Guest Post: Evil And The State
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.”
i 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.