Hostis Humani Generis

How does one deal with radical evil?  There are many of us, myself included, who would view radicalism itself as an evil that requires eradication.  Yet it requires eradication not only from our world, but also frequently from ourselves.  A debate exists between different perspectives on whether it is useful or harmful to view certain sorts of people as being the common enemy of all humanity.  Traditionally speaking, pirates, tyrants, rebels, slave traders, and other obvious evildoers have been viewed as the enemies of all humanity, possessing no rights that we need respect, and towards whom we have no duties or obligations whatsoever.  This is admittedly a very drastic behavior to take towards someone or a group of people, but there has been a long thread running from ancient times to today where people of particularly flagrant evil behavior are being viewed as so evil that they are not to be counted as human or possessing of human rights that anyone else need respect.  Others, however, view this as a problematic definition because of their concern that the viewing of people as being outside of humanity when it came to rights can be a habit that is hard to break and can easily be used against others.  This concern is reasonable; to view someone as being beneath humanity dehumanizes ourselves and makes it easy for us to forget that human beings, including we ourselves, can be guilty of things that are gravely inhumane.

We live in times that encourage the extremist aspects of all of our characters.  As someone who is a great hater of my enemies, I have long found reason to reflect upon the hostility I have to other people and the grounds on which that hostility rests.  Frequently I find that conflicts of a serious nature divide people against each other to such an extent that people see those on the other side as being defectively human.  This tends to encourage a cruel attitude towards others that we would never think possible coming from such cultured and sophisticated and civilized people as ourselves unless the differences between people struck at essential aspects of our own identity.  When we possess very different ideas of what is right and wrong from others, even what we see in common has the potential to divide us.  For example, in looking at the Rodney King footage from nearly three decades ago, I saw King’s attempt to escape the police as deserving a beatdown, which he received.  Since I viewed felony evasion as being an invitation to receive corporeal punishment from police officers, I viewed the riots that followed as being illegitimate, and viewed the acquittal of the police officers as being fully justified by the facts of the case.  This experience was repeated later on in Ferguson, where it was determined that the police officers were again within their rights to act as they had done, and that again the riots that resulted were immoral and unjustified, regardless of the initial feeling of injustice that was felt at first by those who engaged in such evil acts.  And it appears that the same is likely to happen in the case of George Floyd, where the criminal history of the deceased, his personal and likely antagonistic relationship with the police officer who killed him, and his own drug-addled state all add complexity and provide at least partial justification for what was initially thought to be a completely inexcusable act.  Those whose response was chaotically evil and destructive of the lives and property of others as a result of such a deed must bear responsibility for their evil, not least the evil of having done what was without justification and by not determining if they were justified before behaving wickedly.

It is my native instinct to consider urban terrorists and rioters, especially those of a leftist political bent, as being the common enemies of humanity.  Quite naturally, if mistakenly, they consider themselves to be the friends of humanity.  They lie.  This view of such people as enemies of humanity who view themselves as being the would-be saviors of humanity creates a huge gulf of interpretation of any activity in which these evildoers are involved.  Their political actions I view as treasonous attempts at subversion.  Their view of justice I view as extreme injustice.  Their desire for power I view as being satanically inspired and worthy of being crushed by any means necessary.  What they view as being standing up to evil authorities I view at best as a conflict between two evils, and what they view as cruelty done to peaceful protesters I view as being the just rewards of evil being visited upon the heads of evildoers who are engaged in acts of terror and violence.  To be sure, there may be some who go too far in police action, but far more commonly less restraint would be justified in dealing with those who are the enemies not only of myself personally but of my nation and of humanity at large.  The terror and destruction that results from the coddling and the success of radical leftist regimes justifies any actions taken against them, to the extent where their suffering provokes no compassion or pity on my side.  This is admittedly a dangerous way to feel.  I have no doubt that they feel that they are justified in committing any acts of evil against those they view as racist or fascist, not realizing that by virtue of their extremism they justify any act of violence against themselves as well.  And without having any personal desire to inflict violence against them myself except in self-defense, I feel no reason to be mourners at their funerals or see their suffering as anything worse than their just desserts, and frequently better treatment than they deserve.

This is what we have come to.  Households and families are divided against themselves.  Our nation is made up of large bodies of people who view each other as being such great evildoers as being beneath human dignity and being unworthy of any rights and duties whatsoever.  Besides the people who have been actively radicalized to the point of desiring to commit acts of violence against those they view as the common enemies of humanity, there is a great gulf of people in which I include myself that has been at least sufficiently radicalized to no longer view neighbors and acquaintances on the other side as being worthy of human sympathy or pity should they suffer for their evil worldviews and ideologies.  It is quite likely that were my own opinions and perspective to be known that they would feel the same way about me.  That is how these matters tend to go, after all.  We are in a process of edge-induced cohesion by which all of those on one side of the line are being forged into a greater union with one particular worldview and ideology and those on the other side of the line find themselves feeling it far easier to excuse and distinguish the treatment of some extremists than others, however loathe we are to be at either extreme.

The late political philosopher Harry Jaffa wrote about the experience of Stephen Douglas in the 1850’s that the extremes of proslavery radicals in the South and antislavery radicals in the North crushed his desire for the peaceable maintenance of the American republic.  The events of a century ago in the aftermath of World War I and the violent revolt of the Irish against Great Britain led the Irish poet William Butler Yeats to bemoan the fact that things fall apart, the center cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.  So it was in those times, and so it is in our own times.  Those who do not wish to pick up bricks or clubs and beat down rival extremists are pressed to at least cheer on a side in the battle royale.  And if we feel compelled to cheer on one side or boo on another side, let us not be under any illusions that we are not ourselves changed by the experience of having seen and participated in such extreme times.  Let us not forget that even if our opponents are deeply mistaken and influenced by demonic spirits of rebellion and evil that those who violently and extremely oppose them may not be influenced by demonic spirits of abuse and tyranny.  There is enough room in the moral universe for evils to be tolerated and condoned and committed by all parties involved, which only makes our own path in the midst of these great evils all the more difficult to make without falling into one or another chasm.  Nothing justifies anything, and we will all be held accountable at the judgment seat of our Creator, who cannot be pleased with the sight he beholds.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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