Last month, the Canadian government detained several newsletters from the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) defending “Israel’s moral right to exist” out of concern that “they may constitute obscenity or hate propaganda.” Although the government later decided that the material did not constitute “hate propaganda,” so what if it did? What’s so wrong with hate?
Government and university officials (and activists) around the globe can casually slap the label “hate speech” or “hate crime” onto almost any event and win instant support from mobs of rabid “hate” haters. “Hate speech is not free speech,” the president of San Francisco State University repeatedly reminds the campus. Why not?
Hate, like love, is not a crime; it is an emotion. Both hate and love are estimates of another person’s worth in relation to one’s own value system. Love is a response to positive, admirable traits in another individual. Hatred is a response to negative, contemptible traits in another individual. As a result, someone who condemns all forms of “hate” is really condemning all forms of value judgment. They are condemning the very existence of a moral code that makes a distinction between what is “good” and what is “bad.” By implication, they are condemning positive value judgments as well; they are damning love. Hatred as such is neither good nor bad. In any specific instance, only the reasons for hatred can be evaluated morally. When legitimate reasons exist to hate someone, hatred is justified. Otherwise, it is not. Go ahead, hate Adolf Hitler; a moral person should.
What hate haters are supposedly trying to protect us from are those instances in which hatred is not justified. Illegitimate hatred of an individual stems from reasons that are morally insignificant and are usually outside of that person’s control, such as who their parents were (race), what sex they are, what their sexual orientation is, or whether they like Pespi more than Coke. These attributes are morally insignificant, and hating someone for them is clearly wrong. But outlawing the expression of such hatred, even if it is morally contemptible, is also wrong. Freedom of speech–even “hate speech”is necessary to prohibit the government from playing the role of referee in the arena of ideas. (Only speech that threatens the use of force should be restricted.) If the freedom of speech does not protect hate speech, then by implication it is left to the government to decide–and enforce at gunpoint–what constitutes legitimate hatred and what does not; what goes in the list of morally insignificant reasons to hate, and what does not. In the United States, the First Amendment is designed to prevent the government from ever getting the chance to make those decisions.
Skirting freedom of speech by criminalizing illegitimate hatred is bad enough, but the real motive of the hate haters is not simply to outlaw morally inappropriate hatred–it is much worse. The real motive is to acquire the official power to dictate ideas. This is accomplished by a particularly devastating intellectual slight of hand: the inclusion of religious and political beliefs in the list of morally unacceptable reasons to hate someone. For example, San Francisco State University’s definition of a “hate incident” includes motivation “either in whole or part by bias to their ethnicity, race, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or political or religious belief.” But unlike the color of a person’s skin, a person’s political and religious beliefs are a matter of morally significant personal choice–they represent the very system of values from which a person draws his or her concepts of “good” and “bad.” In the realm of politics, Adolf Hitler had some pretty bad–morally bad–beliefs, and hating him for those beliefs is proper. In the realm of religion, the terrorists who leveled the World Trade Center believed that Allah would reward them for killing thousands of innocent people. Hating Mohamed Atta because he had dark skin is not legitimate; hating him for his radical religious beliefs certainly is. Only a racist could place religious and political beliefs in the same category of moral significance as the color of someone’s skin. Under this skillfully broadened definition of inappropriate “hate,” officials can readily justify the confiscation or censorship of anything from ARI pamphlets to bibles.
The intended result of this scam is that governments and universities will wield the power to decide what sort of political and religious criticism is off-limits and what will be allowed. By screaming, “hate speech” at everything they don’t like, they hope to obtain carte blanche to censor at will. But the plan only works if people are afraid of the word “hate,” so don’t let the hate haters fool you. They’re not about freedom from hatred, they’re about hatred of freedom.