Aug 18 2008

Memo on evil: it’s real

Category: Europe,freedom,liberty,middle eastharmonicminer @ 9:47 am

There are many people who have dealt with “the problem of evil” by ascribing it to societies and culture more than to individuals who get into positions of power. The “end of history” has not come, nor will it until the Second Coming. Michael Ledeen has again written a document that perfectly skewers the conceit of the Left that humanity is perfectable, if only we could live in better, fairer societies. Read the whole thing for essential background, but here are the concluding graphs:

It was all wrong, as are most beliefs in the vast impersonal forces that are held to determine human events. The great constant in man’s affairs is change, the direction of that change is determined by human actions, and many of the men and women who take those determinant actions are evil. Machiavelli is not the only sage who recognized it, but he put it nicely: “Man is more inclined to do evil than to do good.” Rational statecraft starts right there.

The American Founders knew it: recognizing man’s innate capacity for evil, they designed a system of checks and balances to thwart the accumulation of power by any group, lest the entire enterprise fall into wicked hands. They knew the battle for liberty would never end, Benjamin Franklin famously warned we would have to fight to keep our republic.

All of this wisdom has been dangerously undermined by the foolish notion that man is basically good, that all men are basically the same, and that all we need do is to permit history to take its preordained course. Are these not the tenets of contemporary education? Are our children not forbidden to criticize “others,” whether of different pigmentation or religion? Has debate on our university campuses not turned into the moral equivalent of the Inquisition? And it rests on the sands of a demonstrably false vision of man. We are not naturally inclined to do good. Quite the contrary; left to our own devices we produce genocide in Europe, Asia and Africa. And the evil spreads, eventually it threatens us, it kills our people here at home and it is straining to kill more of us. Ask the Georgians. Ask Middle Eastern Jews and Christians, or the Iranian, Iraqi or Syrian peoples.

The basic debate needs to begin with a recognition that we have bought into a fable. Without that recognition, we will be incapable of designing the policies we need in order to survive this perilous moment.

As in so many matters, it boils down to theology…. or lack of it. If the Fall is taken seriously, and if human free will is taken seriously, there is no reasonable expectation that “good” can triumph due to human cleverness at constructing “just” social systems. The best we can do is devise systems that make it difficult to do too much evil too quickly, and that spread power sufficiently that no singularly evil person can destroy us. In the end, that’s the promise of republican democracy: things will never be perfect, but they will be manageable. The very worst excesses of our government have been in attempts to do good without taking into account the danger of abuse of the very power that is required to do “good”, or, to be more generous, to do good without considering newly created incentives that lead to unintended consequences.  Frequently, government based attempts to do good have presented unbearable temptations for government to abuse the power it claimed to “do good”.  Congress began spending the Social Security Trust Fund decades ago.  Was there ever a chance that a government which had the power to take your money and give it to someone else would not just spend it outright?

Connected to all of this is the desire to disconnect outcomes from behavior, that is, to provide rewards to people who have not earned them. While this may seem Christian on the surface, in the end it is a way of encouraging poor behavior, and so we get more of it.

This exists on the international stage, where our desire for peace can cause us to tolerate the intolerable, in the hope that if we don’t fight back too hard, maybe the bad behavior will be ameliorated on its own…. a forlorn hope, to say the least.  Right off hand, I don’t recall any dictators who’ve had attacks of conscience and changed their ways, if they thought they could get away with business as usual, meaning what’s yours is theirs, including your life.

We need leaders who are realists about humanity, not dreamers who think humanity is endlessly plastic if placed in a properly ordered society.  We need people who have that essential theological understanding of what human beings are.


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