Villainy: An Analysis of the Nature of Evil (Part 2 of 5)

by | Oct 15, 2005

How does Adolf Hitler – a dropout, a ne'er-do-well, an unemployed and unemployable itinerant – acquire life-and-death power over the great scientists, industrialists and thinkers of Western Europe?

How does Adolf Hitler – a dropout, a ne’er-do-well, an unemployed and unemployable itinerant – acquire life-and-death power over the great scientists, industrialists and thinkers of Western Europe? Though evil men have no metaphysical power, they can, and often do, acquire social power. They cannot rule nature, but they can rule men. It is the very impotence of evil as a metaphysical force that makes it dangerous as a social force. Since evil men cannot survive by their own effort, they must seek their survival by parasitical means. This is the theme of Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead: that evil is second-handed, surviving only as a parasite on the good.

Crucial to a villain’s success is the sanction of his victims. Evil men must cloak themselves in a veneer of righteousness, they must seek the moral approval of the producers they exploit. The communists argue that it is man’s moral duty to serve the people; the Nazis proclaim that there is a superior race whose rightful place is mastery; Saddam Hussein stated that Kuwait is properly part of Iraq, that the two were unjustly partitioned by the British; even a common criminal says that he has been victimized by “legit” society and is only taking back what is rightfully his.

An evil man needs a moral code in order to extort the sanction of his victim. Since he survives only as a parasite on the productive activities of honest men, he must circumvent their opposition to him. If they identify his monstrous nature, they will cut off dealing with him. They will refuse to support him and will oppose him. Honest men are scrupulously conscientious in striving to be moral. A villain must deceive them into believing that he is, too. In the face of opposition, an evil man pours out an endless litany of grievances, complaints and injustices perpetrated against him, protestations of the righteousness of his course, etc. He seeks to disarm his victims of their moral certainty, he seeks to undermine their belief in the justice of their fight. He seeks to appropriate the moral high ground.

This is why, for instance, Nazi and Communist totalitarian states construct vast propaganda machines to flood the world with claims upholding the justice of their battle, the superiority of their system, the evil of their enemies, and the inevitability of their triumph. Since the evil man is helpless, he must seek the voluntary compliance of the producers whose activities sustain his existence. He must convince them of his rectitude. Morality is man’s most powerful weapon. Evil men sense this and deploy it as their heaviest gun in the battle to enslave the good.

But this presents a paradox. It seems that we have discovered one realm in which evil is powerful, in which it overpowers the good. The question, then, is: If evil men are impotent, how is it that they have been able to so utterly dominate the field of morality in the twentieth century?

To answer this question requires a deeper analysis, an analysis of the nature and roots of the moral code that empowers evil. Is there a specific code of values upon which evil relies? Is there a particular creed that is the villain’s indispensable weapon against the good? Let us return to the three examples with which we started.

We saw common criminals force honest businessmen to serve their whims and support their existence. We saw religionists call upon a scientist to sacrifice his mind and obey God’s teachings. We saw twentieth-century collectivists demand that an individual give up his values and perform selfless service to the people. In brief, we have seen rational, productive individuals commanded to sacrifice themselves to gangsters, God, or the people.

It becomes obvious which moral code is the villain’s primary weapon, the power of which has won him many more battles than any arsenal of guns, bombs, or tanks. It is the moral code of human sacrifice.

The ethics of sacrifice has one purpose and one result: it enables parasites to survive as leeches on the efforts of productive men. It enables irrational men who evade reality to drain the blood of rational men who embrace it.

Without a code of sacrifice, evil could hold no power in the world. The mindless dolts would flail about, attempting to rob or enslave the good, but rational men would explicitly identify their evil and withdraw all support. The irrational men would be left with one alternative: convert or die – adhere to reality or starve. They would not have rational victims willing to support their existence. And if, in the absence of a sacrificial moral code, they attempted to seize wealth by force, rational men would fight them. The looters would then discover the truth of Ragnar Danneskjold’s observation regarding the outcome of any battle between mindless force and mind plus force (in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged).

The only purpose of the code of sacrifice is to morally disarm productive men. This ethic is the indispensable instrument by means of which the good are delivered into slavery.

The code of sacrifice exists in three variations. One can be called upon to sacrifice for another individual or for a supreme being or for a group.

The first version is known in the history of moral philosophy as cynical egoism. It is the theory of the Greek Sophists, of Machiavelli, of Hobbes, and of Friedrich Nietzsche. It holds that men are essentially beasts – that they are driven by greed and power lust – that other men exist only as a means to an individual’s ends – and that he should exploit the others brutally in pursuit of his goals. According to this ethics, might makes right – or, as stated by the character Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic, “Justice is the will of the stronger.”

Cynical egoism postures as a type of egoism. It is easy to see why. This theory tells a man to make himself happy – and to do so at the expense of others. But we must ask the question: Is this, in fact, egoistic? The answer is: No.

Egoism states that each man has a right to live for his own sake. Egoism is a principle; it is universal and applies to all men. Put negatively, it states that no man may survive as a parasitical victimizer of others. The same principle that protects one man’s life from all others also protects them from him.

Moreover, man’s nature is such that he must produce the goods his survival requires; he must create them. Human life requires rational achievement. It forbids plundering and mooching. Rational achievement is in a man’s self-interest. Plundering and mooching, because they undercut, enslave or even kill the producers, lead only to death.

The theory known as “cynical egoism,” therefore, does not advocate egoism. It is simply a variant on the ethics of human sacrifice – only now it is the selves of others that get sacrificed to the alleged egoist. Its purpose is to justify the actions of creatures that seek to drain the wealth of the productive. Its essence is the same as religion and collectivism: the enslavement of rational men by the irrational. As such, the name “egoism” should be dropped from its name and it should be called in exact accordance with what it is: cynical exploitation or parasitism. It must be treated as the variant on the theme of human sacrifice that it is. Cynical exploitation is a direct consequence of altruism; where men are enjoined to sacrifice themselves, it is a necessity that someone be there to collect their sacrifices.

The second variant on the theme of human sacrifice is religion, which claims that God holds dominion over the world, that all owe obedience to Him. Since He is the all-powerful Creator, He is the source of truth and falsity, right and wrong. A proposition is true if He says it is, false if He says so. An object or action is good if God so ordains, bad if He says otherwise. If He mandates robbery, destruction, murder – which He does repeatedly in the Old Testament – then those are also good. On this metaphysics, all owe obedience to God; all must be blindly, slavishly compliant to His every whim and command.

The third version of the sacrifice ethics is altruism, which holds that an individual must sacrifice himself for others. It is important to realize that altruism is a sub-category of the ethics of sacrifice. It says that an individual should sacrifice himself specifically to other men – whether they be his family, the state, the race, or some other group. It is not equivalent to the theory of self-sacrifice as such. The altruist rejects the horrors of cynical exploitation – the crimes, the savagery, the brutality – and reverses the form of the sacrifice. An individual has no right to sacrifice others to himself, the altruist declares. Rather, it is his duty to sacrifice himself – but not to God. The modern altruists, like Marx and his followers, seek to be “scientific;” they reject religion. It is not God who is the source of a man’s duty to sacrifice himself. It is Society. This has far worse consequences than the inquisitions and the burnings at the stake of religion; it leads to such heinous results as concentration camps, gas chambers, and world wars.

As Ayn Rand points out, these three theories have historically posed as enemies but are, in fact, merely variations on a theme. None has rejected the primitive call for human sacrifice. The only disagreement among them is over who should be sacrificed to whom. It is on this basis that Ayn Rand groups the three theories together and calls them “The Cannibal Morality.”

But it is possible to go deeper. In analyzing the means by which evil men gain the power to destroy, the question can be raised: Is there some deeper theory that underlies the ethics of sacrifice and gives rise to it?

Let’s go back to our three examples and see if they share something deeper in common.

 

Complete Series

Villainy: An Analysis of the Nature of Evil (Part 1 of 5)
In the face of evil run rampant, it is crucially important to protect the benevolent universe premise.

Villainy: An Analysis of the Nature of Evil (Part 2 of 5)
How does Adolf Hitler – a dropout, a ne’er-do-well, an unemployed and unemployable itinerant – acquire life-and-death power over the great scientists, industrialists and thinkers of Western Europe?

Villainy: An Analysis of the Nature of Evil (Part 3 of 5)
In analyzing the means by which evil men gain the power to destroy, the question can be raised: Is there some deeper theory that underlies the ethics of sacrifice and gives rise to it?

Villainy: An Analysis of the Nature of Evil (Part 4 of 5)
Religion is evil – but is not the worst evil that men must confront.

Villainy: An Analysis of the Nature of Evil (Part 5 of 5)
The morality of sacrifice lives on borrowed time.

Andrew Bernstein holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the City University of New York. He lectures all over the world. He is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute. He has written numerous books, including his novel, A Dearth of Eagles, recently published and available from Amazon.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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