Tag Archives: Jean Bethke Elshtain

You Become What You Loathe

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Image courtesy Wikimedia commons.

What if we become what we despise?  During a heated exchange with two of her critics from my alma mater (Stanley Hauerwas and Paul Griffiths), Jean Elshtain cited Cardinal George in defense of her book Just War on Terror.  The Cardinal, likewise responding to radical critics of the American project,  stated that one “cannot effectively criticize what [one] loathe[s].”  This gives us some insight into ping-pong rhetoric that passes for conversation in so much of our church and society. Social media has only made this worse.  But why is it that we cannot critique what we loathe? Is it simply because hatred is blinding?

Turns out it goes deeper than that.  In his new book, Fr. Richard Rohr observes,

“We all become well-disguised mirror image of anything that we fight too long or too directly. That which we oppose determines the energy and frames the questions after a while. Most frontal attacks on evil just produce another kind of evil in yourself, along with a very inflated self-image to boot.” 

Thus the one who hates crime becomes the vigilante; hatred of racism can beget reverse racism; those who despise socialism may end up embracing an unmoored capitalism that is as problematic and vicious as that which they were trying to avoid.

At the risk of committing my new favorite logical fallacy, an excellent historical example would be Stalin and Hitler.  As I was taught in my history coursework (my original academic love), these leaders had such polar opposite ideologies, they were so far from each other on the political spectrum, that they practically touched.  Other historical examples could be deployed here, of course.  The French Revolution, despising monarchy, ended up with an Emperor.  The Russian Revolution, in hoping to empower the peasants against the despised monarchy, likewise ended in tyranny.

We cannot critique what we loathe, because we become what we loathe – and never do we have less insight than with our own flaws.  Hatred not only blinds, it transforms us into the object of our hate.  A vicious, pathetic cycle indeed.

A healthy, but scary question: how are you similar to that which you despise most?

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Hating Conservatives

http://thestar.blogs.com/.a/6a00d8341bf8f353ef0120a782fbc3970b-800wi

Howard Dean talking to a conservative kitty-cat.

From the National Review:

….the Left thinks the Right is evil. Granting the exceptions that all generalizations allow for, conservatives believe that those on the left are wrong, while those on the left believe that those on the right are bad. Examples are innumerable. Howard Dean, the former head of the Democratic party, said, “In contradistinction to the Republicans, Democrats don’t believe kids ought to go to bed hungry at night.” Rep. Alan Grayson (D., Fla.), among many similar comments, said, “I want to say a few words about what it means to be a Democrat. It’s very simple: We have a conscience.”

The point is not that there is no hatred for the left to be found on the right – far from it.  But rather, leftist hatred of conservatives is accepted by the mainstream and acceptable from its most public spokespersons.  As the piece goes on to say,

Would mainstream conservative journalists e-mail one another wishes that they could be present while Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi or Michael Moore died slowly and painfully of a heart attack?

and

Has any spokesman of the Republican party ever said anything analogous about Democrats’ not caring about the suffering of children or not having a conscience?



I’m open to the possibility of someone proving the thesis of this article wrong.  It’s a fair critique to say that the typical reader of the National Review is not going to be sensitive to outlandish statements against liberals by conservatives (including myself).

But I think the point stands, and it is an interesting one.  The amount of vitriol on the left seems to be reaching newer and newer heights.  This is odd from the set that claims to be more sensitive, tolerant, and open than its opponents.  But it’s also detrimental to our ongoing conversation as a democratic people.

Good government demands that citizens be capable of decent, maybe even virtuous, political discourse.  The less we practice this basic part of civic life, the worse our situation will become.  And while the right certainly has its folks who are harmful to this end – here’s looking at you, Glenn Beck – on the left, the most vile kinds of political hate-mongering seem to be increasingly acceptable from the leaders of America’s left.

To paraphrase Jean Bethke Elshtain – when addressing a different kind of hate – “One cannot effectively critique what one loathes.”