"The Love Of Liberty Consists In The Hatred Of Tyrants"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Hazlitt was very much an individualist, and frequently at odds with the world; often he found himself fighting alone. This situation did not trouble him in the least. Attacked viciously, he retaliated in kind. It is likely that these savage rebuttals rendered at least some of his opponents speechless with fury. Hazlitt's life of adversity and misfortune filled him with anger rather than melancholy; he did not expend his feelings in a useless hatred of life itself, but railed instead at persons and institutions with whom he disagreed. His outbursts were often undisciplined and he nursed grudges. At the same time he was fully dedicated to human rights and to liberty: these were what he actually fought for. He idolized Napoleon because the latter was an enemy of hereditary monarchy, and Hazlitt knew that the emperor's defeat was a gain for the forces of reaction. Though he may have considered the man a tyrant, he still believed that in monarchy lay the worse tyranny. Hazlitt expended the bulk of his fury in his Political Essays, at the same time proving himself to be a brilliant and incisive thinker. Some of these are articles he sent to the Times; that concerning the relationship "between toad-eaters and tyrants" is a particularly trenchant example. In it he attacks Burke, who favored the monarchy and was opposed to the French Revolution, and accuses such writers of subordinating human rights and liberty to the "gratification of their literary jealousy." The love of power, Hazlitt believes, is man's most ruinous disease; but "Man is a toadeating animal. The admiration of power in others is as common to man as the love of it in himself: the one makes him a tyrant, the other a slave." This is the reason why men long for liberty and accept tyranny in its place. Paradoxically enough, tyranny brings about an increased loyalty to itself. Hazlitt then defends a French political club, the Jacobins:

. . . A true Jacobin, then, is one who does not believe in the divine right of kings, or in any other alias for it, which implies that they reign 'in contempt of the will of the people'; and he holds all such kings to be tyrants, and their subjects slaves. To be a true Jacobin, a man must be a good hater; but this is the most difficult and the least amiable of all the virtues: the most trying and the most thankless of all tasks. The love of liberty consists in the hatred of tyrants. The true Jacobin hates the enemies of liberty as they hate liberty. . . . "The love of truth is a passion in his mind, as the love of power is a passion in the minds of others. Abstract reason, unassisted by passion, is no match for power and prejudice, armed with force and cunning. The love of liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves. The one is real; the other often but an empty dream. Hence the defection of modern apostates. While they are looking about, wavering and distracted, in pursuit of universal good or universal fame, the eye of power is upon them, like the eye of Providence, that neither slumbers nor sleeps, and that watches but for one object, its own good. They take no notice of it at first, but it is still upon them, and never off them. It at length catches theirs, and they bow to its sacred light; and like the poor fluttering bird, quail beneath it, are seized with a vertigo, and drop senseless into its jaws, that close upon them forever, and so we see no more of them, which is well."