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the romance of hatred


The romance of hatred is a real thing. But though we all recognize it, few take it to be a “romance” – a narrative of repulsion that is also about the attraction of the repulsed. To draw it out in dance diagram form, there are three positions, here, roughly: hating – being hated – being hated for hating. To be hateful is, in a sense, to be embarked upon a mission of destruction whose ultimate victim is the self. To rescue the self from its own hatred – that is the moral duty of politics, I think.

Hatred is used, fliply, by the journalist and pundit: back in the 00s, Americans were always learning that they were “hated” for their freedoms, and thus could hate back with their weapons. Weapons that by happy chance liberated their enemies – like the wound that heals, enemies would be turned into friends by seeing their loved ones killed by air bombardment.

 Richard Bessel, in his artlcle:  Hatred after War: Emotion and the Postwar history of East Germany, theorized that in the aftermath of shattering events – like World War II -  hatred had  a foundational, legitimating effect.

“This essay is a brief, admittedly speculative, attempt to suggest that examining hatred after war, and viewing public and political behavior as an expression of that hatred, may offer insights into what occurred in both the public and the private spheres in post-1945 East Germany. The suggestion is that hatred, arising from the violence and brutality of war and Nazism, was a major factor motivating both the leaders and the led in East Germany after World War II. Not just their rational calculations of how to deal with the challenges they faced and the political commitment that framed their actions, but also their emotional responses to what had occurred determined how Germans behaved in the physical and psychological rubble left behind by war and Nazism. This essay, therefore, is a tentative attempt to approach the history of Germany after World War II as a history of sentiments and emotions.”

Bessel’s essay was published in 2005, and since then there has been a massive affective turn in the humanities and social sciences. The anthropology of the detestable, the abject, the untouchable: who has not felt touched at least by great waves of hatred that have swept us about in the last twenty years? The apocalypse or the end of things – the great Planetary suicide – is firmly lodged on our entertainment menu. The horror story  is edging towards the aesthetic center, the defining position, rousting the tragedy and the comedy from their traditional places.

We do live in the post Cold War world.

Bessel fastens on the wave of mass suicides in Germany after the Nazi defeat. This was massive.

It is part of the racist code in which our history is given to us that it was not just  Japan – the Oriental enemy – that  was swept by mass suicide. The suicide of the hostile Other is very much a part of our political  dreamlife. The suicide bombers in Iraq, in France, the suicide hijackers of 9/11. We don’t of course think of ourselves as anything but the victims of these crazies. This thought disguises  the fact that the defense posture of the U.S., during the Cold War and after, depends on our own  suicide bombers. . SAC pilots and crews, parodied in Dr. Stangelove,  knew that they had little chance to survive delivering to their targets. In essence, they were asked to be suicide bombers on a much bigger scale than any kamikaze attack we can imagine. . The risk of dropping an bomb on Moscow is undoubtedly close to the risk of being killed delivering a rigged car to be exploded in front of an embassy. But while we can rally warm feelings in the patriotic homeland base by the idea of the suicide mission, the suicide bomber is a sort of ideogram of hatred, hatred taken to its logical conclusion: the annihilation of the self and other.


 “One of the most remarkable features of the collapse of Nazi Germany is the huge wave of suicides that accompanied it. This surge of suicides included not only much of the regime’s political leadership—Hitler, Goebbels, Göring, Himmler, Thierack and Ley—but also dozens of Wehrmacht generals and many lesser Nazis and lower-level functionaries, as well as thousands of civilians who killed themselves as Allied forces pushed their way into Germany and occupied the country. Already in early 1945, as the roof was caving in on the Third Reich, many Germans contemplated killing themselves; according to a report of the German security service about popular morale in the dying days of Nazi Germany, “many are getting used to the idea of making an end of it all. Everywhere there is great demand for poison, for a pistol and other means for ending one’s life. Suicides due to genuine depression about the catastrophe which certainly is expected are an everyday occurrence.”10 The gruesome sight that greeted American soldiers when they arrived at the Neues Rathaus in Leipzig—littered with the bodies of Nazi officials who had killed themselves and their families— was but a spectacular example of a widespread phenomenon.”


“After the German military collapse, the atmosphere in entire communities was colored by such events, as suicide became almost a mass phenomenon. A particularly extreme example is that of the Pomeranian district town of Demmin, where roughly five percent of the entire population killed themselves in 1945;13 when the Landrat, who had been installed by the Soviet authorities in May 1945, surveyed conditions in Demmin in a report for the Interior Administration of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in November 1945, he noted: “365 houses, roughly 70 percent of the city, lay in ruins, over 700 inhabitants had ended their lives through suicide.” In Teterow, a town in Mecklenburg numbering fewer than ten thousand inhabitants in 1946, the burial register included a “Continuation of the Appendix for the Suicide Period (Selbstmordperiode) Early May 1945,” containing details of 120 suicide cases, listing how the act had been carried out: people shot themselves, hanged themselves, drowned themselves, poisoned themselves; frequent reports noted how fathers killed their entire families and then themselves. After years when they had been able to aim massive violence against other people, Germans now turned violence on themselves.”

 Bessel’s notion is that we should pay more attention to the literal truth Goebbels enunciated:

“Germany’s war was fought, as Goebbels boasted in a radio speech on 28 February 1945, not long before his own suicide, “with a hatred that knows no bounds.””

Simmel, in his Sociology, modeled sociological processes on what he took to be the fundamental elements of society – on the one hand, the individual, and on the other hand, the universal. In some ways, this is a dubious translation of medieval logic, that eternal game of the particular and the universal. One wants some meso-level between the I and the community. In Simmel’s schema, however, the third entity is conflict. It is neither a quality of the individual or a property of the universal, but a third thing – a socializing process. The thirdness of violence has been taken up by other thinkers – notably, Rene Girard – and given other directions. The important thing is that it lifts hatred out of its supposedly privileged and limited place as a wholly private and interior affair. Unlike Girard, however, I don’t think the endpoint of the logic of hatred is Christ on the Cross, but the Werewolf – the wolf as the hunter of men becoming inhabited by a man.

Bessel talks about the violent intention encoded in suicide, its use as an instrument to hurt “the important other.” This is an old cliché – and it covers up how the other is already eaten by the suicide. The suicide eating his victim, the wolf eating the man, the werewolf living in and on the wolf that lives on people. The soldier of any army, the partisan of any side,  almost instinctively drifts to the imago of the predator.

The romance of hatred dreams of monsters instead of heroes, the undead instead of the resurrection. Perhaps this is why we are so close to Frankenstein and Dracula. Who absorbed the hatred they inspired as a life force, purged of love.

Liminal figures. Against which we have to pit all we know about reality. I’m with Lucretius. You cannot purge life, you cannot purge the universe, of love.  Frankenstein and Dracula included.