The Nature of Evil

What is evil? This article discusses the qualities and nature of evil.

What is Evil? All snakes fascinate their prey, and pure wickedness seems to inherit the power of fascination granted to the serpent. It stupefies and bewilders the simple heart, which sees it without understanding it, which touches it without being able to believe in it, and which sinks engulfed in the problem of it, like Empedocles in Etna. Non possum capare te, cape me, says the Aristotlean motto. Every diminutive of Beelzebub is an abyss, each demoniacal act is a gulf of darkness. Natural cruelty, inborn perfidy, and falseness, even in animals, cast lurid gleams, as it were, into that fathomless pit of Satanic perversity which is a moral reality.

Nevertheless behind this thought there rises another which tells me that sophistry is at the bottom of human wickedness, that the majority of monsters like to justify themselves in their own eyes, and that the first attribute of the Evil One is to be the father of lies. Before crime is committed conscience must be corrupted, and every bad man who succeeds in reaching a high point of wickedness begins with this. It is all very well to say that hatred is murder; the man who hates is determined to see nothing in it but an act of moral hygiene. It is to do himself good that he does evil, just as a mad dog bites to get rid of his thirst.

To injure others, while at the same time knowingly injuring one's self, is a step farther; eveil then becomes a frenzy, which in its turn, sharpens into a cold ferocity. Whenever a man, under the influence of such a diabolical passion, surrenders himself to these instincts of the wild or venemous beast, he must seem to the angels as a madman -- a lunatic, who kindles his own Gehenna that he may consume the world in it, or as much of it as his deveilish desires can lay hold upon, Wickedness is forever beginning a new spiral which penetrates deeper still into the abysses of abomination, for the circles of hell have this property -- that they have no end. It seems as though devine perfection were an infinite of the first degree, but as though diabolical perfection were an infinite of unknown power. But no; for if so; evil would be the true God, and hell would swallow up creation. According to the Persian and the Christian faiths, good is to conquer evil .... Love will be more potent than hatred; God will save his glory, and his glory is in his goodness. But it is very true that gratuitous wickedness troubles the soul, because it seems to make the great lines of the moral order tremble within us by the sudden withdrawal of the curtain which hides from us the action of those dark, corrosive forces which have ranged themselves in battle against the divine plan.

-- Henri Frederic Amiel, from his Journal May 30, 1865
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