Love Your Enemies | Book Review


Arthur C. Brooks opens Love Your Enemies with a personal anecdote about a speech he gave to conservative activists in New Hampshire. Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington, D.C., think tank, so the audience for the speech was “an ideological home-field crowd” for him. Among other things, he talked about how the American public perceives liberals as “compassionate and empathetic” and argued that conservatives should earn that reputation too.

After the speech, an unhappy women approached him and castigated him for being too nice to liberals. “They are not compassionate and empathetic,” she argued. “They are stupid and evil.”

Stupid and evil. Although a conservative voiced the words, the sentiment is common on the other side of the political spectrum too. A November 2018 Axios poll found that roughly the same percentage of Democrats and Republicans viewed the other party as “ignorant” (54 and 49 percent, respectively) and “evil” (21 and 23 percent, respectively). Even worse, “The share of Americans who have more generous impressions is roughly equal to the poll’s margin of error, which is 3%.”

According to Brooks, this denigration of the other side reflects more than anger or incivility. It reflects a pervasive “culture of contempt,” contempt being defined as “anger mixed with disgust.” Or, as Arthur Schopenhauer put it, contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.”

In such a culture, what is needed most is not tolerance or civility, as important as those practices are. Rather, Brooks argue, what is needed most is love, especially love for one’s enemies. Following Thomas Aquinas, Brooks defines love as “to will the good of the other.” Love doesn’t mean setting aside facts and compromising in some mushy middle. But it does require remembering that while “their views might be [worthy of contempt], no person is.”

Although Brooks is president of a secular think tank and his book is pitched at a broad audience, his is a fundamentally Christian insight. (Brooks himself is Catholic.) The book’s title comes directly from Jesus’ commandment in Matthew 5:44. That being said, Love Your Enemies is not a theological tome or a how-to book for Christian ministry, but an exercise in the application of enemy-love to American public discourse.

Along the way, Brooks outlines the features of our culture of contempt, asks whether we can afford to be nice, gives love lessons for leaders, shows how we can love our enemies even if they’re immoral, identifies why identity politics is both powerful and perilous, asks whether competition is a problem, and encourages people to disagree with one another — though without contempt, of course. Throughout, he uses anecdotes and contemporary social science to make his points. The resulting case for love in the public square is both convincing and well worth reading.

Love Your Enemies covers a lot of ground, so Brooks helpfully concludes the book with “Five Rules to Subvert the Culture of Contempt”:

  1. Stand up to the Man. Refuse to be used by the powerful.
  2. Escape the bubble. Go where you’re not invited and say things people don’t expect.
  3. Say no to contempt. Treat others with love and respect, even when it’s difficult.
  4. Disagree better. Be part of a healthy competition of ideas.
  5. Tune out. Disconnect more from the unproductive debates.

As noted above, Love Your Enemies is not a theological tome or a how-to book for Christian ministry. I read this book as a Christian minister, however, and can’t help but see its salience to Christian readers and leaders. So, I close my review with an exhortation to them:

Christ commands us to love our enemies. There’s no carve-out when the “enemy” is on the other side from us religiously, culturally or politically. There’s no exception clause for those moments when an election is on the line. Loving our enemies is simply what Christians do for others because it’s what Christ did for us. So, let’s do it. It’s the right thing to do, and if Brooks is right, it’s also the most socially beneficial thing we can do in our nation’s roiling culture of contempt.

Book Reviewed
Arthur C. Brooks, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt (New York: Broadside Books, 2019).

P.S. If you like my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

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Monday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Joy Qualls joins me on the Influence Podcast to discuss how to debate hot button social issues well. Perhaps Christianly is the better adverb to use. “In an increasingly pluralistic and polarized culture, this skillset is an absolute must-have for Christian leaders.”
  • We note a new Barna study about how parents’ giving patterns affect their children’s giving patterns. “Respondents who said generosity was extremely or very important to them were most likely to report having extremely or very generous parents. On the other hand, people who placed little or no importance on generosity tended to rate their parents as less generous.” Teach your children well!

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Marriage, Religious Liberty, and the “Grand Bargain”: An Instance of Neuhaus’ Law?


The late Richard John Neuhaus once articulated a principle that he presumed to call Neuhaus’ Law: “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.” Over at Public Discourse, Robert P. George offers what I take to be an instance of this law, namely, the “grand bargain” between proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage:

Since most liberals and even some conservatives, it seems, apparently have no understanding at all of the conjugal conception of marriage as a one-flesh union—not even enough of a grasp to consciously consider and reject it—they uncritically conceive marriage as sexual-romantic domestic partnership, as if it just couldn’t possibly be anything else. This is despite the fact that the conjugal conception has historically been embodied in our marriage laws, and explains their content (not just the requirement of spousal sexual complementarity, but also rules concerning consummation and annulability, norms of monogamy and sexual exclusivity, and the pledge of permanence of commitment) in ways that the sexual-romantic domestic partnership conception simply cannot. Still, having adopted the sexual-romantic domestic partnership idea, and seeing no alternative possible conception of marriage, they assume—and it is just that, an assumption, and a gratuitous one—that no actual reason exists for regarding sexual reproductive complementarity as integral to marriage. After all, two men or two women can have a romantic interest in each other, live together in a sexual partnership, care for each other, and so forth. So why can’t they be married? Those who think otherwise, having no rational basis, discriminate invidiously. By the same token, if two men or two women can be married, why can’t three or more people, irrespective of sex, in polyamorous “triads,” “quadrads,” etc.? Since no reason supports the idea of marriage as a male-female union or a partnership of two persons and not more, the motive of those insisting on these other “traditional” norms must also be a dark and irrational one.

Thus, advocates of redefinition are increasingly open in saying that they do not see these disputes about sex and marriage as honest disagreements among reasonable people of goodwill. They are, rather, battles between the forces of reason, enlightenment, and equality—those who would “expand the circle of inclusion”—on one side, and those of ignorance, bigotry, and discrimination—those who would exclude people out of “animus”—on the other. The “excluders” are to be treated just as racists are treated—since they are the equivalent of racists. Of course, we (in the United States, at least) don’t put racists in jail for expressing their opinions—we respect the First Amendment; but we don’t hesitate to stigmatize them and impose various forms of social and even civil disability upon them and their institutions. In the name of “marriage equality” and “non-discrimination,” liberty—especially religious liberty and the liberty of conscience—and genuine equality are undermined.

The fundamental error made by some supporters of conjugal marriage was and is, I believe, to imagine that a grand bargain could be struck with their opponents: “We will accept the legal redefinition of marriage; you will respect our right to act on our consciences without penalty, discrimination, or civil disabilities of any type. Same-sex partners will get marriage licenses, but no one will be forced for any reason to recognize those marriages or suffer discrimination or disabilities for declining to recognize them.” There was never any hope of such a bargain being accepted. Perhaps parts of such a bargain would be accepted by liberal forces temporarily for strategic or tactical reasons, as part of the political project of getting marriage redefined; but guarantees of religious liberty and non-discrimination for people who cannot in conscience accept same-sex marriage could then be eroded and eventually removed. After all, “full equality” requires that no quarter be given to the “bigots” who want to engage in “discrimination” (people with a “separate but equal” mindset) in the name of their retrograde religious beliefs. “Dignitarian” harm must be opposed as resolutely as more palpable forms of harm.