The Joy of Hate

Even if the controversial Austrian statesman had never existed, Germany would still have a good claim to the title as the world capital of hating. Little effort is made to airbrush hatred out of society here; artists still freely express their utter contempt for bourgeois society, conservatives sneer at mosques, Greens despise fur-wearers, former hippies verbally assault conservatives who have verbally assaulted 70’s leftist radicals, who in turn physically assaulted banks and American military bases. Legal periodicals are filled with professors’ hair-raising broadsides against one another over such topics as the meaning of "negligence" or the interpretation of some obscure paragraph of the civil code. It all makes for great fun, so long as you’re not stuck at some dinner table with one of these cranks.

Why all the hate? A couple of theories. First, there is no particular stigma against openly declaring your hatred. If he hated the book he just read, or if he hates a politician who was just elected, an average German see no particular reason to conceal that fact, just as he see no reason to cover up his dangly bits when he walk into a sauna. German even has an expression English lacks — Intimfeind or "intimate enemy" to capture your feelings for that person who’s given you all of those precious moments of sheer, joyful, exuberant hatred. To paraphrase George Michael, "hate is natural, hate is fun, hate is best when it’s one on one." (from "I Want your Hate Sex.").

Another reason is hate’s long Teutonic historical pedigree. Do I even have to mention Martin Luther, one of history’s most prodigiously talented haters? Bismarck, once asked by his wife Johanna why he looked so awful one particular morning, famously answered "I spent the whole night hating!" ("Ich habe die ganze Nacht gehaßt!"). Georg Grosz once confirmed that his artistic inspiration was just plain hate — hate for Germany’s bourgeoisie and ruling classes (see, for example, 1926’s The Pillars of Society). He even had an artistic crisis when he tried to turn away from hatred as an inspiration.

And now to hatred among the learned. Here’s a short passage from Fritz Stern’s The Politics of Cultural Despair: Studies in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology (pretty cool Google Book link, no?), Stern’s study of the obscure 19th-century reactionaries whose thought formed the basis of National Socialist ideology. Paul De Lagarde, a learned student of the Bible, was a "brilliantly erratic scholar and moralist who all his life condemned and excoriated the things he most wanted to love." Stern sums up his relationship with other scholars:

Lagarde…would tolerate no criticism of himself and would answer even disinterested comments about his scholarship with invectives and contempt. Not that he practiced the detachment he preached. When he struck at an opponent, it was with offensive innuendoes and indiscriminate broadsides. As a polemicist he transcended all limits — and in the Germany of his day these were generously drawn — and case slurs upon the lives and motives of the most blameless scholars. His polemics, often printed and distributed at his own expense, were frequently wrong in points of scholarship, and alienated not only his victims but the entire guild. His unrestrained anti-Semitism offended a great many people as well. Besides his written attacks, Lagarde denounced his colleagues and their doings in the public meetings of the faculty. In private, he intrigued and conspired against colleagues, and his unpublished correspondence attests his meddlesome concerns for petty academic politics.

One colleague wrote of him: "Lagarde cherished not only the struggle but also the hatred. He wanted to hate." Stern notes in a wry footnote: "Nothing makes the contemporary blandness of American academic controversy more attractive than these reminders of nineteenth-century polemics."

6 thoughts on “The Joy of Hate

  1. Mmh,

    being a German exilant I can certainly understand the notion of perceiving Germans as being notorious haters, but I actually feel it’s a bit less threatening than that: they’re just a bunch of terrible whingers. Excessive and continuous whinging has always been a German trait and can be perceived as hatred, but I have to admit that probably most Germans can’t be bothered to hate if they can just whinge.


  2. No, what you perceive as “hate” is definitely not that, at least by German standards. It is just contempt or disagreement.

    Defining hate is just as difficult as defining love. Just as for a German the inflationary use of the word “love” in the English language seems akward, the term “hate” is equally less used in German. An example: the word “hate crime” (what in the world is that?) doesn’t have a proper German translation.


  3. i believe you’re right that the national socialists used hatred in order to promote themselves. sometimes it seems that the national unity they achieved would not have been possible if they hadn’t had the jews and in some kind the rest of the world to function as their “feindbild”, as a focus of hate. further i would widen that theory and apply it to every totalitarian regime. they all have used the differentiation between “us” and “them”. soviet-russia had the upper and lower classes, mao brought up the youth against the old and so on.

    peter sloterdijk recently wrote a whole book on concepts of hate and anger, called “Zorn und Zeit”, in which he shows that hate is broadly used by politics to mobilze the masses.


  4. Agree with Erwin. It’s not hatred, it’s the national hobby. Don’t want to harm nobody except ourselves, that is. With so much time to fill up in a single day, what else should we be doing? Haven’t you noticed “Alles ist doof” in Germany? I’ve left the country years ago, but you just can’t get away from your roots. We carry our baggage wherever we go.


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