The topic of hate has come up in disparate places lately.

On the one hand,Mark Thoma points to Daniel Little, who offers an analysis of conservatives as motivated by hate. On the other hand, Matthew J. Franck calls this “playing the hate card,” and he protests.

Bryan argues that Mao was a mass murderer. One of Bryan’s book recommendations, Bloodlands, was reviewed by Richard Rhodes, who concludes,

By including Soviet with German mass atrocities in his purview, Timothy Snyder begins the necessary but as yet still taboo examination of the full depravity of total war as it was practiced in the 20th century, before the advent of nuclear weapons foreclosed it. The next step, for someone brave enough, will be to examine and explain the mass atrocities of the victors.

Let me propose that the issue of “hate” is what in many people’s minds distinguishes the various mass murders that have taken place. At one extreme, it seems reasonable to argue that the German mass murders of Jews were motivated by hate. At the other extreme, it may be reasonable to suppose that Mao’s starvation policies were not motivated by any hatred on his part of the people who died. I think that one would have to argue that hatred played some role in the Soviet slaughters, as well as Hiroshima and Dresden, but other motives were arguably more important.

Does any of this matter? Many years ago, I wrote an essay on Type C vs. Type M arguments, in which I took an extreme consequentialist position. I suggested that in economics we learn that the consequences of policies can differ from the motives of the people conducting those policies. Because of this, I argued for focusing on consequences, not on motives.

I probably went too far in that essay. Still, I think that many people go too far in the opposite direction. Mao’s crime without hate gets less condemnation than I believe it deserves. The Tea Party’s alleged hate without crime gets too much condemnation, in my view.

In my view, the most dangerous phenomenon is not hatred. It is power. Hitler’s hatred would have amounted to nothing had he remained a Bohemian painter. Many political leaders have caused great harm in spite of the best of motives. I am no fan of hatred, but I think what is really important is not to condemn hatred but to check power.