There cannot be many doubts on the extent of ‘evil’ that pervades society today. This has been the case from the time history started recording events. There has been constant endeavor from the side of the people and from the end of the intellectuals to enhance the way life was being led. But there are always events and happenings that undermine the way the government and the rest of the society respond to evil. To first understand what the role of the government in evil is, we should first define Evil and what it is. Subsequently, this essay tries to analyze the cause of major evils in society and who causes them.
What is Evil and What is not?
Evil is defined as ‘morally objectionable’ or ‘vice’ or ‘bad behavior’ (American Heritage Dictionary). Evil is mostly an act that causes ruin, injury, pain or harmful according to American Heritage Dictionary. Anyone who is an immoral force is considered an evil person. When one wants to call another evil, then the other person should have done something objectionable or should have acted in such a way that it is a source of pain or harm. Only in these cases, any specific person or entity can be termed evil.
Anything that is not involved in such activities can be looked at as something that is not evil. Therefore, if a person is not inclined to do any harm or is innocent, but his actions have resulted in an evil work, then he is still evil. The idea behind is not stressed in any of the definitions of evil. An evil mind is not an essential ingredient of evil. If the task done is evil then the person is considered evil. And if there are an evil mind, evil intentions (Kernerman English Dictionary), then the entity is evil. Therefore, one may say that an evil act is evil and an evil mind is evil even if the acts are not.
Does Government encourage evil?
Before the days of the state, even in the Wild West for instance, when the state power was limited, the violence in the day-to-day life of human beings was pretty high. This can be said as the period when the state of nature was followed. Of course, every person who went out to buy a bottle of beer needs to go with a gun in their holster. Should we consider those days as evil or the days today when things are under control as the evil ones?
As Thomas Hobbes says, life in the state of nature should have been ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’. Obviously, it was a situation where man is against another and only the evil of mind can survive (Hume). Whether it is between nations or between individuals the same philosophy holds good. By all means, the government that has been brought in today does not encourage violence. It has ushered in a sense of mutual respect over a period of time which in turn has reduced the need for every one of us to carry a gun. Now, of course, the role of toting the gun has been taken over fully and comprehensively by the government and the power in the center. This in turn, adds lots of power and control to the government which could get misused.
While a state of nature life could only make survival more complex and could end up encouraging human beings to turn evil, a monarchy or a central power could encourage people to live peacefully and with no reason to stoop to evil ways. This has been highlighted by Hobbes and many a people later on. Whereas today, with the large scale power centered in the government, there is more probability for the government to churn out evil and encourage evil.
Whether it is Neitzche or Hobbes, living by nature just does not carry weight with the people. It is true that there should be a life that is governed so that peaceful coexistence of man is possible. This has been indicated because there seems to be an assumption that all people lack basic control and morality (Jonathan Wolffe) and that the fear of death is the ultimate force that would make any one to attack any one else. As John Locke argues, there is a need to stress the requirement of a constitution that would control the evil that government could possibly turn out. Without such a control, the government could become corrupt and an evil monger.
Does Government create evil?
Government would create evil if it is not controlled appropriately. The birth of a number of fascist and dictatorial rules all stem from a legitimate government. They throw the government out and fix in their dictatorship. This makes ‘governing’ the government all the more important. How does government create evil?
‘One good custom would corrupt the world’ – Tennyson. And that would be the case with every one of the governments. However good the concept is, whether it is a democracy or communism, the concept is bound to get corrupted. Only those systems that has substantial checks and balances to ensure that the government and its power loci do not spoil the people who sit there and would help them do their jobs in line with what is expected off them, would continue to grow. Governments across the world find themselves creating evil even if they do not want to. As in the case of Billy Budd, where Captain Vere says, ‘an angel of God, yet the angel must die’ stresses more on the rule of the law rather than on the good or the bad. This tendency of the Government to make the rule more important than human makes them inhuman too in most cases. The thought behind the law is forgotten or written over and the law or the words become more profound than the society.
Governments do cause evil by making them suffer further in the name of law and implementation of law. Every one in the society is equal; while some are more equal than the others (George Orwell). This tendency of the government to give priority to a few when compared to the rest is noted phenomenon across the world. This happens because of the inequality that exists economically as well as socially. This difference is the making of the government and the judicial systems in the country with a strong orientation towards social inequalities.
Is Government evil?
Government if it is encouraging evil and if it is creating evil has to be evil. Well then, as it can be seen there are a number of cases whether willingly or unwillingly Government creates evil as well as encourages evil. In the context of our definition of evil, it could be seen that the act is the one that counts and not the thought behind it. Therefore, it is taken that the government is evil.
Many governments in the World still support capital punishment. If cruelty is something that can be dispersed by the government then the government is cruel and therefore, evil. In his work on cruelty, Phillip Hallie says, that the cruelty is small compared to the institutional cruelty that is created and supported by the government. Any institutional cruelty, the one that is encouraged and abetted by the government or a religion or a social organization is the worst form of cruelty that can be seen in the society. This is the most intolerable form of cruelty. And this has been the case with the government doctrines. They have tried to be the large scale dispensers of cruelty when they themselves enact such acts. Whether it is the case of Guantanamo Bay prisons or the violence in various parts of the world either under the guise of legal sanctity or under the name of spreading a specific government form, the cruelty is large.
As it happens in the Lord of the flies, men left to them could lead themselves to anarchic life style. But then, the evolution has taken the human being away from such anarchy. It is important to note that the social life of human beings is an essential part of their survival. But for this social structure, the human beings would have lost out on the survival count. To ensure that the society and the structure supported by the society is maintained a system to manage the society need to exist. The government is one of these steps. The monarchy that came up as the first solution for governing societies did have lots of problems. The people lost faith in monarchy because of the cruelty it espoused and evil that easily took over from a noble king. A king was made by the power that he wielded with his sword rather than by the breadth of his benevolence. Therefore, it was the evil that the king was that made him an emperor rather than the good. Alexander became the Great because he could win more number of battles. Kings who ruled their kingdom without meddling with the others and who gave good results to his subjects was not considered that great. The same is valid today too. Though people say it is the good that men do lives after them; people tend to popularize their violent past as a token to gain respect.
People who have fought wars are better than people who have not. War veterans who have killed tens of people are considered more apt to be a president of a country rather than people who have been working for peace and harmony.
Who is responsible?
The influence of evil in the government and in the lives of the people has been going down with the passage of years. It is true, that the yester years were very violent and evil. As the Lord of Flies reflects, the evil is the one that is born with human beings and it is the society that removes this evil from the man as he grows. This makes every human being an evil. Naturally, the government formed by such people cannot help but be evil. If the government has to become good, then it has to be supported by people who are good!
It is therefore, the responsibility of the people to ensure that their government is good. It is the responsibility of the people again to make sure that every one of the arms and pillars of the government works towards making the world a better place to live. It is not only in the elected members but also in the way the rules are made and they are implemented. If the law of the land is selectively implemented, then it makes the government a weakling and governing a fallacy. The responsibility of creating a good and lively government lies entirely with the people.
Though in a democracy or in any other form of the government it is the people who create and maintain a government, it is only with the support of the people it could continue to exist. Even dictators cannot imagine to lead their country without the support of the people; at least, all those who are close to them and who would do the best for them. This makes even the worst dictatorship to survive only with the help of the people. Silent and effective opposition would eventually bring down any misrule to order. It is important therefore, for the people to identify what is evil and what is good. Once this separation is made, the evil can always be dismembered. If the evil is not identified, then the chances that evil will be thrown out is remote.
“evil.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.
“evil.” Kernerman English Multilingual Dictionary. K Dictionaries Ltd. 2007.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Herman Melville, 1924, Billy Budd, University of Chicago Press.
John Locke, 1690, Second Treatise on Civil Government.
Jonathan Wolff, 2006, An Introduction to political philosophy, Oxford University Press.
Hallie, Philip, 1979, Lest Innocent Blood be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There. HarperCollins, New York.
Skinner, 2002, Quentin Visions of Politics. Cambridge University Press.
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan.
William Golding, 1954. Lord of the Flies, Faber and Faber, London.