Magazine article The Spectator

Those of Us without Enemies Don't Deserve Friends

Magazine article The Spectator

Those of Us without Enemies Don't Deserve Friends

Article excerpt

. A lovely man who went through life without making any enemies.' This is how a preparatory school contemporary of mine, recently deceased, was eulogised in the school's annual report to its old alumni. As it happens, I do not remember him as a lovely boy, but rather as an arse-licking creep. Of course this doesn't mean that he did not later grow into a lovely man. Never having known him as an adult I am in no position to tell. But if he went through life without making any enemies, this does not sound as if he had been all that different in adult life from how I remember him at school - i.e. a creep and an arse-licker. For no man of any quality can go through life without making enemies. Most certainly Jesus Christ, whose birthday anniversary we have just been celebrating, made enemies, as our vicar in his midnight mass Christmas sermon, somewhat inappropriately, saw fit to remind us. Don't forget, he said, that the life of Jesus, which began in the crib, ended on the cross.

For it is quite impossible to do good or tell the truth without making enemies. Indeed it is roughly true to say that the greater the man, the more enemies he is certain to have made. That is why I was a bit worried at first about the exceptional lack of malice in most of the obituaries of the great philosopher, Isaiah Berlin. How can he have dominated the humanities at Oxford throughout the entire length of the Cold War without earning the vengeful enmity of all those Marxist fellow travellers in high places there whose real sympathies lay with the other side? By the breadth of his understanding and the sweetness of his character, one might say, or by following the precept of Frank Longford, echoing the words of Our Lord, to hate the sin but love the sinner. Up to a point, yes. But I have never been entirely convinced by that argument. In my experience when people truly hate the sin, they do also hate the sinner and find it impossible to disguise their hatred. Certainly this was true in the case of Nazi sympathisers during and after the second world war. Nobody's sweetness of character or breadth of understanding extended so far as to embrace them, and I doubt whether Sir Isaiah's patronage would have been extended to historians or literary critics of a fascist persuasion to the same degree as it did to those of a Marxist persuasion. Eric Hobsbawn, the great Marxist historian, is a case in point. In spite of having been, and still being, an apologist for the Soviet Union, he is socially acceptable on the London scene in a way the Nazi apologist, David Irving, could never be. And even the traitors Burgess, Blunt and Maclean, who spied for the Soviet Union, have never suffered the obloquy reserved for John Amery and Lord Haw-Haw who worked for Nazi Germany.

Or does it all come down to a question of manners, of there being more ways of conveying disapproval or even contempt than outward rudeness or ostentatious ostracism? I would like to think so. For the most part I act on this precept, hiding my hatreds behind a veil of politeness, as did 18th-century gentlemen who challenged each other to a duel with the flourish of a hand, and a bow, accompanied by the hollow `your servant, sir'. Indeed it can be argued that cold courtesies are far more wounding than the most heated insults. While conceding all this, I still know in my heart that my real motive for not calling a spade a spade is almost always selfindulgent moral cowardice, a hatred of scenes and rows, a desire for a quiet life, even, I regret to say, a shameful attraction to the company of monsters. …

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