by Theodore Dalrymple
It is curious, and perhaps not coincidental, that the searchers-out and punishers of so-called hate speech have not yet turned their attention to expressions of class hatred.
It is curious because class hatred and its associated policy, economic egalitarianism, were probably responsible for as many deaths in the twentieth century as racism, if not more.
I don’t want to make a precise calculation as to which was worse, class hatred or racism because I recall what Doctor Johnson replied when asked who was the better poet, Derrick or Smart. “Sir,” he said, “there is no settling the point of precedency between a louse and a flea.”
I do not expect any time soon that the inquisitors of hate speech will call for class warriors to be banned from expressing themselves in the social media or anywhere else. Some hatreds, then, are deemed respectable, even praiseworthy, and expression of them, even to the point of incitement, a manifestation of a good or pure heart.
The deputy leader of Britain’s left-leaning Labour Party, Angela Rayner, recently told a meeting, with regard to the governing Conservative Party, “We cannot get any worse than a bunch of scum, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, absolute vile … banana republic, vile, nasty, Etonian … piece of scum,” later adding that she had held herself back a little.
We cannot get worse? I have no great regard for the antics of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who seems to me unprincipled, inconstant, boastful, vainglorious, and incompetent, but to say that we cannot get worse seems to me to demonstrate a pitiful ignorance of history that is rather worrying in someone who might one day hold high office.
Were not Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot (to name only a few) just a little worse than Johnson? Even as an emotive insult, however, Rayner’s words seem to me to indicate not merely a lack of restraint but also a worrying lack of command of the English language: for example, scum does not come in pieces, although it does, almost by definition, rise to the top.
However, literary criticism is not my main concern here.
It is the depth of hatred and resentment expressed in Rayner’s words that worries me, and the evident absence of hesitation in giving vent to them.
Contrary to the hydrostatic view of emotions such as hatred, they tend with venting to increase rather than to decrease. The view that if an emotion is not expressed openly it will do incalculable damage to a person is one of the “gifts” of psychoanalysis to the world.
As a prisoner who had just murdered his girlfriend once put it to me, “I had to kill her, doctor, or I don’t know what I would have done.” Suffered some frustration, perhaps.
Rayner was criticized for what she had said, but she defended herself by claiming that this was her habitual manner of speaking: as if she could not conceive that she might do wrong, as if her only criterion of rightness was what she herself had done.
Although what she said was, in my opinion, horrible, I do not think that she should be punished for having said it or prevented legally from ever saying anything similar again. Freedom of speech is freedom of speech, not gentility or decency or even intelligence.
Her words were imbued with infinitely more hatred than those of, say, someone who merely points out that a transgender woman is not a real woman, for the latter, far from being an expression of hatred, is perfectly compatible with sympathy for such a person.
Indeed, in a sense it is a prerequisite for such sympathy, insofar as it recognises the inevitable psychological discomfort of anyone in such a position.
But it is he or she who draws attention to an evident truth, rather than someone whose words seethe with insult and crude insensate loathing, who is held to be guilty of hate-speech—because hatred in the name of equality is regarded as generous, despite its record of mass murder rivalled only by racism.
Those who hate in the name of equality believe themselves, and are frequently believed to be, virtuous because they supposedly value justice.
But two things need to be pointed out. First, if by equality is meant identity or even similarity of outcome, rather than equality before the law, then there could be no greater injustice than equality, at least if justice is the distribution of reward according to desert.
Naturally, desert is a complex and difficult concept, but real egalitarians wish to eliminate it completely in their desire that all should have prizes, and the same prizes at that. However, if reward is disconnected entirely from desert, much, most or all meaning in life is eviscerated, for the reward will be the same whatever you do. Why, then, even try?
Second, however, is the fact that while justice is desirable, it is not the only thing that is desirable, and sometimes must yield place to considerations such as charity, kindness and humanity.
An utter wastrel may well deserve to starve, considered in the abstract, because of his constant and repeated feckless behaviour, but we should not let him starve because our humanity will not allow it. As Hamlet puts it, “Use every man after his desert, and who shall ‘scape whipping?”
Thus, the fact that inequality is not in itself unjust does not dispose altogether of the question of how equal in outcome a society should be, even leaving aside the question of the loading of the dice in some people’s favour and against others, and how far the dice may in practice be loaded fairly.
A society is certainly conceivable in which only a tiny proportion of the population deserved by their efforts to enjoy the better things in life, but we should not care to live in such a society, however just it was. But the problem with modern redistributionism is that it is founded much more upon hatred of the rich or fortunate than it is upon love of the poor or unfortunate.
Hatred is an incomparably stronger political emotion than love. In the worldview of redistributionists such as Angela Rayner, it is more blessed to take than to give, which is why taxation is for them an end in itself, irrespective of its effect upon the economy and society as a whole.
It also has the great advantage, from their point of view, of conferring great power on those who levy it, namely themselves. All power corrupts, but the desire for power corrupts even before it is ever achieved.
First published in the Epoch Times.