Guest Post: Evil And The State

Tyler Durden's picture

The next in a continuing series (most recently: The Nature and Origin of the State).

Submitted by Free Radical

Evil and the State

Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil. – Thomas Paine

If the state is “an evil inflicted on men by men,” yet the preservation of society nonetheless “justifies the action of the organs of the state,” then the inescapable conclusion is that the state is indeed “a necessary evil.”

But how can this be? How can this or any other evil be necessary without rendering evil itself necessary? And if evil itself is necessary, then what of right and wrong, and thus of human morality? For surely the necessity of evil renders human morality null and void, as any action, no matter how heinous, can therefore be justified.  Law is then whatever anyone who has the power to back it up says it is; might then makes right; and the state, which is inherently an instrument of might, is then the only legitimate authority, never mind that legitimacy itself is rendered null and void.

To escape this travesty of reason, then, we must show that however inevitable it might be, evil can never be necessary, which we can only do by defining what evil, broadly speaking, is.  And we do so by (1) acknowledging the primordial fact that being is, (2) intuiting from this the primordial value that being is good, and (3) acting on the resultant impulse that more being is better.  For from these it follows that (1) less being is bad, (2) nonbeing is worst of all,i  and (3) evil is therefore that which fosters one of the other. 

Understood in this way, it is clear that evil has no existence apart from being and the goodness thereof and is instead derivative of them.  Thus did Augustine of Hippo, for example, argue against the

… conception of evil as an independent reality and power coeternal with good. … Evil, he taught, has no independent existence, but is always parasitic upon good, which alone has substantial being. ii

Co-eternity, after all, would mean one of two things: Either mutual dependence – in which case good would need evil as much as evil needed good – or mutual independence – in which case evil would have substantial being and thus the same ontological validity as good.  Thus would evil either be as necessary as good or as “good” as good, leaving human morality in the lurch regardless (e.g., I steal because I need to or because it’s as “good” as honest work), leaving civil society in the lurch as well.

For human morality to be preserved, then, and thus the basis for civil society, we must assert, with Augustine, that evil cannot be co-eternal with good but must be parasitic upon it.  And as we have already established that the state, having no existence beyond that which it is able to extract from (the good(s) of) society, is similarly parasitic, we can only conclude that because the state is evil, it cannot be necessary.  It follows, then, that while the state is indeed “an evil inflicted on men by men,” the preservation of society in no way “justifies the action of the organs of the state.” Instead, it justifies whatever action society deems necessary to diminish – and ultimately eradicate – the state. 

And as this includes the so-called “democratic” state, it is to this most insidious form of evil that we turn in my next submission: “Democracy and Its Contradictions.”


To argue that nonbeing is better is simply to take nihilism to its logical extreme – i.e., to “believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy.” Such belief is therefore not only antisocial but antihuman, anti-life, and anti-existence.
ii  The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, New York, 1967, Vol. 3, pp. 136 and 137.

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gorillaonyourback's picture

there is no right or wrong, no good or evil,  there is just what is, natural law.  your perspective is what is right for you, but that doesn't mean its right for the next guy.  so if anything right and wrong or good and evil is totally arbitrary, hence universally undefined

AnonymousAnarchist's picture

Today's educational video comes from two people ZH readers are familiar with. Doug Casey and Thomas Woods discuss Is Limited Government an Oxymoron?. Part of the Introduction to a Stateless Society.

Still, if you only read one thing from the intro, make sure it is Hasnas' The Obviousness of Anarchy (pdf).

Missing_Link's picture

Wow, that's fuckin' deep, dude.  My mind is BLOWN  ... blown, I say.

Bananamerican's picture

another ZH "think piece"

if evil is legitimate and hippos are inherently derivative,can non being escape the inevitable conclusion???

How heinous to intuit this tragic bolus.....

Wynn's picture

@ gorillaonyourback

true. but groups of like minded people always coalesce. the more refined the belief, the smaller the group.

gorillaonyourback's picture

well if you look at all who junked me im a group of 1 lololol.

i suppose most people didnt like the simplicity of my statement, but i believe in simplicity. i like to use as an example copernicus and his relatively simple calculation for predicting the heavenly bodies movement, before him the calculations were so incredibly difficulty because the premise was wrong.

so i guess if look u for the reasons we have corrupt goverment is because evil is winning, maybe the premise is wrong.

so now i will say something even simpler, IF YOU DONT LIKE WHATS GOIN ON IN THE WORLD AROUND YOU, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. now doesn't that take the whole question of right or wrong, right out of the equation?  IM NOT SAYING I DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT all the time but i do know its up to me to make my world around me the best i can, and its not easy

lesterbegood's picture


Stand up for your rights!

Withdraw your consent!

Stop playing the corporate states' game.

hardmedicine's picture

relativism may not send you to hell but at least you'll feel all justified while on the road there

mouser98's picture

wrong.  to attempt to forcibly control or own another's life, liberty or property is immoral, there is nothing relative about it.

vanderrook's picture


I think a lot of people are confusing legal relativism with moral relativism; you are correct sir: there is, I believe, absolute morality as you have defined it- it is the legal arbitrariness that has fucked so many people up...

Positive (man made) laws must be stopped!

Batty Koda's picture

Are parents evil for telling their children what to do?

"Don't touch that stove, it's hot." Is this an example of a malignant patriarchy applying it's totalitarian rule to an innocent child?

Unfortunately we don't live in the realm of bunny wabbits and candyfloss, there will always be a ruling authority, it's called civilisation, I'm a fan, if your not just move to the woods and become a hermit or something.

The question is what form should this ruling authority take, if the visions of libertarians/anarchists come to fruition we'll be ruled by a consortium of mega-corporations. I prefer the idea of a democratically elected group of experts setting laws and such (not what we have now) but if you want to be slave on a global plantation that's your business, at least realise what your advocating.

ms1408's picture

"we'll be ruled by a consortium of mega-corporations"

You mean don't have that system at the moment?

Take a look at a chart of wealth disparity against the size of the welfare state and you will see a strong positive correlation. Government has historically produced the greatest disparity between rich and poor.

You also forget that "corporations" are a legal illusion invented by the state. There is no such thing as a "corporation" or a "government" - only people. It is immoral to enact violence against someone who hasn't aggressed against you and no perverted ideological construct will change that. 

mouser98's picture

you reduce us all to the level of children with your thinking.  i don't know about you, but i learned to think for myself about 30 years ago.  i don't need Uncle Sam to tell me not to touch a hot stove.  if you do, i will volunteer to look out for you, we don't need to enslave all of humanity just to keep you from hurting yourself.

you pretty much got it entirely backwards.  you are a slave on a global plantation right now, because you can't give away your right to think for yourself fast enough.   you are nothing more than livestock, and because you refuse to recognize the right of a man to own himself, you would keep all of us on the farm forever.  people that think like you make me sick.

DosZap's picture

There is a definite RIGHT, and WRONG.

Your being human, having a conscience will tell you immediately if what your doing , planning to do is right or wrong.

Everyone (unless your a Sociopath),knows its evil to murder/steal/rape,etc.

There is Natural Law, and there is mans Law.

The original state of this country before it became a country was built and operated on Anarchy, but there are different types of anarchy.

Kind of like Rights, your rights stop at my nose.

Human Government is from GOD, it is needed to promote law.( our laws were set up on GODS LAWS).

It's function is to keep total anarchy(wrong type), from evil,on /against innocents and society.

If you break the law of Government its their job to mete out justice.

This takes out vigilantism.

Their must be a system of order.

If the SYSTEM itself is evil, then it must be changed.

gorillaonyourback's picture

this is what  bothers me ,people like this one talks in absolute terms which IS BULLSHIT.  if you think hard enough you can justify killing, stealing and rape. although rape is  tough, but in the history of man im sure you can find instances.  these people who deal in absolute are the CANCER for they r the ones who ascribe their morality on all others at all costs.   I myself can justify for the common good getting ride of people like this, for the good of society, there is no arguing with people like this, they r 1 step away of fanatism just like those christrians muslims jews and any other who believe in the absolute, which may be stupidity.  now i feel im talkin in absolutes

Desperado's picture

Yes, you just demonstrated the fatal contradiction of your reason. 

Everyone believes in absolutes.  The problem is that noone wants anyone else to tell them what the absolutes are. 

gorillaonyourback's picture

whats the fatal flaw in believing absolutly there are no absolutes, it leaves my mind wide open for listening to anothers point of view

cranky-old-geezer's picture

I junked you for citing imaginary beings as sources of authority.   Natural law is the proper source of authority to cite.

Human government doesn't get its authority from imaginary beings.  It comes from those governed, as clearly stated by the Founders, who also clearly said the governed have authority to alter or dissolve said goverment if it ignores and / or abuses the governed, which IS vigilantism in a sense.

It's amusing how religious types say government gets it's authority from "God" then turn right around and say they have a second amendment right to take up arms against that authority.

The "God" type government they hope for and pray for would be a top-down dictatorship where they have NO rights.

"Rights" is a completely bogus concept arising from "fairness", an equally bogus concept.

LIMITED AUTHORITY is the proper concept.

downrodeo's picture

they say the same thing in the video game  Assassin's Creed:

nothing is true, everything is permitted


Aleister Crowley said something along the lines of "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law". It sounds good, but isn't that a perfect recipe for the total chaos that the anarchist-bashers are always so concerned about? There seems to be something wrong with this.

Milestones's picture

We must then conclude that ours is the end result of such a state and would appear to finish where " Thus Spake Zarathustra" leads us. G-D is Dead (ethics/morality) and we are now bound, if we are to survive, to become Fredrick's Supra moral man, replacing G-D.

This ought to get me a bundle of junks.     Milestones

snowball777's picture

That which does not kill you, makes you weaker so the next thing can.

topcallingtroll's picture

These is where people beg the question and make semantic arguments. During the enlightenment period all these things were debated endlessly. Humans are imperfect and thus of course mediating institutions will also be imperfect. The fact that there are no perfect outcomes and people and their mediating institutions often both cause and suffer from these imperfections in no way makes the institution of government an evil. Governments can be evil, but broadening the definition of evil to lack of perfection and the inevitable accidental miscarriages of justice is probably overly broad. Making broad assumptions that cant be proven and using semantic arguments in a circular way is classic don scotus from which the word dunce came from. Schools should train people in rhetoric and logic like in the old days. Most people would then find this primitive level of arguing over definitions, basic assumptions, and circularity to be boring and irrelevant.

cossack55's picture


Rule 1: 4 legs good, 2 legs bad.

End of Rules.

AnAnonymous's picture

Humans are imperfect and thus of course mediating institutions will also be imperfect.


Can humans draw the perfect circle? The perfect square? The perfect line?

TheEternalTriangle's picture

No. Your point being?

We can create the conceptual contruct of the perfect line or circle but cannot bring it into being. I would draw that out to other ideal concepts.

tmosley's picture

Right, because the mind of a drive by troll's sock puppet can't be made to comprehend logic derived from the simplest of axioms in existance.

I don't know why you seem to think you can fool ANYONE by just changing names all the time.

topcallingtroll's picture

But the axioms themselves are subject to dispute. The assumption that we all agree on the axioms is begging the question.

tmosley's picture

If you disagree with the axioms presented, then you are a nihilist, and don't get a say in anything.  Death worship is not legitimate, unless you only seek your own death.  In which case, feel free!  I'll even pay for the bullet.

Withdrawn Sanction's picture


Howzat?  Nice try to sneak in the logical fallacy of question begging, while simultaneously denying the foundations of logic itself.  Have another go, logic certainly wont be an impediment to your reasoning skills.


topcallingtroll's picture

Agreed, but it always helps to explain why!

tmosley's picture

Wow.  I wonder if I have been pulling a "Fight Club" and blacking out and writing under a pseudonym.  This guy seems to have a philosophy that was cloned from my own (or vice versa).  But then, I simply derived my own philosophy from the same first principles as he did. 

Thanks for posting this, TD. 

Great Depression Trader's picture

The reality is that these types of ideas are so foreign to your average American. Most people believe that the "government" is a magical entity, out to protect us and always has a plan to keep the country humming along. The more educated one is, the more likely they are to believe in the government superbeing myth. I believe that this country will see dark days of tyranny and restricted liberty the likes of which we have never seen in American history. The people have taken their liberty for granted, and thus, are willing to lose it in order to be free.

lesterbegood's picture

No government in the history of civilization has ever voluntarily granted its people any rights or liberties.

tmosley's picture

2/3rds slave, 1/3rd welfare recipients.  Sounds a lot like today.

TheEternalTriangle's picture

You forgot the 0.1% wealth hogging Oligarchs.

Steroid's picture

True, the state is parasitic, however, it is the necessary final arbiter.

I suggest a self regulating mechanism. E.g., at the highest level a congressional lottery:

The monthly (weekly?) winner will be ... executed televised to satisfy both the philosophers and the mob.

tmosley's picture

No need to use guns for arbitration.   I would suggest you read this:

Steroid's picture

@tmosley, I tend to agree with von Mises (not that human action can hardly be called rational and as such that Osterfeld thesis is wrong from the beginning.

tmosley's picture

Some people just want to use force instead of thier minds.  Careful you don't find yourself among their number, as those who live by the sword die by the sword.

Great Depression Trader's picture

There comes a point where the use of reason and debate no longer have any effect. Thus, violence is in fact necessary. And while it is true that those who live by the sword will die by it, it is alo true that "there is a time for peace and a time for war." When life is so unbearable as a result of tyranny and people are willing to die for the chance to live free, revolutions begin. The US is not at this point, yet..

Shell Game's picture

Having trouble reconciling your agreement with this statement and your initial post re: no good, no evil.  If tyranny is not evil then why do you agree it must be met with violence as a penultimate option?

Personally, I am complete agreement with GreatDepression's statement, but I believe there is evil and there is good, there is right and there is wrong..

i.knoknot's picture

i see images of the trusting sheeple getting on those WWII german trains and have no problem at all knowing that there would be no nobler end than taking out a few of 'them' as i die by that sword.