Years ago, when we were very young and contributing promiscuously to the reviews departments of various intellectual publications, a misguided editor sent me a review copy of a leftist rant by an author whose name I have long since banished from memory, while clearly recalling the title. It was The Dying of the Light—taken, of course, from the Dylan Thomas poem, a stanza of which was chosen to serve as an epigraph: “Go not gently into that dark night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Lost to memory also is the identity of the Good epitomized for the writer by the Light—the Spirit of Liberalism, I suppose, or the Rights of Man as established in 1789.
What did make a lasting impression is the use in context of the word rage, obviously considered by poet and author alike as a fine, even a noble, thing. According to the Chinese proverb, “So long as a man is angry he can’t be in the right.” Rage and hate both are aspects of anger. They are not, however, equivalent. “I love a good hater,” said Samuel Johnson. He meant that hate implies a corresponding love, which responds reactively to its threatened opposite. For a man to hate, he must first love; and he who loves, inevitably hates. Hate is a directed thing, focused like a laser beam. By comparison, rage is undirected, unfocused, generalized, indiscriminate—an adult tantrum. “Rage,” Ernst von Feuchtersleben thought, “is a vulgar passion with vulgar ends.” Thus it is with good reason, if poor judgment, that the left boasts of the “rage” it nurtures in its bosom, while denouncing the “hate” it relentlessly discovers on the right.
Probably there is no genuinely conservative organization, whether in America or Western Europe, that by now has not been publicly identified as a “hate group” by one or more of the leftist mastiffs self-appointed to police the public square in search of dragons to slay. This is understandable. The left, despising all that exists, or ever has existed, loves nothing: Therefore, it rages. The right, from its grateful appreciation of what is (and was), loves much: Hence, it hates. “Whoever hateth his brother is a murderer,” warns Saint John. But Dr. Johnson did not have murder in mind when he spoke of good hating, any more than Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center spoke from the Love that is God when, in a recent outburst, he attacked the restrictionist faction within the Sierra Club for opposing mass immigration to the United States. “They want to keep America white,” Mr. Dees charged. The inference is that Morris Dees wants to turn it brown, black, yellow, and red—surely not out of love for America or his fellow Americans, against whom he habitually rages.
The rage motif has been a staple of Western culture since the 1960’s. For half a century now, it has been associated with the liberal and the radical left, which has never hesitated to claim it, proudly and defiantly, as its hallmark. Anti-abortion, pro-war, and so-called majoritarian activists could never have conceived anything like the “Days of Rage” rampage in Chicago in 1968, not because they are incapable of violence but because their demonstrations characteristically are expressions of discriminate and focused anger, not of indiscriminate, inchoate, and nihilistic fury. Conservatives may have lost, along with their intellectual grasp on reality, the habit of thinking straight, but they are mostly capable still of feeling sanely. “Anger is a brief lunacy” (Horace). By comparison with the left, the right has managed, for the most part, to retain emotional sanity, at least.
That staunch Old Believer, Edward Abbey, complained shortly before he died that everything he valued and cared for in the world was not merely under assault but apparently doomed to extinction. In his review of Desert Solitaire at the time of the book’s publication in 1968, Joseph Wood Krutch described it as “a hymn of hate.” Krutch could have, with equal plausibility, called Abbey’s masterwork “a hymn of love.” Edward Abbey was a good hater of the rapacious industrial-consumerist system he despised in proportion as he passionately loved the natural world that system is bent on systematically destroying. Inevitably, therefore, this lifelong self-considered liberal was a marked man by the time of his death in 1989, attacked by his politically correct enemies as a racist for opposing Third World immigration and a male-chauvinist pig for mocking “wimmen’s liberation,” which Abbey viewed as another aberrancy created by a perverse social and economic set-up. “Our only hope is catastrophe,” he believed. Yet this very angry, though also good-natured and humorous, man never stooped to rage against the world, being too old-fashioned a liberal—and far too good a writer—to do anything so stupid, childish, and crazy.
Joe Sobran, with characteristic cutting clarity, has observed that one cannot “tolerate” what one likes but only what one dislikes. In demanding toleration for everything, the left assumes on the right’s part a cultivated dislike for almost everything. Since, for the left, majoritarian distaste or even want of sympathy for minorities (e.g., immigrants, homosexuals, feminists, Muslims, Jews, blacks, etc.) is always the equivalent of “hate,” hate necessarily appears to leftists as the universal reality stretching like an arid and infinite plain beyond the shining walls and towers of the New Jerusalem.
A profound and fundamental difference between left and right is that the one tends to think and to feel reflectively, the other reflexively. The distinction is between what Oakeshott called “the reflective application of a moral criterion” and the “habit of affection and behavior.” Another way to put this is to say that leftists react ideologically; rightists, viscerally. Visceral is an ugly-sounding word connoting the most primitive and violent instincts. Yet, as a barbaric, destructive force in history, visceral thinking cannot compare with thinking of the ideological variety. What leftists decry as conservative “hate” is actually resentment of, and resistance to, the intrusion of the alien and the displacement of the familiar by the unfamiliar, the old by the new, the traditional by the untraditional, the orthodox by the unorthodox, the proximate by the distant, the particular by the universal. Leftists misinterpret conservative hate because they cannot understand it, and they cannot understand it because it is incomparably less radical, thoroughgoing, vicious, and nihilistic—in a word, ideological—than their own vaunted rage. The leftist perception of rightist “hate” is a classic example of what the Freudians call “transference,” by which you automatically ascribe your own motives, sentiments, and thoughts to someone else. If conservative “hate” were what Morris Dees and Alan Dershowitz think it is, Dees and Dershowitz would not be the millionaire celebrities they are: They might not, indeed, be anymore. Jews in America would long since have been rounded up and packed off to concentration camps in the Aleutian Islands; black slavery would have been reinstituted in a reconstituted Confederacy; the Indian tribes would have been exterminated, and their reservations seized; homosexuals would have been gassed in their bathhouses; women would be denied suffrage along with the right to an abortion. The presumptively hate-filled majority remains the majority, after all, and so there is no good reason why it should have tolerated the social devastation that the left has accomplished in the last 150 years. No reason, that is, beyond the fact that conservative hate lies in another moral dimension entirely than that occupied by leftist rage.
The left is offended by, above everything else, the intransigent fact of the metaphysical reality it in certain moods denies, at other times defies, and always despises. After reality, the continued existence of a right (no matter how relatively “right” it may be) incites it most efficiently to rage. If leftists “hate” anything, that thing is rightists—and with a rage that surpasseth understanding. The purpose of leftist witch-hunters who make a (typically very good) living by identifying “hate groups” and publicizing their existence is not to perform an act of good citizenship by setting the public record straight. What they intend is to brand these organizations and the individuals who comprise them as public enemies, thus marking them for liquidation come the revolution they are working for and fully expect in the long run. Whoever thinks otherwise has failed to understand both the history of the 20th century and the moral nature of the left.
“Hate,” which leftists view as a peculiarly egregious symptom of moral and social perversion, is, in revolutionary times, simply an expression of sanity, and even of humanity. Hatred for persons is sinful and unchristian; but personal hatred is not really the issue here. For one thing, it is a waste of time—a fact of which the great majority of resentful conservatives are aware. Even immigration restrictionists do not go about talking of how they “hate immigrants,” while those who simply dislike having immigrants around are, for the most part, content to move somewhere else, as frustrated Californians have been moving to Colorado for the past decade and a half. Of course, for the left, “white flight” is unmistakably an expression of hate. This sort of luxuriant false analogy, however, is what leftists have instead of poetry, and perhaps we should leave them to it. Meanwhile, responsible anti-immigration groups (and most of them are responsible) go out of their way to insist that their quarrel is not with the immigrants themselves but with the policies responsible for their presence here. Policies, of course, are not self-generated by machines in government printing offices. They are created by individual flesh-and-blood persons, who may indeed be “hated” by people who despise their policies and hold them responsible for these. Hatred for traitors, quislings, opportunists, and suborned politicians, however, is not merely a human thing: It is the instinct upon which the future of self-government, free institutions, and civilization itself depends.
Leftists are quick to insist on the distinction between offensive and defensive war, and quicker still to declare their own governments guilty of the former. Yet, for the past two centuries, the left has waged unremittant offensive warfare against existing societies. “We must hate—hatred is the basis of Communism,” Lenin declared. I wonder what Morris Dees would have to say about that statement. (Does he, for instance, have any neo-Leninist or Maoist organizations on his executioner’s little hate list?) I wonder further what response Dees would expect from targeted victims of revolutionary hatred besides reaction, which, for the SPLC and its friends and allies, is not self-defense but hate, pure and simple. Could there be, indeed, any conservative response to left-wing aggression that the left would not condemn as hate, excepting immediate unconditional surrender? The answer is No, since anything less than surrender would amount to resistance, and resistance to the left, according to the leftist dialectic, is simply another manifestation of hate. (This, of course, is not logic; it is ideologic. That is to say, it is extralogic. As such, it is unanswerable.)
Conservatives know as little of history as anyone else does these days. Nevertheless, the right does possess a residual sense of history, or, anyway, of historical process. Unlike the left, it understands that history is linear and has no end, save in the eschatological sense. That is a major reason why, at this point in history, it is losing everywhere to the left, which still believes in the possibility, and even the inevitability, of triumphalism. Conservatives, paradoxically, are accustomed to thinking in terms of historical flux; if they are Christians also, they are resigned to change as being an inescapable aspect of this world that is not yet Christ’s Kingdom. Resignation does not tend to promote hate, let alone rage; and here is another reason why the right is losing the apocalyptic battle. The left prevails by rage over its enemies, who, so far from being defined by hate, have shown themselves unable to hate enough. This inability has Christian roots; that is why, for certain post-Christian reactionaries, Christianity is as great (or greater) an enemy as the antireligious left—an object of the kind of hatred that truly hates.
There is something to be said for these people’s contempt and anger. The world has never been in greater need of good haters than nowadays, but good hating requires more than an appropriate measure of righteous anger. It also requires probity and, above all, moral courage—which, in modern times, is not just in short supply but nearly an outmoded concept. Nevertheless, it is the right’s best weapon with which to combat leftist rage. As such, it is indispensable to the retaking and rebuilding of our beleaguered civilization.