The accusation of hate is becoming increasingly common in public debates. It’s a quick and easy label that confers moral authority to the person using it and puts the person accused on the defense. If anyone finds himself running into logical contradictions, he can simply charge his opponent with bigotry, derail the issue, and retreat to safer ground as the other is forced to explain himself.

Progressives have abused this trick so much that they have constructed entire narratives out of them. By their telling, the president is a racist tyrant; Christians hate LGBT people and hide behind religious freedom; conservatives are Nazis; and, because of these groups, America is a hateful country looking to oppress the world at every turn.

And yet, when one has contact with reality, it takes a significant act of will to believe this. President Trump’s actual policies have done more to help minorities than his predecessor; Christians have yet to launch a crusade against the LGBT community, and only ask to worship and debate peacefully; conservatives do far more to denounce bigotry than liberals; and Americans have little ambition to dominate the world or exploit weaker nations, unlike China or Russia. Despite all the presumed hate, America is a pretty friendly place by most standards.

Properly Defining Hate

This disparity between narrative and reality has caused many people to dismiss the idea of hate altogether. However, just like ignoring the boy who cried wolf for lying too many times, it would be a mistake to ignore the social justice warrior who cried hate too many times. Not only because this would permit real hatred to spread, but this would also enable those who misuse the label.

As with most problems, the problem of hate lies in the way its defined. For some, hate is a negative feeling people have with certain groups. For others, hate is any position that opposes compassion or charity for any reason. For the majority of people, hate seems to be disagreement of any kind. People will make the same mistake with love, but in the opposite direction.

Clearly, hate (and love) go much deeper than this. It would be better to accept St. Thomas Aquinas’s definition of love as willing the good of the other and reverse this for hate—willing evil for the other. And, to reference another great saint, St. Augustine of Hippo defines evil as the deprivation of the good. Therefore, true hate only qualifies as such when a person takes a fundamental good (which, for John Locke and most Americans, this would be life, liberty, and property) away from someone else.

By this definition, the most popular examples of hate would still apply. Racists who enslave, fascists who exterminate, extremists who terrorize any group for their race or creed are engaging in hate. In each of these examples, one group of people is depriving the goods from another group.

Then there are other forms of hate that are not so obvious. Eugenicists who want to control the population and communist regimes who rob certain groups of their property are also haters. It follows that that those who mimic the efforts of these groups, like those who advocate abortion or those who call for socialism, are guilty of hate since they want to deprive life to one group and deprive liberty and property to another.

Most will object to this, claiming that there are good reasons for these positions (babies are inconvenient, rich people do not need so much stuff, Pete Buttigieg just sounds so intelligent, etc.). This changes nothing though. All people think they have good reasons for doing what they do, whether they be saints or homicidal maniacs. Their reasons only matter in so far as what they effect. In other words, the means do not justify the ends. Robbing or killing a person for the sake of some greater good does not change the fact that someone was robbed or killed for what they were instead of what they did.

Conversely, the ends do not justify the means either. Many consider bad arguments or mean-spirited arguments the equivalent of hate. Conservative comedian Steven Crowder came under fire for this reason just last week. Vox host Carlos Maza demanded that YouTube remove Crowder from his platform because the latter continually rebutted his arguments and made fun of Maza on a regular basis. Seeing that Crowder has not actually deprived Maza of any fundamental good while Maza hopes to remove deny Crowder his freedom and income, Maza is the hater here, not Crowder.

The same can be said for nearly all comedians and provocateurs, including President Trump. Trump says many things that people find offensive or disagree with, but this does not make him a murderous dictator that would signal “the end of democracy” (sorry, Jeff Daniels). Unless the words are turned into law, words are not hate; actions are.

When People Start Identifying With Arguments

To deal with this problem, people have started personally identifying with an idea or ideology. This way, disagreement becomes discrimination and the argument is always personal. It becomes no longer possible to hate the sin and not the sinner since sinners now equate themselves with the sin.

Many LGBT advocates have taken this line and are succeeding with it. Christians who disapprove of the lifestyle and arguments of the LGBT community are characterized as disapproving of LGBT people themselves. Hence, places like Chik-Fil-A are labeled a hate group and banned at airports.

Although this logical strategy has been successful, it is wrong for three reasons: (1) an argument, even one that invalidates a person’s chosen identity is still just an argument, not actual hate; (2) in most cases, identifying oneself with an argument is essentially a choice and can be helped; and (3), accusing the other side of hate is almost always a justification for actual hate.

The first reason can also be called the “stick and stones” fallacy. The adage from childhood, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” sounds insensitive, but it is nonetheless true. Christians who question the merits of redefining legal marriage to include same-sex couples are not depriving anyone of their life, liberty, or property; Islamists who persecute homosexuals are depriving them of those goods. People who attend a church that disapproves of LGBT sexual morality are, in fact, doing nothing wrong; the same cannot be said for LGBT people who hope to ruin the reputation and career of such Christians.

The second reason, that identity is a choice, confuses action (the act of choosing) with being (being born a certain way). The values and lifestyle of the LGBT community are as much a choice as a person choosing a church or career and can therefore be freely rejected or opposed. A transgender woman cannot help that a large group people refuse to think of her as a woman since this is an opinion, not a fact—no matter what laws and popular culture might claim. This is much different from a black man living in the Jim Crow South who had no choice but to suffer the myriad abuses of racism. The former is choosing her reality; the latter is not.

The third reason, where fictional hate becomes actual hate, poses the biggest threat to society. Under the banner of “fighting hate,” people regularly seek to deprive goods of their opponents (through doxxing, deplatforming, lawsuits, etc.). When fighting hate becomes systematic and united with government—by declaring certain beliefs and practices illegal or endorsing unfair discrimination of certain groups—this is nothing less than persecution.

To say that all this can be solved by protecting free speech and letting people say whatever they want is only partially true. Free speech can contain hate, letting people settle their differences through words instead of blows, but it cannot defeat or diminish hate. Free speech alone only clears the way for those with the loudest voice, whether they are right or wrong. And when progressives dominate the media and do everything they can to smother conservative thought, it somewhat futile for conservatives to simply recommend that everyone play fair, keep the forum open for different ideas, and allow the invisible hand of the idea marketplace do its work.

Rather, free speech is only a means of winning the debate and ending the hate that comes from the other side—which is going to require a bit more than good manners and exceptional reasoning. This seems to lie at the heart of the recent clash between Sohrab Ahmari and David French. While French and so many conservative intellectuals think free speech is enough, Ahmari and many Trump-supporters realize that this means nothing if conservatives keep losing the argument and actual haters continue imposing their agenda in every facet of life. While the classical liberals take pride in their elevated status as conservative spokesmen (since they are so articulate and so moderate), most conservatives see that this strategy has only led to repeated defeats in public policy and cultural influence.

Therefore, it’s time for conservatives to reject the hate label for what it is and stop presuming goodwill from the other side. This will help them finally win the argument, overcome the hate and bullying that continues to spread, realize the virtues of free speech, and make the world a more loving place.