embittered old man I was surprised how highly esteemed he was by his alumni.

I came to realise that he was less motivated by sympathy for the students than by hatred of the local authorities. When presented with some injustice he would contact higher authorities and dump on the local ones. Hatred stirred him into life and gave a vitality and focus that were often very effective.

The power of hatred can also be seen in the petty enthusiasms and distastes of daily life. Many people take more delight in the defeats of football teams they hate than in the victories of those they support. Cyclists can develop a hatred for cars that breeds schadenfreude as they pass line upon line of motorists in heavy traffic. Iago in his envy-driven hatred, of course, walked all over Othello the lover.

We should hesitate to dismiss the effectiveness or the endurance in public life of people who are great haters. We have only to think of Ian Paisley to be reminded of how focused over a life time of politics a person driven by hatred can be, and how it can coexist with other commitments and relationships. Hatred can be like a battery that stores energy as well as like a bomb that releases it self-destructively.


"As a political virtue love encourages a vision that focuses on persons and not on categories of people, and breeds empathy not dismissal."


In recent Australian political history, people driven by hatred have been effective in influencing politics. Although they may not be effectual in advancing the interests of their parties or supporters, their influence on policies adopted or discarded has had lasting effects. To assume that their influence will fade away is wishful and dangerous thinking. The anonymous haters on social media, too, can be both effective in changing others' behaviour and in influencing public attitudes. The Coopers ale saga is testimony to that.

Although hatred is not inconsistent with public effectiveness or personal stability, it has built-in limitations. Hatred is not usually self-reflective, and it sees the world and people as abstractions, attributing to them the characteristics they regard as characteristic of the favoured or scorned group to which they belong.

In public life this narrowness of focus translates easily into inability to listen to divergent opinions, to see complexity in situations and to foresee the consequences of policies on real human beings. This was evident in the conduct of the invasion of Iraq in which the hatred of Saddam Hussein blinded the invaders to the relationships crucial to securing a peace.

When policies based on hatred fail, popular confidence in the strength created by their authors' narrow and negative focus will also fade. For haters the natural response to this will be to intensify their hatred of their opponents and to dump on them the responsibility for the unforeseen consequences of their own actions. Failure becomes saboteurs' fault. Because hatred is unreflective, too, it leads easily to a totalitarian emphasis on the person of the leader.

The alternative to hatred is love — the disposition that goes out to others as other. As a political virtue love encourages a vision that focuses on persons and not on categories of people, and breeds empathy not dismissal. These make us aware of need to anticipate unexpected consequences and encourages good humour in failure.

In the shorter term hatred may be more effective, but love is better for human beings.


Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Donald Trump, hatred, love



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Existing comments

Regrettably Andrew Hamilton is on the money in saying hate is more effective than love, especially in politics. Populist politicians and the media outlets that support them know there are more votes and readers in hating immigrants, refugees, single mothers and welfare recipients than the opposite. They also know there are many voters and readers who applaud policies that extol punishment over forgiveness and rehabilitation, so campaigning on capital punishment, mandatory detention and fear of the other wins easy voter support. Fortunately, we have political leaders such as FD Roosevelt and Angela Merkel that show us there is a better way, but there are not enough of them. It takes great courage and inner strength for politicians to take stands on the high ground because they risk losing office if they do, our own Julia Gillard being a recent example.

Paul Begley | 22 March 2017  

There are those, Fr Andrew, who might say that hatred is born out of disillusioned, disaffected or unrequited love. Maybe that is why hatred seems to be the province of the older rather than the young (like your seminary professor). The millions of Catholics so-sadly let down in their love of the Church by the revelations of the sexual abuse scandal are an example. God, it is said , is love. Hate is perhaps nothing other than alienation from God. You remind me today of Ian Paisley (whose photo appeared in today's SMH with the obituary for Martin McGuinness). The story has it that Paisley banned black people from his Church and advised a young black man who inadvertently attended one Sunday to "get out of the house of the lord, your God , and seek the lord's guidance in prayer". The man returned a couple of weeks later and advised Paisley that he had prayed to the Lord for guidance. "And what did the Lord thy God tell you, black man"? screamed Paisley. "The Lord my God told me, Mr Paisley, Sir, that he had never been in your church and couldn't advise me one way or the other". Love and hate are truly funny things, uneasy bedfellows, one dependent on the other!

john frawley | 22 March 2017  

It's been said that there is a fine line between love and hate. Both passionate emotions. And it could be argued that any passion is better than apathy. Being grumpy and uncommunicative are not necessarily poor attributes for a spiritual adviser. On the matter of love, it's a complete mystery why we behave more lovingly towards particular people than others. We can ensure that we attempt to treat every person with fairness, dignity and respect. Those three values make for a respectful society. But love I can't quite categorise. I agree that love is better for human beings.

Pam | 22 March 2017  

Thank you Andrew, I cannot do anything but agree. But, I have hope that we will have a leader in the foreseeable future with vision and compassion. May be not in my lifetime. I hope for my grandchildren and for the planet.

Joan Daniel | 23 March 2017  

Interesting that Jesus was often motivated by justifiable anger e.g. the money changers in the temple, but never by hatred. I think the Catholic Church in this country has never really been big on justifiable anger and the purifying effect it can have. If it had been given its proper outlet by the hierarchy there would have been no paedophilia scandal. How far we have deviated from Christ's teaching! We preach a watered down Christianity whose main purpose is to keep the institution going and the money to do so rolling in. Thank God for articles like this which make us think. In my time I have heard many a vapid sermon but never read anything vapid from you, Andrew.

Edward Fido | 23 March 2017  

I think the saying, "fight like a demon" is what you are talking about. Happily these inner demons can be dissolved through the power of love and we can each become great crusaders for truth, equality, justice and love.

Love | 23 March 2017  

I think this is nonsense. I think the opposite of love is not hate, but lethargy.

Jim Jones | 23 March 2017  

According to the Bible, the very first Words spoken by God, the first Commandment ever made, was ‘Let there be light’. For mankind, the first light discerned is usually visible light. This is later followed by the light of reason, Finally, hopefully, by the light of Love. This latter is perhaps is the Light which changes everything, but which the Darkness does not comprehend. As God IS Love, and our destiny is to be one with God, Love is our ultimate aim. But there are many levels of love. When love is frustrated, its energy can turn to hatred of the impediment. This can occur particularly when something becomes disproportionately esteemed, even seemingly ‘deified’, and any obstacle bears the brunt of the frustrated energy and any resulting damage. This seems to be the case with some religions, wishing to obliterate any rivals; not recognising them as different ways God has of calling other of his Children. Greater light and love is needed to resolve such problems.

Robert Liddy | 23 March 2017  

Great article thanks. It seems to be surprisingly difficult to recognise hate in our own actions and situation. At the time actions and attitudes can appear to be reasonable and justified. It's much easier to recognise hate in others than in ourselves.

Janet | 23 March 2017  

One has only to look at the phenomenon of Hansonism, Andy, to see the truth of your words. What is perhaps just as fascinating is the extent to which Hanson and her supporters have caved in to the human need for love by supplanting it with sentimentality. Thank you.

Michael Furtado | 23 March 2017  

It's a mistake to give status to hatred. It cannot be stronger than love because it is a vacuum, an absence, and a lack of being, rather than an entity. There is only one reality that fills the universe: eternal love. When we come to know love, hatred disappears.

Rose Marie Crowe | 23 March 2017  

Yes, thank you Andrew for your challenging, insightful writing. And thank you, Edward, for your focus on Jesus' justifiable or righteous anger. I think you're right to urge us to get back to his teachings and concerns. And you're absolutely correct too when you say that in his anger Jesus wasn't driven by hatred at all. Jesus also concentrated his anger on the needs of others and not for defending himself. I'm finding in that fact an ever increasing appeal to his message and life.

robert van zetten | 23 March 2017  

Rose Marie Crowe: "It (hate), cannot be stronger than love because it is a vacuum, an absence, a lack of being, rather than an entity,,," There is something that can perhaps approximate to hatred (of others), and that is our instinct for self-survival, unless it is tempered with love and respect for others. Hate usually arises from frustration of love, and is fuelled by the same energy. While it cannot be stronger or more lasting than love, it can cause much damage unless remedied by love and understanding. The Light of Love is the best medicine, displayed by thinking well of others, and doing well by them.

Robert Liddy | 23 March 2017  

One thing that should be mentioned is that 'the politics of hate' has been unsuccessful in both the Netherlands and WA. Jesus was apolitical: 'render unto Caesar...'. He realised that realpolitik is always the order of the day. But he was unafraid to take on the religious and political authorities when it was a matter of personal integrity to do so. He faced his trial and execution with real moral courage even when he was physically afraid. Even though I am cynical about politicians, especially those who make a point of stating their religious 'credentials' in public, there have been politicians within our Westminster tradition who have shown real integrity. I think immediately of Daniel O'Connell and William Wilberforce. They were both committed Christians who never gave way to hatred but channelled their righteous moral indignation into something worthwhile. There are many who were not politicians who worked to change an unjust political system e.g. the late Bayers Naude in apartheid South Africa.

Edward Fido | 24 March 2017  

Jim Jones - Lethargy is hate - (Pulling a trigger requires little energy and emotion - drones requires even less)

AURELIUS | 27 March 2017  

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