60 in 60: #12 – Hazlitt’s On the Pleasure of Hating (Penguin’s Great Ideas)

This blog post is part of my ongoing “60 Books in 60 Days” encounter with the Penguin Great Ideas series. From mid-December to mid-February, I will read one book in the series each night and post a blog entry about it the next morning. For more on this beautifully designed series, visit Penguin’s page about the books.

On the Pleasure of Hating
by William Hazlett (1778-1830)

Memorable Line
“The pleasure of hating, like a poisonous mineral, eats into the heart of religion, and turns it to rankling spleen and bigotry; it makes patriotism an excuse for carrying fire, pestilence, and famine into other lands: it leaves to virtue nothing but the spirit of censoriusness, and a narrow, jealous, inquisitorial watchfulness over the actions and motives of others.”

The Skinny
A series of strong, combative essays on subjects from boxing to modes of government.

Relevance? Argument?
I hate stickers on books that leave glue behind, self-stupidity, cruel people, sentimental movies, most small talk, cockroaches, bad carbs, pretentiousness, vapid pop music, rapacious governments, itchy tags on t-shirts, bookshelves you have to put together yourself, getting shocked by the car door, cats breathing on my head when I’m lying on the couch, empty tape dispensers, fascists, people who don’t keep to-do lists, infomercials that aren’t surreal, and most forms of jello.

William Hazlitt hates “people who have no notion of any thing but generalities, and forms, and creeds, and naked propositions, even worse than I dislike those who cannot for the soul of them arrive at the comprehension of an abstract idea.” He also hates spiders, mostly I believe because he thinks they are “little reptiles,” Charles Darwin’s On Natural Selection not having permeated the life of his Great Ideas because it’s downriver, at #16 in the Great Ideas series. But Hazlitt hates the “spirit of malevolence” more, which is why he counsels against stomping spiders, unless you are “a child, a woman, a clown, or a moralist…” (Sigh. See: A Vindication of the Rights of Women.) Pure good is just as bad as pure evil to Hazlitt, and love “turns…to indifference or disgust.” Hazlitt’s also not fond of crowds that gather “to witness a tragedy” and “superfluous bile.” He is not much for cannibals, either. Mostly, though, Hazlitt hates hate, and does an admirable job of proving his point.

In other essays, like “On Reason and the Imagination,” Hazlitt finds a solid middle ground that feels less like compromise (see: Montaigne) and more like common sense. Also of note are “On the Spirit of the Monarchy” and “What is the People?” Hazlitt’s essays, in their pugnaciousness, their focus, and their tone represent the first thoroughly “modern” approach I’ve found in the Great Ideas series.

I would’ve enjoyed having a conversation with Mr. Hazlett.

Question for Readers
What do you hate?

Next up, Marx & Engel’s The Communist Manifesto…

6 comments on “60 in 60: #12 – Hazlitt’s On the Pleasure of Hating (Penguin’s Great Ideas)

  1. Larry says:

    What do I hate? Almost always, a personal status quo. Inevitably, I start to feel cabin fever and I have to do something, like quit a job, move almost 1000 miles SE, get frustrated with that second job, move back 1000 miles, pick up new hobbies almost constantly, etc. All my other nitpicking hates stem from that.

    Sounds as though this book would be the perfect antidote for the schmaltzy things happening around this time of year.

  2. Sir Tessa says:

    I hate everything and everyone on an equal basis.

    I’m polite like that.

    (Why are moralists allowed to stamp on spiders?)

  3. Somehow I knew you would say that! (The first part.)

  4. Larry says:


    To answer the last question: It’s because most moralists don’t live in climates warm enough to support thriving cockroach populations, so spiders had to be the stand-ins.

  5. I have always wondered about hate, it really isnt hate, but a more emotional stimulas of the enviroment around you, at that specific time, that your dislike reveals itself, through the use of the word hate.

    It to me is like saying sorry, are you really sorry, do I hate you. No I cant stand you etc.

    Not sure if this makes any sense. Anyhow are you going to read Wittgenstein’s Tractatus.

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