Hate as a Rational Political Category

… the last time I saw Eddie [Miliband] he was an intern at the Nation in the late 1980s or early 1990s…  I asked the future leader [of the Labour party] what I asked all interns as a matter of form, “Eddie, is your hate pure?”

The man who first asked me that question was the late Jim Goode, editor of Penthouse.  Like Playboy, Penthouse would pay good money for long articles about the corruption of America, thus giving the pointyheads an excuse to thumb through the pinups. Goode, tall and cadaverous, was gay, clad in black leather as he crouched on the floor of his office, gazing morosely at hundreds of photos of bare-breasted women. As I entered with some screed about corporate and political evil, he snarled, “Alex, is your hate pure?” “Yes, Jim, my hate is pure.”

It was a good way of assaying interns. The feisty ones would respond excitedly, “Yes, my hate is pure.”  I put the question to Eddie Miliband. He gaped at me in shock like Gussie Fink-Nottle watching one of his newts vanish down the plug hole in his bath. “I…I… don’t hate anyone, Alex,” he stammered. It’s all you need to know. English capitalism will be safe in his hands….

— Alex Cockburn

Tell me who your enemy is, and I will tell you who you are.

—  Carl Schmitt

Hate, and its ramified and sometimes incompatible modalities, is viewed as the province of those belonging to the extremes of the so-called political spectrum:  the typically media-designated “hate groups” tend invariably to be located at these left or right extremes of this spectrum.

Thus, Hitler is deemed to have been motivated by hate, but then (for many) so are Stalin, Mao, Saddam Hussain and so forth.

The term “hate”, it would seem, is almost too loose to merit any kind properly rational use, and so becomes little more than the expression of disgust or disapprobation, as in “I hate broccoli” or “I hate the New York Yankees/Los Angeles Lakers/Manchester United/Chelsea, etc.”.

Another conceptual problem is that those deemed by us to hate, in a kind of occultation, are then presented as objects deserving in turn of our own hatred.

After all, if hatred is the appropriate response here, how can we not hate someone like Hitler?   The same holds for the Rwandan genocidaires, or central Asian dictators who boil their opponents to death, and so on.

The human propensity is thus to impute hatred as a motivating-force driving the actions of those we abhor, so that they in turn can “qualify” as our own hated objects.

Many would of course say that hating the haters is not a fitting or even productive response, since there is already too much hatred in the world, and augmenting the hatred of the Hitlers and Rwandan genocidaires of this world with our own hatred (of them) only compounds a problem whose resolution must therefore lie elsewhere.

Hate and hatred, it would seem, can never be a rational political category.

Its basis is either excessively projective (in the psychoanalytic sense– “I deem you a hater so I can justify my hating you”) and/or its invocation creates seemingly intractable situations whose solution must be sought elsewhere.

The conceptual locus of these difficulties is that “hate”, philosophically or theologically, is typically viewed in western traditions as a perversion or outright negation of “love”.  “Love” is the primary reference point in these philosophical or theological traditions, and “hate” thus becomes, derivatively, its betrayal or nihilistic disavowal.

In terms of popular culture, nothing more summed-up this grounding “love” presupposition for me than that utterly vapid Beatles song “All you need is love” (which is not to overlook other brilliant aspects of their music)—at that point in my life, and even today, the Rolling Stones song “Sympathy for the Devil” was more resonant culturally and philosophically.

More than one thinker has reminded us that when the universe is raving and turned upside down, it is the devil (and not the angels) who risk being right.

When, say, “good” and “bad” have morphed into each other, so that good becomes bad and vice versa, it is the upholder of the (perceived) bad who has a real inkling as to what is happening— it is always the devil who risks being right in a universe gone awry.

This conceptual scenario is the motivation for deploying a deliberate hate as a rational category.  The proposed melding here of hate with a strategic logic is essential if hate is not to descend into rage or a mindless apocalypticism (constant dangers lurking for those who make recourse to hatred).

Hate has to be combined with the strategic if it is to serve its essential function of securing and preserving enmity lines.  This notion of “enmity lines” is of course due to Carl Schmitt.

Schmitt recognized that there can be only one sovereign organizational basis (both in terms of the system enabled and its underlying norms) for a public sphere at any one place and time.  Any definitive disagreement about this basis will therefore ensue in the drawing of enmity lines— between those who want to replace the existing public sphere and those who favour its retention.  Since only one can be sovereign, the other has to be excluded or overcome.

There can thus be no compromise in this conflict between fundamental normative orders.   If we are struggling to create an alternative public sphere with radically different rules for determining political legitimacy, our opponents will perforce be those supporting the regnant public sphere.   It can’t be any other way, and they have to be displaced by those seeking change.

Hate, in the strategic sense proposed here, is thus essential if enmity lines are to be retained.

Love, in all its conventional senses, seeks to blur enmity lines.  After all, the presupposition of love– loving your enemy as yourself– is inimical to the maintenance of enmity lines.

Once the enemy is loved, enmity lines are erased.

There is of course no “pure” hate or love.  In real life they intermingle in complex, messy, and sometimes bizarre ways.  But that’s another story.

Nonetheless, only a strategic hate can uphold the requisite enmity lines between different normative orders, and so only with these lines can genuine struggles exist.

Official politics in the west today– typified by Blair’s Third Way and Clintonite “triangulation” — is predicated on the elimination of enmity lines.  The idea here being that the party faithful on the right or left will vote accordingly, and that the real “electoral battleground” therefore becomes the centre, where undecided and independent voters are to be found.

Policy agendas have to be crafted to appeal to this mythical middle-ground, with window-dressing to ensure that voters at the respective ends of the political spectrum are not completely alienated by this “centrism”.

The outcome of this kind of politics is predictable.  Hillary Clinton is indistinguishable from Mitt Romney, Theresa May likewise from Tony Blair, and Hollande similarly from Sarkozy.

Feeble attempts to introduce the merest semblance of an enmity line are crushed in the name of a sham “moderation”, “common sense”, or “electability”.   Witness what happened to the “unelectable” Bernie Sanders, whose campaign was sabotaged by Hillary Clinton’s surrogates in the Democratic party, and the viciously personal campaign now being waged against the “unelectable” Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, not least by the Blairite wing of his own parliamentary party.

The abolition of enmity lines clearly does not mean that enmity as such no longer exists.  It merely gets transposed into the realm of an anti- or post-politics, where candidates fight it out in a shadow theatre over such non-issues as wearing the “wrong” lapel flag-pin, visiting mosques and being photographed with people in hijabs or turbans, giving your cat or dog a “foreign” name, your wife’s sleeveless dress (while the wife of your successor in the White House is photographed semi-nude), agreeing that someone has the right to take a knee when the US national anthem is played at an NFL game, and so on.

Meanwhile Trump becomes president, and the “rehabilitated” Dubya paints pictures of the soldiers he sent to war.

The Orange Swindler’s genius, and that of his handlers, lay in faking enmity lines for the mugs (and cynical opportunists “in the know” such as Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell) who supported him.  The OS stirred them to anger, promising to “drain the swamp”, but he and the gilded circle around him are now merely pissing into it, as Trump’s hapless rubes, panting after a chimerical “Make America Great Again”, continue to wade neck-deep, and drown in increasing numbers, in the reeking mire.

It is enough to make any rational person shed tears while feeling an unbending hatred!

A Reflection inspired by Alexander Cockburn.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.