Enemigo mío.

‘Hatred is holy’, said Zola, who fought the enemies of Dreyfus not just from love of justice, but because he enjoyed fighting, and believed that he did not truly exist unless he was being attacked. So he rejoiced that he had made ‘pride and hate my two companions… I have felt younger and more courageous after each one of my revolts against the platitudes of my time… If I am worth anything today, it is because I stand alone and because I know how to hate.’ The more the two sides hated each other, the more they had in common, but that was ignored.

Anthropologists have found tribes which never fight, and which praise timidity, but they are not models to imitate, for they are obsessed by the fear of violence. Tribes have also been found which fights all the time, but which have to sustain their aggression by drugs or other stimuli; even cannibals are frightened by their own ferocity, and paradoxically drink the blood of their victims to calm themselves down, to liberate themselves from the feeling that they have become tigers.

Working onself up into a rage was once almost a form of art: ‘Sweeter by far than the honeycomb is wrath,’ said Homer. Divine fury used to be admired as heroic. In the last couple of centuries anger has lost its prestige; not that it is diminishing, but people are beginning to be ashamed of their anger. Nevertheless, an Australian enquiry- the only one of its kind- found that anger was experienced five times more frequently than sympathy.

So there has been little progress in the art of confronting enemies. Once an enemy is identified, propaganda now multiplies proofs of his depravity to reinforce the hostility, on the assumption that people find it gratifying to have their opinions confirmed. For example, John Foster Dulles, the US Secretary of State during the Cold War, when confronted with any new information about the URSS, systematically ignored anything that challenged his judgement of his opponent as an implacable and dishonest enemy. There is a firmly established tradition which encourages enemies to blind themselves to each other’s point of view. On this basis, war can continue for ever. And what helps it to continue is that private individuals are prisoners of attitudes of mind which make them seek out enemies, just like nations.

If you believed that there are people who despise you or wish you harm, if you have simmering inside you not just a fear of them, but a loathing and a disgust at the very sight of them, if you are convinced that they and you are totally incompatible, then it may be that your deepest roots stretch back into ancient Persia, and that you are an unwitting disciple of the prophet Zarathustra, who lived in the tenth century BC. His recommendations on how to react to enemies are still widely followed, particularly in the West, even if he is remembered only because his priests, the Magi, visited the Infant Jesus. Until Zarathustra had the idea that there was only one true god, and that all other gods were really wicked and hateful demons, enemies were different from what the have become. It used to be silly to imagine that one had implacable enemies, when what happened was believed to depend on whims of a large number of gods and ancestor spirits, and one’s no need to hate those who harmed one, because magic and sacrifice and prayer were more practical ways of dealing with them. the most ancient divinities were thought of as having the power to be either helpful or nasty, and much depended on how one treated them. Zarathustra replaced that with the belief that life was a perpetual battle, that every individual was surrounded by enemies ruled over by Satan-the arch-enemy who hated one irrespective of what one did, just for being human.

Zarathustra put all the blame for the opposition which his prophesying aroused on Satan. Only wickedness could explain that opposition, he thought. Satan refused to understand him, told lies about him: Satan was The Lie. That is how the all-purpose scapegoat was born, and nothing has paralysed intelligence more than the search for scapegoats. There was no need to probe the motives or the difficulties of on’s enemies, once one learnt to spot Satan in them, and so to hate them. Several great religions took up the idea that it was a duty to fight Satan, who hid behind the people one disagreed with. Cardinal Newman wrote, ‘One must learn to hate before one can learn to love.’ Zarathustra explained how to find the right object for one’s hatred, whom to blame for every misfortune. In other respects, he was a prophet of generous instincts, whose ideal was that people should be peaceful and neighbourly; but he could not understand those who rejected his ideas; he could not understand disagreement.

Theodore Zeldin, An Intimate History of Humanity.