The Opposite of Love Is Not Hate, But Indifference

Elie Wiesel? Wilhelm Stekel? Rosalie Gabler? John Le Carré? Rollo May? August Strindberg? William Hale White? Otto M. Spangler? David Cornwell?

Dear Quote Investigator: Love and hate are intense emotions that are sometimes mingled together. The following statement makes a fascinating point:

The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.

This adage has often been attributed to activist and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, but I think it might have a longer history. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Elie Wiesel did employ this expression in 1986, but it was already in circulation before he was born.

The earliest close match in English located by QI appeared in “The Beloved Ego: Foundations of the New Study of the Psyche” by prominent Austrian psychologist Wilhelm Stekel. The text was translated from German into English by Rosalie Gabler and published in 1921. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

There is no love without hate; and there is no hate without love. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference; the opposite of feeling can only be the absence of feeling. Disinclination, which is coloured by feeling, often only serves the purpose of concealing and protecting oneself against an inclination. Love and hate must go hand in hand; and the people we love most we hate also, because hate is grounded in the nature of love.

The German title of the work above was “Das Liebe Ich: Grundzüge Einer Neuen Dietätik der Seele”, but QI has not yet examined that book.

The quotation in German was present in the 1921 edition of Stekel’s work “Die Geschlechtskälte der Frau: Eine Psychopathologie des Weiblichen Liebeslebens” (“Frigidity in Woman: A Psychopathology of Women’s Love Life”): 2

Der Gegensatz von Liebe ist nicht Haß, sondern Gleichgültigkeit; der Gegensatz eines Gefühls kann nur die Gefühllosigkeit sein.

The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference; the opposite of feeling can only be the absence of feeling

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1866 a political essay in a Woodstock, Vermont newspaper linked love, hate, and indifference: 3

Day follows night!
Sunshine follows storms!
Smiles follow frowns!
Kind words follow bitter ones!
Love follows hate, as hate follows indifference!
Peace follows war!

In 1885 British writer William Hale White published an autobiographical work under the pseudonym Mark Rutherford. He condemned indifference although his statement differed markedly from the adage under examination: 4

Most of us have no real loves and no real hatreds. Blessed is love, less blessed is hatred, but thrice accursed is that indifference which is neither one nor the other, the muddy mess which men call friendship.

In 1891 a newspaper in York, Pennsylvania published a group of anonymous “Sunday Reflections” including this saying: 5

Love conquers hate, but never indifference.

The well-known playwright and novelist August Strindberg wrote “Le Plaidoyer d’un Fou” (“The Confession of a Fool”) which was translated into English and published in 1912. Strindberg presented a different relationship between love, hate, and indifference: 6

I wanted to live long enough to revenge myself; but first of all I must have proofs of her infidelity.

I hated her now with a hatred more fatal than indifference because it is the antithesis of love. I hated her because I loved her.

In 1921 an English translation of Wilhelm Stekel’s “The Beloved Ego” contained the target quotation. The German version appeared earlier:

The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference; the opposite of feeling can only be the absence of feeling.

In 1925 columnist Edith Johnson employed the saying in “The Daily Oklahoman” of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: 7

There is no love without hate, and no hate without love between men and women. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.

In 1967 Reverend Otto M. Spangler addressed a community group in Paducah, Kentucky on the topic of “Apathy Versus Fanaticism”: 8

He said that both were seen now as never before. A growing feeling—a lack of concern on the part of people—a popular phrase is “I don’t want to get involved.” He said that the opposite of love was not hate, but indifference. “These days there is a feeling of apathy, a complete indifference,” he said.

In 1968 the famous spy-thriller author John le Carré (David Cornwell) published the novel “A Small Town In Germany”. A variant expression using the word “apathy” instead of “indifference” appeared in the book twice. It was spoken by fictional characters: 9

The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s apathy.
The opposite of love is not hate but apathy.

In 1969 the influential U.S. psychologist Rollo May published “Love and Will” which included the following: 10

Apathy is particularly important because of its close relation to love and will. Hate is not the opposite of love; apathy is.

In 1986 an interview with Elie Wiesel appeared in “U.S. News & World Report” magazine. A memorable quotation was reprinted in “The Arizona Republic” newspaper: 11

Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.
The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.
. . .
— From an interview, with Elie Wiesel, recent Nobel Peace Prize winner (U.S. News & World Report, Oct. 27).

In conclusion, Wilhelm Stekel deserves credit for the expressions in German and English in the 1921 citations. John Le Carré, Rollo May, and Elie Wiesel all employed versions of the expression many years later. Wiesel’s quotation in 1986 was considerably more elaborate.

Image Notes: The colored images symbolizing: hatred (frown), love (smile), and indifference from 95C (Felipe) at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to Vivian Fiszer whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1921, The Beloved Ego: Foundations of the New Study of the Psyche by Wilhelm Stekel M.D., Translation by Rosalie Gabler (Member of the British Psychological Society and of the Society for the Study of Orthopsychics), Chapter 2: The Fight of the Sexes, Quote Page 16, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Company, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1921, Title: Die Geschlechtskälte der Frau: Eine Psychopathologie des Weiblichen Liebeslebens (English: Frigidity in Woman: A Psychopathology of Women’s Love Life), Author Wilhelm Stekel, Volume 3: Störungen des Trieb-und Affektlebens, Chapter 10: Der Kampf der Geschlechter, Quote Page 229, Urban & Schwarzenberg, Berlin and Wien. (Internet archive archive.org) link
  3. 1866 May 3, Spirit of the Age, We Will Not Die, Quote Page 2, Column 4, Woodstock, Vermont. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1885, Mark Rutherford’s Deliverance by Mark Rutherford (Pseudonym of William Hale White), Edited by Reuben Shapcott, Chapter 1: Newspapers, Quote Page 14, Trübner & Company, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  5. 1891 January 13, The York Daily, Sunday Reflections, Quote Page 1, Column 7, York, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1912, The Confession of a Fool by August Strindberg, Translated by Ellie Schleussner, Part 4, Chapter 6, Quote Page 295, Stephen Swift and Company, London. (Internet Archive archive.org) link
  7. 1925 April 13, The Daily Oklahoman, Edith Johnson’s Column: Side-Lights on Purdy Case, Quote Page 6, Column 3, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Newspapers_com)
  8. 1967 February 10, The Paducah Sun-Democrat, Section B: Family Section, Wickliffe Woman’s Club Hears Program On “Apathy Versus Fanaticism”, Quote Page 1, Column 5, Paducah, Kentucky. (Newspapers_com)
  9. 1968, A Small Town In Germany by John le Carré, (American Edition), Quote Page 105 and 196, Coward-McCann, New York. (Verified with scans)
  10. 1969, Love and Will by Rollo May, Chapter 1: Introduction: Our Schizoid World, Quote Page 29, W. W. Norton & Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  11. 1986 October 26, The Arizona Republic, Insight: Perspectives on the World, Quote Page C6, Column 1, Phoenix, Arizona. (Newspapers_com)