Liberty can survive intense disagreement. But it cannot survive pure hate.
Actually, as Mr. French points out, "the common view of the American right," which he summarizes at length, is "rooted in multiple events [on the left] that are real and, in fact, unjust." So he is listing evils of the left and of the right. I see this essay as quite balanced.
But if anyone thinks he has been too hard on the Right, remember that he is an Evangelical Christian and a conservative. So being hard on the Right is a sign of balance.
I think it's a wonderful essay and gets at the deepest cause of polarization -- each side sees the other as evil (when they are not) and seeing someone as evil is the main cause of hate.
I've thought a lot about why people make this mistake -- why they see evil when they shouldn't. What I think most people miss is captured in a famous proverb: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." The common (and best) interpretation of this is that "good intentions" means only that the person on the road to hell truly believes his intentions are good (although they are not).
So the proverb tells us that when you see someone on the road to hell (doing terrible things) they are likely doing them out of a desire to do good. If you understand that, then it's hard to see them as evil. They are just mistaken. They have been misled. Everyone knows the proverb, but few are able to apply it.
I read the book. It's balanced and fascinating. See my (zFacts) review on Amazon.
this is really great, thank you
As someone on the center-left, I have been appalled at conspiracies such as President Bush 43 “knowing about 9-11 and doing nothing do he could use the excuse to invade Iraq.” The evidence is the Bush family relationship with the Saudi Royal Family dating from the 1930s. The reasoning is hatred of the same sort that your piece describes here, and is almost impossible to refute. All of this inability to even share a basic set of assumptions (such as Presidents don’t commit treason and candidates for the office don’t run pedophile rings from pizza parlors) is indeed very troubling. Thanks for your piece here.
I am not sure that hatred is behind every conspiracy theory. Intense suspicion is not the same as hate. I have met conspiracy theorists who believe that the "media," or the "government," or some other nebulous group distorts the truth in order to protect its interests. You can believe this without necessarily despising those involved. All you need is a belief that you have been deceived or cheated, along with a theory that feeds into that belief. Any of this can turn into hate. But hate is not necessarily behind it. What, then, if not hate, leads people to believe such strange and convoluted theories? Maybe there's comfort in the thought that the problems of the world can be blamed on some group out there. It's easier to think this than to share in the responsibility.
Great piece. I've grown to hate both parties and I score in the 99th percentile of Openness in the 5 Factor Personality Inventory. Unfortunately, the more open I've been and the more research I've done, the more jaded I've become. Hatred is a natural response to feeling used, exploited and deceived again and again and feeling powerless to change it. At this point, I wish we could destroy this party duopoly and start fresh. The public seems to have no leverage to make these parties (and corporations for that matter) act in a principled manner. What else is left but impotent hatred?
Psychology research (the real stuff not pop) has demonstrated that conspiracy theorists are fundamentally antisocial people. Anti-socialism is a serious mental disability, these folk pretty much hate everyone and despise social structures. They believe that the world in general is scary and will hurt them if they engage. Understandably, then, we find conspiracists on both sides of the political spectrum because they aren't driven by political or any other organized social thinking, they are driven by fear. Accordingly, they cut themselves off from their neighbors and family.
Consider the strength of an internet platform for antisocial people. They have a voice without any commitment or engagement with others. They can live outside of society with no accountability to it and still be heard. To me it's a sad state for anyone to live in -- they deserve our empathy regardless of their message. Before the internet they would have been hidden and ignored.
What we are seeing today is artificially magnified voices of fringe members of society who can only talk through a screen. I worry that we are giving them too much credit and a larger platform than they have taken for themselves, or have earned. It will likely take a couple more decades before the modern world adapts to the impact of the internet. We haven't lived with it long enough to be able to discern when what we see is truly dangerous, so it all looks dangerous. Until then I am confident that these "theories" they espouse will have minimal impact on the rest of us because we just don't see the world as narrowly as they do. And we care about each other. I am very confident that it will all settle down given time.
Another great piece Mr. French. I am blessed to be a part of the Persuasion community and so have such wonderful journalism at my disposal. Thank you.
Thank you for this excellent perspective. I particularly liked the phrase “in the grips of late stage hatred” as it’s so evocative of cancer, as hate really is a cancer of the soul.
I am not sure hate is even necessary; contempt and indifference suffice. Dehumanization proceeds from the absence of love, even before hate crystallizes. And a "degree of grace and tolerance" may not suffice. The protection of liberty may require love, "not romantic love but the love of humanity," as Yegor Zhukov said at his sentencing in December, https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/a-powerful-statement-of-resistance-from-a-college-student-on-trial-in-moscow.
Well, Mr. French, this column should have also been published over at the Dispatch. THE RIGHT is the problematic "side' right now. The right is having a problem with its adherents believing conspiracy theories. And particularly wild ones at that. Yes, the right HATES the left. They often speak in eliminationist rhetoric about the left.
So why would you publish this column only over here? Are you trying to "blame the victim" here, by telling the left "hey, if you just wouldn't fight so hard for women to have reproductive rights, then the right would not hate you so much?
At the very least, publish in BOTH places. But talking to liberals about it, is not going to solve anything. They are not the ones doing the "conspirerizing".
I suspect many conspiracy theories propagate because they cannot fathom a rational explanation for their opponents behavior or words, so they start reaching for the irrational explanations. Unfortunately, due to the inherit nature of the explanations being outside their own internal model, many of these explanations tend to be more wild.
I suspect that hate isn't at the root of (most) conspiracy theories, but deep fear. When you see someone in power acting in a way that appears to be irrational and unjustified, I begin to fear, "What will they do next?" My power of predicting the future (normality, stability) has gone sideways, so we begin to fear for our future.
I don't think this can be fully remedied by by discussion. I think we need a new understanding and qualification for secular and religious ideology. See: https://newdiscourses.com/2020/06/postmodern-religion-faith-social-justice/
I reserved the book at my local library. I would have liked to see the way the right characterizes the left actually detailed out in this article. It ended up reading like an opinion piece written by the right for consumption by the right, subtly undermining the point that he is making. But the point is good, needed, and welcome regardless.
Great read. Just bought the book and I am eager to start reading it!
Perhaps Mr. French's book is as evenhanded as he claims - I'll wait to read it and see. I can't "like" this essay, though. Not while all the evils of the Right are detailed to be denounced, and none of the Left. I agree with all of his condemnations, but still challenge the one-sidedness. Not a word about the claim that 1619, not 1776, is our birth date. Not a word about the people who elide Jefferson, Washington, and Lincoln (Lincoln!) with the Confederate traitors who truly should not be honored. Nothing about the lies that modern policing developed from slave patrols (Benjamin Franklin would love that one), or that the Three-Fifths Compromise was an endorsement of slavery, when it was only a pragmatic recognition of facts on the ground, to resolve an intractable dispute over taxation and representation.
Our public debate is polluted from two sides.
I hear at least as much secession talk from the Left as from the Right, if not more. I'll save my praise for essays that describe both sides of the threat.
so great. can't wait to read this book!