Before I started reading Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt by Arthur C. Brooks, I was skeptical.

First, the religious undertones of the title made me think that it might end up being nauseating or impractical for most readers entrenched in current contemptuous party politics, regardless of their political party affiliations. Second, I knew that Brooks was a devout Catholic with conservative political leanings, which isn’t necessarily aligned with my more not-institutionally-bound spirituality, and independent yet moderately progressive political leanings. However, as I read Love Your Enemies, I was pleased to find that my skepticisms were addressed yet not completely embodied in the work itself.

While I don’t full-heartedly agree with every idea and stance Brooks espouses in Love Your Enemies, I do think that he and I would at least be able to have a productive debate about where we differ in our ideas and stances. And that possibility is the overall point of this book, which is an important one. We (as Americans) will and should disagree, especially on the daunting issues of our time. And this book could serve as a first draft of a more practical guide on how to disagree more productively and respectfully in our current contemptuous political climate. It also offers insight into why we need to begin disagreeing more productively and respectfully—much more often than we do right now.

In Love Your Enemies, Brooks calls on average, decent Americans to lead the charge in combating the “culture of contempt” brought about by an “outrage industrial complex” that is currently plaguing American politics and daily discourse. To bring his call to action to life, Brooks relies on empirical research, evidence, and advice from notable individuals like the Dalai Lama, Plato, Pope Francis, Edmund Burke, America’s Founding Fathers (and some of their contemporaries), John Stuart Mill, and many others. He also relies on real-life stories from both sides of the political aisle, and other more personal and practical examples, to show how individual Americans can show respect (even love) for their supposed political enemies. Because ultimately, we shouldn’t see ourselves as enemies in the first place, according to Brooks—especially if we want to experience a thriving and well-functioning democracy.

So, how do we “love” our enemies in such a contemptuous political climate and work to subvert such a contemptuous culture? Brooks has five main rules for individuals to follow, which he highlights in the final chapter of the book and expands on in the earlier chapters of the book.

  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 [and tell your story, as well as seek out others’ stories].
  3. Say no to contempt. Treat others with love and respect, even when it’s difficult.
  4. Disagree better [not less]. Be part of a healthy competition of ideas.
  5. Tune out: Disconnect more from the unproductive debates.

Here are some passages and quotes from Love Your Enemies that help summarize it and why it’s an important read, along with other important quotes and passages that are vital for everyone to ponder right now.

  • “We have a cultural addiction to contempt—an addiction abetted by the outrage industrial complex for profit and power—and it’s tearing us apart. Most of us don’t want that, though. We want love, kindness, and respect. But we have to ask for it, choose it. It’s hard; we are prideful, and contempt can give a sense of short-term purpose and satisfaction, like one more drink. No one ever said that breaking an addiction was easy. But make no mistake… we can choose what we truly want, as individuals and as a nation.” (Page 39)
  • “… I may not agree with you, but what you have to say matters.” (Page 42)
  • “In sum, belief in compassion and fairness is encoded into the moral compass of almost all people. Those on the left and the right express those shared moral values differently, with emphasis on different aspects, but they agree with each other about the central moral values. The implication of these findings is both critically important and inescapably clear: nearly all of those who disagree with us are not, as we so often think, immoral; they simply express this morality in different ways.” (Page 94)
  • “…being confronted with the humanity of others curtails our capacity for hostility.” (Page 114)
  • “It’s much harder to have contempt for real people with names and faces and human stories. When we encounter one another as individuals and tell our stories, we overwhelm contempt with something more powerful: love.” (Page 128)
  • “We feel human love for people, not statistics.” (Page 140)
  • “In virtually every case where people struggle with storytelling, it is because they are too far away from the subject of their work.” (Page 150)
  • “Shutting down the competition of ideas makes it harder to achieve our common moral goals.” (Page 165)
  • “But the vast majority of Americans on both sides of the issues today are good and decent, and want to make the country better.” (Page 170)

If you read only a small portion of Love Your Enemies, read chapter eight (“Please Disagree with Me”), in its entirety. It covers how to forge true friendships with those who have strikingly different views and ideas from you, and why you (and our nation, for that matter) need such friendships for the health of our democracy. Chapter eight also covers four practical rules for how to engage in respectful and productive disagreements, and how to welcome such disagreements. Read chapter nine too because it touches on the five rules mentioned at the beginning of this review, regarding how to subvert the culture of contempt, and it summarizes the book well.

ISBN of Book Reviewed: 9780062883759

Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt (2019) by Arthur C. Brooks See this review on Goodreads