“The knight of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies,” says Friedrich Nietzsche in Ecce Homo, “but also to hate his friends.”
Why should we love our enemies? This has always struck me as an absurd and dangerously masochistic and moralistic belief. Yet, there is something extremely aggressive about it, too. Over and over again, in the name of “love,” the political claim to speak for others while denying those people a voice. Countries are invaded on the basis of “human rights.” And rights are taken away in the name of “safety,” “peace,” and setting an example to “the children.”
We claim to love other cultures, but do not respect them, their ways of life, or religious views. From Buddhism to Islam, we find religions portrayed as ancient forms of the latest, Western moral fad: Buddhism, as an ancient moral relativism. Islam, as inventing women’s rights (meant in the secular, Western sense). The last thing we want is authentic, traditional Buddhism, Islam, or anything else.
But our “love” also seems to provoke us to hate those who are most like us, but who disagree with us in some way — usually politically — since, knowing them better, we cannot fool ourselves that their views are the same as ours.
Today, with wars in the Middle East, propaganda all over social media, and hate from, and for, both sides of the political divide, respect for difference seems impossible. Everyone from Obama to Trump, Bush to Hillary, Assange to Putin, is presented as a mad Joker, a dictator, as someone who acts through “hate,” that is without reason, and that cannot be reasoned with.
The feverish hysteria that demonizes others that we know we disagree with is relatively new. Great war leaders, great warriors, great armies, have always respected their enemy, even if they did not like him. Great thinkers and theologians did not scream at each other but debated.
The lack, or absence, of respect for the opponent degrades the individual himself, not the one he disrespects, denounces, or seems to have lost his mind over.
When we hate our opponents one of two things happens. We either become what we claim they are — hatefully, endlessly, accusing “them” of “hate,” for example — or we become so little like them that we end up powerless — because we want not only to be unlike their bad qualities, but, eventually, we want not to resemble their best qualities, or we deny that such qualities are important.
Modern education teaches us, and the media propagandizes over and over again, that the enemy is evil, inhuman, a beast, a “Hitler,” a Satan. We hear the howls and denunciations every day, yet those doing the howling seem increasingly lost, increasingly cultureless, increasingly like spoiled children.
Hate is easy to slip into. It is a human emotion. But it is plebeian.
Our friends may allow us to indulge our weaknesses, and to slowly lower our standards, intellect, and way of life. Those on “our side” may encourage us to debase ourselves and to throw away our cherished “values” to score some cheap point or other. Our side may demand that we scream and cry at things that could not upset even a child. It may demand that we lie for our team or our leader. And, mistaking it as proof of commitment to some imagined “higher truth,” we may even begin to love lying for him or her, for our movement, or our political party.
In contrast, our opponent will not allow us to debase ourselves. He is the bringer of war. But, paradoxically, if we learn from his beliefs, his theology and philosophy; if we emulate his best behavior while shunning his worst; he is the bringer of enlightenment.
To respect his culture reminds us that culture is complex, and that we must always act for something, not merely against, winding up with a merely negative identity and an attitude to match.
To respect his religion or beliefs reminds us that the transcendent gives strength.
To respect his strictness with himself, his stoicism, his ethics, and so on, reminds us of those higher values that may frighten even those closest to us at times.
In confronting his qualities, as we find them in us, we can grow far beyond what we would without him, and far beyond what our friends might want.