Five People Not Made Nicer By Having a Good Enemy

When I was a kid, a wise woman said of a politician: “At least he has the right enemies.”

The thinking was sound: you cannot take a stand on an issue without causing somebody to disagree with you. Making evil people mad at you is not such a bad thing. In fact, I have learned to distrust the man who will not let his opponents be his opponents.

Sometimes one can agree to disagree, but eventually one meets people so disagreeable that the only option is separation. The command to love my enemies implies that eventually I am going to have some. Sadly, there are some people that embrace ideas so wicked that if they don’t get irritated with me, there is likely something wrong with me.

It is likely that I have been a moral coward if the local Klansman is a Facebook fan.
It is probable that I have compromised, if a Stalinist reads my work with approval.

One decent way of finding a friend is to look at their enemies.

Sadly, this general wisdom has been turned into a rule by some people. If a politician or a thinker has the right enemies, then they will support this person to the last. But surely this is foolish, since (logically)_ one vice will often be irritated by another vice.

The libertine will dislike the prude and the prude be annoyed by the libertine, but neither prudery nor concupiscence gain as a result. History is replete with examples of people who had some of the right enemies, but were simply bad themselves.

The top candidate must be Hitler. Hitler hated communism, though not quite enough to avoid making a short-term deal with Stalin, and viewed his party as being in a death match with the “red-shirts.” Eventually, he engaged in a death struggle with the Communists in Russia without gaining a shred of virtue.

Stalin was the mortal foe of Hitler, but his monstrous crimes are not made better by this opponent.

Napoleon was opposed by all the corrupt rulers of the old regimes of Europe, but he was a tyrant nonetheless.

Two less horrible men round up my list and make the point:

Joe McCarthy opposed communism, a real threat in his day, but his tactics were still harmful to his cause and wrong.

John F. Kennedy irritated the mob, Communists, and segregationist, but it did not improve his reckless exploitation of women and his lies.

But it is not just grand historical figures where this is obvious: the local Klansman opposed Communism, but the Klan should not be defended. The local revolutionary opposed the Klan, but was still a dupe of Moscow.

In last extreme cases, we are faced with decent, but flawed men like William Jennings Bryan. He stirred up the social Darwinists, but was still unfit to be president of the United States. His harebrained economics gain nothing from the cupidity of many of his foes.

Sometimes in a broken world, we have no choice but to support a Stalin to take down a Hitler, but we should not lie about it. American propaganda that tried to turn the monster of Moscow into beloved Uncle Joe still sickens me. (I am looking at a book called “Russia is No Riddle” right now . . . a prime example of delusional thinking). Better was Churchill’s hard headed realism: first Hitler, then Stalin.

And yet, the enemy of my enemy is not always my friend. Stalin could never be a real ally and only the most extreme evil could even remotely justify aiding him. Most cases are nothing at all like this. We have a duty to clean our own house and our own movement, not just defend a man or woman because his or her enemies are our own.

A man is not made more fit to lead because his opponent is wrong. Surely associating with an incompetent, even in victory, will not be helpful to any business, party, or movement in the long run. Unless the very fate of liberty is at stake such short-term thinking leads inevitably to long term disaster.

Those defending Mr. Akin in Missouri need to take a look at whether they are defending an incompetent with bad views simply because he is our incompetent and has many of the correct enemies.

If so, then they are making a mistake. The Missouri senate election is not World War II, his Democratic opponent is not Hitler after all, and such compromises in all but the most extreme cases taint the best of causes. Better to lose, if no third party is possible, clean house, and live to fight another day with a better candidate.


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