My title raises at least five questions.
Q1. How is love relevant to the way communities deal with controversial issues? (As Tina Turner sang, “What’s love got to do, got to do with it? What’s love but a second hand emotion?”)
A: Many of the people we disagree with about controversial issues are people we already love: mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, friends, neighbors. If there is no way to love those we speak out against in public, then either we speak out on very few issues, or else we love very few people.
Q2. Why mention “enemies”?
A: It makes explicit that the focus is wide. Also, some who led our world by their teachings and lives believed loving enemies was an ideal worth striving for. Martin Luther King Jr. regularly preached a sermon titled “Loving Your Enemies,” and regularly practiced what he preached. Ghandi once said, “It is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.” King and Ghandi studied Jesus: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”
Q3. But isn’t loving our enemies logically impossible, like squaring the circle; or morally backwards, like punishing the innocent?
A: Loving enemies is not logically impossible once we clarify what is meant by “love.” Some believe that love is always what Tina Turner said: “just a second-hand emotion.” But there are different types of love, and the type relevant here has less to do with emotion and more to do with willing someone’s good. Immanuel Kant argued that if love were just an emotion, it would make no sense to command someone to love; he said our duty to love our enemies has less to do with liking them, and more to do with choosing to act in ways that benefit them. King made a similar point: “In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men.”
Is loving enemies morally backwards? In his UK radio talks around WWII, C. S. Lewis said “It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible.” Yet Lewis noted “I am to love [my neighbor] as I love myself,” and asked: “Well, how exactly do I love myself?” He eventually answered: “I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do.” King made a similar point: “what Jesus means when he says, “Love your enemy”” is that “you love the individual who does the evil deed, while hating the deed that the person does…”
Q4. Still, how can we love someone while speaking out against them? If we love someone, shouldn’t we just keep quiet?
A: Yes, as a general rule of thumb. But in the words of the scripture that John Lennon used, “There is a time for everything…a time to be silent and a time to speak…” Sometimes love permits, and even requires, speaking out against someone. We often value our friends precisely because they will tell us the hard truths about us rather than flatter us for their own advantage. An ancient proverb says, “wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” And another one says, “rebuke a wise man and he will love you.”
Q5. Still, what about doing it in public? Shouldn’t all speaking out be done in private?
A: Sometimes love permits, and even requires, speaking out against others in public. Aristotle, about to criticize his teacher Plato, notes “such an inquiry is made an uphill one by the fact that [these views] have been introduced by friends of our own. Yet, it would perhaps be thought to be better, indeed to be our duty, for the sake of maintaining the truth even to destroy what touches us closely, especially as we are philosophers or lovers of wisdom; for, while both are dear, piety requires us to honour truth above our friends.”
Sometimes love for people itself is what requires us to speak out in public. “When Peter came [to town],” Paul says, “I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong [and his actions were misleading those we loved]…I [spoke] to Peter in front of them all…” In 2008, New Orleans mayor Nagin issued a mandatory evacuation before hurricane Gustav. At his news conference, Nagin was blunt with his beloved fellow-citizens: “You need to be scared. You need to be concerned. You need to get your butt out of New Orleans.”
John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty, argues that “the real morality of public discussion” requires “condemning everyone, on whichever side of the argument he places himself, in whose mode of advocacy either want of candor, or malignity, bigotry, or intolerance of feeling manifest themselves; but not inferring these vices from the side which a person takes, though it be the contrary side of the question to our own…”
I close by noting two rival approaches for speaking out against neighbors and enemies in public. One is captured by the clever title of a recent book: What Would Machiavelli Do? The Ends Justify the Meanness. Another is captured by the parallel slogan, which is consistent with Aristotle, influential for Mill, adopted by Kant (& King, & Ghandi, & Lewis…), and available to each of us today.
Department of Philosophy