restricted access 9. A n End to Evil: Conquest or Moral Pedagogy?
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167 9. An End to Evil       Conquest or Moral Pedagogy? Things long ignored or repressed often return with a vengeance. Evil, or the problem of evil, is a case in point. As heirs to the Enlightenment , Western societies in recent centuries have tended to sideline evil as a spook or as the relic of a distant past. In the poignant words of Lance Morrow: “The children of the Enlightenment sometimes have an inadequate understanding of the possibilities of Endarkenment .”1 Two events in more recent times have disrupted this complacency and catapulted evil back into the limelight. The first was the experience of totalitarianism, and especially the atrocities of the Nazi regime summarized under the label “Auschwitz.” As Richard Bernstein writes, echoing Hannah Arendt: “What happened in the camps was the most extreme and radical form of evil. ‘Auschwitz’ became a name that epitomized the entire Shoah, and came to symbolize other evils that have burst forth in the twentieth century.”2 Following the Second World War, the memory of these atrocities was kept alive in some quarters, but it was counteracted by the rising tide of consumerism and the tendency of the culture industry to trivialize evil or turn it into an underground “punk aesthetic.” Then came the second major jolt: September 11, 2001, and the ensuing “war on terror” and the offensive against the “axis of evil.” To quote Morrow again: “There came a crack in history, September 11, 2001, and [President] George W. Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil,’ and all that followed. The idea of evil regained some of its sinister prestige and seriousness.”3 In light of the enormous calamities of the past hundred years, it would be entirely vain—as well as foolish and dangerous—to ignore the reality of evil or to underestimate its power. There is simply no passable way back into trivial innocence. Once this is recognized, the 168 A Pedagogy for Our Troubled Times central question becomes how to deal with the acknowledged presence of evil in the world—that is, its presence both in ourselves and in others. In a recent book titled An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, David Frum and Richard Perle propose a solution to this question: the conquest or forced termination of evil. In their words: “We do not believe that Americans are fighting this evil to minimize it or to manage it. We believe they are fighting to win. . . . There is no middle way for Americans. This book is a manual for victory.”4 Victory over evil is certainly a tall order and an ambitious claim. To assess this claim properly requires an answer to at least two prior questions . First: what is the nature of evil—especially radical evil—such that it can be decisively terminated or vanquished? Second: is it a proper policy objective for the United States—a country dedicated to freedom and democracy—to pursue this goal? In this chapter I explore these and some related questions. I first turn to the meaning of evil and briefly discuss how this meaning has been construed by philosophers and theologians through the centuries. I next focus on a famous construal that recognizes both the reality of evil and the importance of human freedom: Friedrich Schelling’s treatise, “The Nature of Human Freedom.” Following a review of some trenchant readings of this treatise (from Martin Heidegger to Richard Bernstein ), I return to the solution proposed by Frum and Perle and offer a counterproposal. Some Theories of Evil As philosophers and theologians have always acknowledged, evil is a staggering problem that almost defies comprehension. Some have treated it as utterly recalcitrant—a Sisyphean labor to extract sense from nonsense, meaning from meaninglessness. Still, unwilling to admit defeat, philosophical and theological ingenuity has produced a plethora of formulations designed to shed light on the problem. In the present context, it cannot be my purpose to offer a comprehensive overview of these formulations; some rough typologies must suffice. In her book The Many Faces of Evil, Amélie Oksenberg Rorty provides a complex, sixfold typology of metaphysical-theological treatments of evil. In abbreviated form, the six types argue (1) that there is only divine goodness, and evil is an illusion (often called theodicy); Conquest or Moral Pedagogy?  169 (2) that although some evil exists, it is only a lesser degree of evil, or a “privation” of goodness (a view prominently associated with Saint Augustine); (3) that good and evil are both real...