The Peace & Justice Files: On the Need for an Enemy (2006)

(An earlier version of this column was published in July 2006.)

C.S. Lewis, the author and theologian best known for the “Narnia” fantasy series, also tried his hand at science fiction once.  In his so-called “Space Trilogy” – the books Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength – he used alien planets and mad scientists to craft Christian allegories. In the second book, Perelandra, Lewis’ hero, a professor named Ransom, pursues a fiendish creature, the “Un-Man,” across the landscape of Venus.  The “Un-Man” looks like his friend and colleague Weston, but Ransom knows that in fact it is an incarnation of Evil itself. After several skirmishes and a long pursuit, exhausted and weary, he finally catches up with the creature, which leads to the following astonishing passage:

“… Then an experience that perhaps no good man can ever have in our world came over him—a torrent of perfectly unmixed and lawful hatred. The energy of hating, never before felt without some guilt, without some dim knowledge that he was failing fully to distinguish the sinner from the sin, rose into his arms and legs till he felt that they were pillars of burning blood… It is perhaps difficult to understand why this filled Ransom not with horror but with a kind of joy. The joy came from finding at last what hatred was made for. As a boy with an axe rejoices at finding a tree, or a boy with a box of coloured chalks rejoices on finding a pile of perfectly white paper, so he rejoiced in the perfect congruity between his emotion and its object. Bleeding and trembling with weariness as he was, he felt that nothing was beyond his power, and when he flung himself upon the living Death, the eternal Surd in the universal mathematic, he was astonished, and yet (on a deeper level) not astonished at all, at his own strength.”

“To fight with a perfect, unmixed and lawful hatred…” I suspect that this desire is an immensely powerful, and largely unacknowledged, part of our psychic makeup. (It’s certainly in my own head and heart, I can tell you that for sure.) What could be more satisfying than being able to unleash one’s unlimited wrath legitimately upon a fully deserving object, mercilessly, with complete justification, without a taint of guilt? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to identify such a target?

If none were available, wouldn’t it be tempting to create one?

If one were offered to you, wouldn’t you eagerly and gratefully – perhaps even unquestioningly – accept it?

Think about this from another perspective: if someone were seeking great power for themselves, wouldn’t providing such perfect enemies for their people be a great way to do it?

But there’s a problem when we succumb to this temptation, whether the object we’re talking about is Saddam Hussein or Cindy Sheehan, George Bush or George Soros, Hillary Clinton or Ann Coulter, Iran or North Korea, the NRA or James Brady, Israelis or Palestinians or Syrians or Hezbollah or ISIS or …. whoever.

The problem is this: Your hatred is a ring in your nose – by which anyone else can lead you around at will.

In fact, it could be argued that the whole bloody mess we are currently witnessing in the Middle East and beyond is a result of the clever manipulation of crowds through the creation of hatred. And every choice that international statesmen make that serves to enhance that hatred ensures the perpetuation of that mess.

Maybe the best way to eliminate our enemies is not to vanquish them, but to give up our need for them.

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