This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

1.4. The Confrontation between Man and Evil (I)

General remarks

The cardinal sin of the modern world is indifference. Not indifference toward everything, but indifference toward everything that matters most to the human condition.

A society that worships liberty with such pseudo-religious zeal could not be any other way. Liberty, strictly speaking, is a purely negative value. It does not deal in positive determinations of what is worthwhile and honorable, but rather in the absence of restraint, and this is diametrically opposed to concepts like goodness, beauty, and truth, all of which act as narrowing principles which place strict limits on how we act. 

The consequences of such a reversal of the traditional outlook are far-reaching. With liberty as the supreme value, it was necessary to exile religion from public life, followed in short order by the exile of morality altogether. Conversations about sin and righteousness, vice and virtue, are anachronistic for us. Tolerance, the only liberal virtue, is what defines good citizenship.

What does such a society have to say about the menace of evil? Nothing, it seems, except in an inverted sense. Citizenship consists in not noticing what your neighbors are up to. In such a sociopathic dystopia, the real enemy of society is the one who publicly professes any objective notion of what constitutes goodness, and insists upon it, and accompanies that profession with a serious intention to realize that good in the external world, and to protect himself from influences to the contrary.

Since we find ourselves unavoidably enmeshed in such a bizarre social context, we thought it good to outline a theory, not of evil in itself, but of resistance to evil. We hope to alleviate the timidity that is nurtured in all modern men who have been trained to think that the ‘private evils’ they witness are none of their concern, that the things they hold most dear should never be spoken out loud, and that, in the face of licentiousness, greed, intemperance, and malice, they are called upon to do nothing but mind their own business.

This theory of resistance is intended to reverse a lifelong education in spinelessness.

We will discuss the nature of evil as a social force, insofar as it is corrosive to the character of the individual and to the community as a whole. We will discern with as much clarity as possible the means by which, and the extremes to which, this evil can be resisted without offending the dignity and self-direction of our neighbors.

The scope of this discussion

Evil is encountered by every person without exception, both internally and externally, individually and collectively, and so deserves careful consideration as to what it is and how it is to be dealt with.

We will begin by discussing the problem of evil as it directly confronts each of us personally, and then proceed to the more public and social extremes of this confrontation. Specifically, we will consider how this confrontation, on the social front, is exemplified in the office of the judge, the police officer, the public executioner, and the professional soldier.

To cover such a broad field, it is important that we lay for ourselves a solid foundation. To start, we will need to propose some definitions that will function as a conceptual framework. We will also address some of the more problematic and often naïve arguments that are commonly encountered today, in order to set them aside as early as possible.

When it comes to dividing evil into separate types or ‘degrees’, we will utilize the vocabulary of the Catholic tradition, wherein evil is roughly divided into three categories:

  1. Metaphysical evil, which concerns the inherent limitations of anything situated in the finite order, and which, based on these limitations alone, cause the creature to fall short of absolute perfection of the Creator. Anything that is not God will necessarily manifest some degree of metaphysical evil.
  2. Physical evil, which has to do with the conditions of the natural world insofar as they injure or place limitations on human flourishing. Sickness and death are obvious examples, but even mental anguish insofar as it is due to the natural limits of human intelligence, for example the fear that comes from our inability to fully understand the world around us, are examples of physical evil since they arise from the nature of the human condition itself.
  3. Moral evil, which deals with human volition and its many deviations from the good. Moral evil deals in prescriptions for conduct since any human action is a direct result of the movements of the will, and immoral conduct is therefore a manifestation of a will that is not in conformity with goodness and truth.

Having outlined this tripartite framework, we can say that things are only going to become more complicated from here on out. This is because at the moral level, and when dealing with any question of moral evil, it is also possible to discern the presence or influence of metaphysical or natural evil. Thus, the temptation to explain away moral evil as an illusion, and to situate everything within one of the other categories. This happens, for example, when some vices are called congenital—present from birth—or purely a result of social conditions. In both cases what we see is confusion between moral evil and physical evil.

Given the complexity of the question of evil, then, let us specify our purpose here:

We will not deal with the methodology or psychology of spiritual development. Our work here will not resemble anything like the writings of the Carmelite masters or the desert fathers, concerned as they were with the psychology and technique of inner moral work via the prayer life. Our aim is much more modest, and is not, strictly speaking, intended as a guide for moral improvement, but is more a theoretical framework and justification for the moral duty to combat evil whenever we encounter it.

Our intent is not so much to philosophize about evil in the abstract, asking ourselves what distinguishes it conceptually and metaphysically from the Good. We have dealt with evil in its ‘cosmic’ aspect elsewhere in this manual, and at length. We are not, therefore, trying to investigate the problems of metaphysical and physical evil, although as we already said, it will be necessary to mention them and move freely between all three levels. It is therefore a question of emphasis, and our emphasis here is on evil in its moral dimension. We intend to focus on what we have called the confrontation between man and evil as an aspect of lived experience.

We will address questions such as the duty of individuals to combat evil, both privately and publicly, and we will go so far as to determine how and why the use of force is legitimate when defending oneself, one’s family, and the community from abuse.

These are delicate questions that require nuanced responses, and like so many difficult problems, when discussed publicly and politically, they tend to be subjected to drastic over-simplification. Because of this, if we dwell on seemingly minor distinctions, it should be understood that our purpose is to undo the confusion that surrounds these issues today. This requires first and foremost that we understand both the gravity and the complexity of everything that is at stake. We are not trying to ‘muddy the waters’—the waters are already as muddy as they could possibly be.

When the traditional precepts are not apt

Generally speaking, we take as our point of departure the doctrinal framework proposed by the traditional religions. This means that often we adopt traditional precepts as our own, and we advise the reader to act accordingly. However, this is not always possible when the contemporary context is so far removed from the traditional one that the precept does not serve the good and might even undermine it. There is some truth to the saying ‘When in Rome…’

We do study the traditional teachings regarding the warrior vocation, but when it comes to applying the traditional teachings in the modern context, we proceed only with great caution. In fact, in most of our discussion on this subject, we will steer away from those ancient precepts and only return to occasionally and at the end, at which point we will recapitulate the traditional approach and explain its relation to the present.

The reader should therefore not be surprised if we neglect to mention the advice given by Japanese sages to the Samurai, nor will we explain in detail the warrior ascesis of the medieval Crusaders.

This will seem strange. After all, is not our stated purpose always to revitalize the traditional wisdom in the man of today? The obstacle here is that the vocations of yesterday are gone. Not only have the traditional paths been hidden (if not demolished) but, to make matters worse, they have been replaced by pseudo-vocations, which operate under the same name as the ancient counterpart but are of a different spirit. This is especially true of the warrior vocation. To act out the traditional precepts within the context of the modern counterfeit would be disastrous. It would be like mistaking a Satanic ‘black mass’ for a Catholic Mass and then trying to attend to the former as if it were the latter. Such would be the result of an attempt to live out the vocation of the Knights Templar within the context of the modern military.

We are presented with a twofold difficulty:

  • We must correct certain errors about the nature of evil, where it is situated, how it is resisted, and by what means, according to the traditional wisdom about man and his vocation.
  • We must guard against the delusional idea that modern men could and should act according to the same guidelines as a medieval knight or a samurai.

All of the advice offered to the traditional warrior type was offered within the context of a traditional civilization, with all that this implies. The traditional world provided a cultural ambience and a concrete social structure outside of which the guidelines for certain vocations lose their spiritual or moral efficacy. Add to this the necessity of religious supports, supports not to be imagined as a merely private pursuit but, on the contrary, incorporated into all levels of social life providing the backdrop for lived experience. All of these factors are necessary to the living out of the warrior vocation, since any vocation is more than just a set of ideas or bits of advice.

In contemporary civilization, all of the aforementioned necessities have been systematically excluded. In comparison to the traditional warrior, the modern man is more like an astronaut launched into space without oxygen, without a tether, and without any instruments for navigation. This absence of spiritual guidance is offered under the banner of ‘freedom’ and is a highly esteemed form of moral suicide. For this reason, it would be foolish to simply reiterate the ancient teachings on warfare and the warrior vocation, since these counsels can only ever be preparatory to a life lived in situ.

Counsels are offered to a certain person in a certain time and place, and the actions counseled cannot be realized without regard to those factors. To load a modern man’s mind with traditional maxims and then launch him into a completely non-traditional world is a recipe for moral and spiritual disaster both for him and for anyone he encounters. At the very least, it will encourage naivety.

None of this implies that the traditional wisdom is or was misguided when it comes to principles, or that it cannot serve as our light and guide. Rather, it sets up our hermeneutic approach in order to avoid any romantic naivety or ideological nonsense.

And so, again, our task is to expose the lies of the modern world while at the same time harboring no delusions about the limits imposed by modern civilization on the spiritual possibilities of its people.

Now, to speak of combat in particular:

In what follows, we assume that although there was certainly, at one time, a path to spiritual realization via combat, and a true warrior ascesis, we suggest that this path, in the absence of the traditional world that maintained it, has become ruinous and mostly inaccessible. Just as it would be catastrophic to promote medieval feudalism as an appropriate social organization for today, so also it would be dangerously misguided to try and propose the model of the Knights Templar for emulation by modern military organizations.

As always, the traditional doctrines are of value as an illustration of true principles, as a way of helping us to discern what is true and what is false in whatever options present themselves to us today. Traditional applications of the doctrine, on the other hand, can be relative.

Allowing for the diversity of spiritual vocations

As always, oversimplification is the enemy. We cannot offer one answer for everyone. Remember that humanity is not homogenous, and we should be very cautious about how we enunciate universal norms for behavior. It is not universality itself that should scare us, for the good is of course universal, and has an objective structure that is what it is always and everywhere. There are certain actions which are always incompatible with the pursuit of this universal good, and so it is possible to make universal statements about moral conduct, but these prescriptions can easily become too narrow. Typically we need to stop short of contingent applications. For example, we can state that man always has an obligation to pursue the good, but beyond that we can only proceed with numerous qualifications that take into account the spiritual type we are dealing with, which is to say the actual person situated within time and place. The pursuit of the good will manifest itself with nuances according to context and the spiritual aptitude of the individual. We cannot ignore the diversity of spiritual temperaments found in man and the differences in vocation that they imply without creating a caricature. In fact, the political and philosophical documents that speak most highly of ‘Man’ without context and in the abstract are the ones that have done the most violence to anthropology.

Especially as to the question of resistance to evil, and to whether it is permissible, and to what degree it might even be obligatory, to take another person’s life, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. We can say that in principle lethal force can be used to resist evil, but this is almost meaningless in itself, since we have not said for whom, against whom, and under what conditions lethal force may be used, and since, outside these undetermined conditions, lethal force would be emphatically prohibited.

We must emphasize that this is not only a question of so-called cultural relativism or diversity, but of the deep difference in spiritual temperament that we find between individuals themselves. Two men might choose opposite paths in the face of the same evil: one might take up the sword and fight, another might turn the other cheek. We cannot immediately determine which of them acted appropriately, since the appropriateness of the response depends not only on the demands of the concrete situation but on the inner condition of the actor. What would be courage for one man might be cowardice for another, and an act that would vanquish evil in one context might fuel it in another.

Does this mean that our discussion is futile since we cannot easily offer ‘categorical’ prescriptions? The relativists would like us to believe so, and frequently this is used as a cheap way of dismissing the whole question. But just because a question is nuanced and difficult does not mean that it cannot be faced at all. It only means that we need to take care not to oversimplify, not to be superficial, not to be hasty in absolutizing.

First and foremost, the difficulty of the question means that we must be honest about the inequality of individuals since, as will become clear, even among men who share the warrior vocation, the extremes of resistance can only be faced by those possessing courage, spiritual clarity, and a properly formed conscience. This territory is spiritually dangerous to an extreme, over and above any element of physical danger that might also be involved.

Although every person lives on the battlefield where the struggle takes place, the ‘front’ at which we are stationed, the role we play, the means we deploy, and the extremes to which we allow ourselves to go, must be guided by an honest appraisal of the virtues we do (and do not) possess. We say again that the resistance to evil manifested by individuals, while ‘categorical’ in the sense of being obligatory, will vary in its form of.

The answer we propose, therefore, must be sophisticated, far more sophisticated than most public debates can admit. Any kind of vagueness, flattery, or ideological sentimentality must be excluded. At the very same time, we will warn the reader that our response, ultimately, will not be as clean or as comforting as that which is offered by the various competing ideologies of today. Such is the nature of things, that at times there is ‘no good answer’ and we must act and speak and live despite the absence of comfortable certainties.

The absurdity of non-resistance as a general principle

Non-resistance to evil, as a general principle and without extensive qualification, is completely untenable and can exist only in the imagination. Even the most naïve sentimentalists do not really advocate for such a thing, and we suspect that most of the people who speak as if they do advocate it are only speaking simplistically and don’t really mean what they say. Nonetheless, since we have committed ourselves to precision, we will briefly explain why an unqualified non-resistance is absurd.

Remember that evil is experienced both internally and externally, so that it assails us as if it were an aspect of our own will and via the wills of other persons, and so non-resistance taken in a general sense would have to be applied to both orders of experience, internal and external.

Taking the world of the inner life first, what would non-resistance look like? It would mean that all temptations we encountered, all unhealthy passions we experienced, all perverse impulses we felt, were to be granted our unconditional assent and gratified more or less immediately. It would mean total surrender to whatever vicious thought beckoned. Every evil that appealed to our imperfect nature would be permitted to run its course in us and—just as importantly—run its course through us and into the world outside.

This kind of non-resistance would amount to a kind of voluntary self-corruption, since the experience of passion and temptation is a constant in life. What began as an occasional surrender and as ‘turning the other cheek’ to one’s own demons would end in conquest, since it is undeniable that habitual surrender to a passion transforms our very psyche in conformity with that passion. And since our deliberate actions in the external world are determined by our interior states, this internal perversion would spill over into our daily lives.

This last point is important: the evil we permit to infect our inner lives is by no means confined to that world but must of necessity actualize itself in our relations with others, and so again we say that any evil that takes root in us will eventually express itself through us, and becomes social. Here we can already see what will become more and more obvious throughout our discussion—that there is no such thing as purely private sin, sin that concerns no one else but the sinner.

Regarding this kind of unqualified internal non-resistance, we can ask how many people actually argue for such a thing. Some—but not many. Aside from these few psychopaths, some people speak as if they were arguing for it, but it is likely that most of them do not take their own slogans literally and are merely displaying a lack of specificity in their words. What they more often have in mind is non-resistance to external evil. We will address that in turn, but here we can conclude that it is nearly impossible to imagine anyone implementing total non-resistance in all spheres without descending immediately into madness.

We can resist inner evil even when overcome by it

We have just observed that most arguments for non-resistance have in mind its external manifestations only, since the alternative would amount to the abolition of the conscience altogether. All of us, insofar as we possess an intact conscience, experience evil and respond with some degree of resistance to its influence.

Even when we are momentarily conquered by our appetites—even when we give way to a strong passion through anger or deceit or lust—at the very same time we are often disgusted with the evil we see manipulating us, and we hate ourselves for being so weak-willed as to be overcome in this way. The same is true for moral defeats that are not momentary but on-going, as in the case of addiction, provided the addict sincerely wishes to be free of his condition.

This is not to say that everyone always feels this healthy disgust when in the presence of their own inner evil. An individual with a malformed or habitually suppressed conscience might not experience this at all. But speaking generally and in terms of the experiential norm, we can say that even when we let evil take control of our inner workings, we are simultaneously resisting it by means of a negative response of some kind, however weak this response might be.

We could illustrate the point by saying that in any war, it is wrong to conclude that the losing party did not fight at all simply because they were defeated in this or that battle.

To extend the analogy further and illustrate a related point, it is one thing to fight and to be overcome by a stronger force despite our best efforts at resistance, and quite another thing to lose by throwing down your weapons and refusing to fight in the first place, which, in the moral life, is what non-resistance would typically mean. Both examples involve defeat, both for the one who fought and the one who did not, but there is a world of difference between these two defeats, even if it is sometimes very difficult to tell, from the outside, which one we are observing in a particular case.

All of that is to say that when it comes to the moral life, the conflicts of the heart are no simple matter, and it is no argument in favor of non-resistance to observe that each and every one of us are at times (or even frequently) defeated by it.

Request for tolerance, demand for approval

One of the more insidious dangers of non-resistance to evil, even taken in its more qualified external sense, is that this approach, which very often presents itself under the slogan of tolerance, will not settle for that alone, but eventually demands approval. The difference between toleration and approval is stark, but the transformation from one to the other is seamless and follows an impeccable logic.

Insofar as the spiritual-sighted person recognizes evil as evil, he finds it repulsive. He cannot avoid finding it repulsive, and he cannot subdue this response simply through an act of will. It is part of his nature to respond in this way and he cannot easily override it. The only way for a man to stop experiencing disgust in the face of evil is to stop recognizing it as such. To do this, he must lie to himself, and not only lie to himself but be convinced by his lies.

In other words, he must distort his own spiritual vision in such way as to see evil as good. He must become spiritually blind. This is the only way that a human being can look upon evil and smile.

Since the whole business of religion is to clarify and sharpen spiritual vision, it is obvious that the concept of tolerance puts religious people in an impossible position. According to the principle of tolerance, they are taught to build up in themselves an unnatural blindness or desensitization to evil so that they can face evil and not feel what must naturally be felt in its presence. They must experience evil but not respond to it as such.

Moreover, what is at first justified as an exception must, in practice, become habitual, since evil is not exceptional but is rather omnipresent. The more we are required to ‘turn a blind eye’ to it and permit it to move freely around us and in close contact with us, the more we must train ourselves not to be repulsed by it.

This is the natural course of things. It is no exaggeration to say that spiritual blindness is the inevitable end of this form of non-resistance, but we must also observe that it is a progressive blindness, and that is develops by degrees.

The various degrees of this self-blinding appear in the form of ‘coping mechanisms’—psychological techniques—designed to help those who have not yet learned not to see. One common example of such coping mechanisms is the habit of minimizing evil. If we are forced to look at evil and cannot avoid looking it, we will naturally try to veil it somewhat, to shield our eyes from its darkness, to blur the image, and we might do this by rationalizing it away as much as possible. We make excuses for it, we admit only one or two of its many features but ignore others, anything we can do in order to achieve partial blindness, and in this way we are able to co-exist with evil without constantly suffering from the exposure.

Again, these coping mechanisms must arise on pain of psychological crisis. We all possess a desire to live in the presence of beauty, truth, and goodness. If we find ourselves in the midst of ugliness, and if we cannot do anything about it, or if our own misguided ideology dictates that we must not do anything about it, we will naturally try to convince ourselves that this ugliness is not so ugly after all. Perhaps we might even tell ourselves (or let others tell us) that the ugliness is in ourselves, in some deformity of conscience, and not in the evil we thought we perceived.

Once the option to resist evil is removed from the picture, we are left with only one option: we alter our spiritual perception—we blindfold the conscience—so that we can avoid seeing evil for what it is, even if this veiling of the conscience is an act of self-deceit amounting to spiritual self-abuse.

What else could a person be expected to do? We must live, after all. And so we lie to ourselves and say that this evil is perhaps not really evil, and we find many justifications to help us lie in this way, many of them provided by the apologists of non-resistance.

Taking for granted the human desire to live in the presence of beauty and goodness, what can we say of the person who has finally succeeded in ignoring evil, or of denying that an evil object is not in fact evil after all? The desire to experience the good is still present, and so we naturally begin to try to ‘see the good’ in the world as we experience it. We began by whitewashing the evil that confronted us, and we end by repainting it as a real good. This process of baptizing evil amounts to the inversion of our spiritual discernment so that evil becomes good, all to avoid the agony of a life wherein we are told that we must look the devil in the face and say nothing, do nothing—just nod and step aside.

Non-resistance becomes tolerance, tolerance becomes acceptance, acceptance becomes approval, and approval becomes cooperation. We cannot stress this enough—he who preaches non-resistance to evil necessarily becomes its accomplice.

It is easy to anticipate objections, especially within the contemporary political climate which cannot stand to hear anyone mention any moral standard whatsoever in public. Do we really need to condemn evil in order to stand fast against it? Is it not possible to hold a belief and yet refrain from its verbal expression? All this talk about internal surrender is unnecessary—no one is asking us to surrender internally, but only to restrain the external expression resistance, which we are free to carry out within ourselves.

In response, we would say that things are not so simple, and that man is composed of mind and body and the two are not so easily separable. To discipline oneself to remain silent when one feels compelled to speak has consequences for the inner life; it is a kind of training and a habituating. Talking oneself out of voicing our objections is no small thing. This silence or inaction, when implemented as a general principle, really forces us to talk ourselves out of having the objections in the first place. This involves a re-education, and the quieting of a voice which, if quieted too often, ceases to speak eventually forgets how to speak.

By convincing ourselves to be tolerant and to ‘see the beauty in everyone and everything’ we pervert our own spiritual vision until it becomes spiritual blindness. The original aversion ceases to be felt and we reach a point where we sincerely believe that evil is not evil, at which point evil is indistinguishable from goodness, and lies take on the same value as truth. If this seems like an exaggeration, we need only poll a contemporary audience and see how many of them believe that ‘morality is relative’, that ‘we cannot judge’, etc., and that we have no business trying to determine what is right or wrong in any objective sense. The results of this poll would speak for themselves.

Let it be said in plain terms: to force someone not to act or speak in accordance with their sense of right and wrong is a kind of violence against them, since it chokes and destroys a fundamental aspect of their humanity, and in the end, it amounts to a kind of moral brainwashing.

This is why the disciples of immorality fight first and foremost for the simple ‘freedom’ to exist untrammeled, and why, in the beginning, all they ask is to be ‘merely tolerated’. For in the end, this is all that is needed to secure victory. Once firmly established and able to move and act freely, the battle is almost over, and anyone who would stand in their way has been effectively disarmed.

Once that is accomplished, evil switches its approach. It ceases to ask for the humble freedom to exist, and what was first a timid request or tolerance becomes an aggressive demand for explicit approval. Even disagreement is not tolerated. Any expressed distaste for the evil must now be criminalized. The people are not asked simply to tolerate, but to condone, and to do otherwise is to suffer serious social consequences and is labeled as ‘hate’.

Like it or not, if we accept the existence of morality at all, we accept the fact that good and evil will always be in conflict. There is no ‘live and let live’ in the moral sphere. There is no such thing as ‘tolerance’ unless we first become nihilists. A society that preaches tolerance smuggles nihilism under the guise of good will.

The consequences for religion are dire. Any social order that pretends to permit men to follow religion while simultaneously demanding that they become morally neutral is to place them in an impossible position, asked to believe and to deny their belief, to live but not to live meaningfully, to speak the truth while lying. Ultimately, to demand that a person immersed in society not show resistance to evil and in the same breath tell them that they are free to pursue the good is like tossing a person into the sea and telling them that they are free to live as they wish, but are not allowed to swim.

Humanism and the conscience

Humanism presents man as noble by nature. This tenet is not always explicit, but humanism always takes humanity as a starting point and argues that man, in and of himself and without reference to his fallen nature and the corresponding need for salvation, can choose values and live a good and meaningful life. This could not be so unless man was good by nature and able to grasp the good by his own lights. To recall the Catholic schema presented at the beginning of this section, we can say that humanism tends to view moral evil as a direct consequence of physical evil (disease, social conditions, etc.) and to deny that the moral problem, although influenced by physical factors, is situated in the soul of the human will and cannot be addressed merely by analyzing physical factors.

In the humanist anthropology, if it can be said to have an anthropology at all, the conscience is a given, a power bequeathed by nature to each person as a sufficient and functional guide to moral truth, like a compass that cannot but point north. The assumption seems to be that we possess the conscience in the same way that we possess the heart or lungs, and that this instrument is unwaveringly accurate except, of course, for those cases where religion or some other artificial and negative external influence disfigures or interferes with it. This view conveniently dispenses with the need for a spiritual education since that sort of intervention would only derail the natural function of the conscience.

For the traditionalist, on the other hand, it is precisely the education of the conscience that renders it reliable and trustworthy. It is possessed in some degree by everyone but always requires development. It must be trained or else it will begin to atrophy, leaving the individual with a conscience that is stunted, suppressed, and malformed.

What humanism has always ignored, to the detriment of humanity, is that the conscience needs formation, and due to the nature of the conscience, this implies a moral education. In other words, the proper formation of the conscience depends on the intervention and influence of certain external authorities, such as religion, which are the very authorities humanism detests. According to humanism, which is as optimistic as it is naïve, man needs to be sufficient unto himself. He cannot need the correction and education provided by any ancient institution.

To put it another way, we could say that, due to the fact that the conscience is indeed present in everyone, this moral and spiritual education takes place no matter what, and that it is more a question of whether it takes place with or without guidance, whether it is a good education or a bad one. The conscience will undergo formation, one way or another.

The whole task of spiritual education consists in learning to recognize the good, in defining the boundaries of the good with respect to the inner life of the soul, and, once that holy ground is staked out, constructing the inner temple, erecting its defenses, and in learning to identify and repel whatever would desecrate it. It is a matter not just of learning to see spiritual truth, but also of moral fortification and defense. It is very much a question of struggle and war, and success depends on ceaseless vigilance.

We can now return to our main subject and see that non-resistance to evil is the reverse of a spiritual education. It is spiritual neutralization. Non-resistance and its ideology of tolerance combine to form an amoral acid that slowly dissolves all of our carefully constructed moral fortifications.

It also needs to be pointed out that the structure of the conscience is, at least in part, a social phenomenon. Since the moral life must be cultivated, and since this cultivation is guided by external influences in addition to private discernment and intention, we cannot deny that it has a collective aspect. My inner life is not entirely my own. Although I inhabit it first and foremost and it is my primarily my responsibility, although I live in it and it is my own private chamber, much of what I find there and assume to be my own creation was originally given from without.

The community, by way of parents, teachers, and priests, helps its members to understand the nature of this inner domain. They teach us to keep it sanitary and provide techniques on how to arrange its defenses. This means that the task of spiritual education as a social institution is susceptible to sophistication, on the one hand, and degeneration, on the other. The technique of spiritual education possessed by societies is the inheritance of thousands of years of discernment. We find that the collective aspect of the conscience (which, again, is not its only aspect) has been established for centuries, and each new member is given access to this wellspring of moral knowledge and benefits from it. This is one of the benefits of membership in a community. This is why the ancient wisdom could never be individualistic, and always taught that man was only able to develop his full potential within the context of society.

What is most important to our point here is that this work of spiritual education is never complete and that this ‘art’ does not maintain itself. We can liken it to a garden that the community must cultivate for the sake of its individual members.

On both the collective and the individual, private level, the conscience cannot simply be left alone as if its ability to perceive truth were self-sustaining. And yet this is what has been done. In the name of non-resistance, liberalism, and progressive tolerance, all moral guides are silenced. The maintenance of the inner chamber, the whole art of spiritual defense, is abandoned and eventually undermined.

Shame as betrayal

The result of this neglect of our collective spiritual education, after so many infidelities to the truth we were meant to preserve, is the pain of shame. Shame is the penalty we receive when we leave open the city gates so that the enemy can come and go freely, pillaging and plundering at will. Shame comes from the betrayal of whatever nobility had been built up in Western civilization over the centuries.

Much of what is said or done today in art and literature could be interpreted as an expression of this shame or as a response to it. We go to great lengths to reassure ourselves. Observe with care the attitude toward shame displayed by social movements in late-stage modern civilization.

Since we do not understand the cause of this shame, since we are no longer even aware of the betrayals we commit, we feel the shame, but we perceive it as an injustice. After all, it is unjust to be humiliated for a crime you do not even understand. We reject our shame as we would deny a slanderous accusation brought against us. We become indignant, unaware of the nature of our guilt, but feeling it all the same. It is common to hear people talk of shame as if it were a thing to be rejected altogether, and we are encouraged to suppress it as if its presence were a sign of bad hygiene, preventing us from ‘being proud of who we are’ and from ‘doing what we have a right to do’.

The ideal state, we are told, is one of shamelessness, where the only vices are scruples. In terms of the spiritual life, this amounts to the willful demolition of one’s inner defenses so that any and all influences gain access to the holy center, good and evil alike, without discrimination. To argue for anything less than this surrender is called bigotry, prejudice or hate. This is perhaps the final stage of the decomposition of the conscience, of progressive barbarism.

Non-resistance to evil is not strength

Doctrinaire pacifists would have us believe that non-resistance is the way of sacrifice, the path of noble suffering. When Christians argue in favor of non-resistance, they make a great show of the early martyrs. Without doubt, the early martyrs are a phenomenal example of a commitment to righteousness, and this type of exceptional non-resistance can under certain conditions manifest itself as the highest witness of a spiritual commitment. We grant this, but we argue that this form of witness is an exception and should never be presented as normative. That is to say, this submissive style of non-resistance to evil, outside of the exceptional circumstances of martyrdom, is actually the easy way out. In fact, non-resistance as a day-to-day practice demands virtually nothing whatsoever of its disciples.

Again, we do not deny that in some rare cases the ‘turning of the cheek’ can signify the path of strength and discipline, as has been demonstrated in recent history by the Civil Rights Movement and elsewhere. But as a norm, and in most situations, it is far easier to ignore evil than to show resistance to it. Between non-resistance and deliberate, open resistance, it is far more often the latter option that demands sacrificial courage and various modes of selfless suffering, while the former presents an excuse for cowardice.

Especially if taken as a general principle of morality, non-resistance does not so much challenge us to overcome our impulses as it condones the natural tendency toward spinelessness. It congratulates us for doing nothing but minding our own business when evil manifests itself in our presence.

It would indeed take a great deal of self-discipline to face the lions in the coliseum for the sake of non-resistance; but again, an honest appraisal of general human experience will tell us that non-resistance typically involves endless small acts of indifference, and indifference is the absence of moral character.

Far from being a ‘moral discipline’, it is apparent that non-resistance comes easily—even naturally—to men possessing the weakest characters—and for the most part this weakness need not be encouraged at all. It is simply the absence of willful action, to which most of us are inclined already. Do we really need to point out that the proponents of non-resistance are painting a picture of courage that, in the end, takes the coward as the model? And if this is true, does it really need to be demonstrated that this will not so much build character as neutralize it?

Where is evil situated?

Religious people complain that tolerance as a general norm liberates the libertine but restrains everyone else. In response, the modernists say that religious people are not really being restrained at all, and that they are permitted to struggle against evil all they want, but that this struggle is merely being limited to the private domain of their own inner lives. They cannot ‘foist their beliefs on others’. In other words, as Christians we are not being stifled in the least, only forced to keep our spiritual work to ourselves so as not to interfere with anyone else’s liberty. This is much like how secularism ‘tolerates’ religion by saying that religious expression is acceptable only insofar as it does not have a say in public policy. You may pursue spiritual development via religious means, but you may not do this in or through public spaces, or by public funding, and certainly not via the letter of the law.

This attitude betrays certain assumptions about man and about evil that need to be investigated and verified. Where is moral evil truly situated? How is it communicated? And if it needs to be confronted at all, is it possible to deal with it in a merely private manner? In other words, if we only pursue morality and religion privately, are we still pursuing them at all? Are these things of a nature that can be confined in such a way? And on the other hand, if there is a such a thing as evil, is it of a nature that it can be confronted privately and not publicly?

We should remind the reader that although our central question pertains to moral evil, there is not always a clean division between the moral, the metaphysical, and the physical, and the universality of evil in its supra-moral aspect is what determines our understanding of evil at the moral level.

At the risk of becoming repetitive, we are seeking to understand evil as a matter of human experience and in the context of human relationships, which on the broadest level means understanding evil as a practical, personal, and interpersonal problem. This means our emphasis is mostly, but not exclusively, on what Catholicism calls moral evil. With that in mind, let us proceed.

Moral evil is always personal

At the level of moral experience, we can say that evil is situated in the hearts and minds of human actors, and not in any non-human thing. The Bubonic Plague was an expression of physical evil insofar as it destroyed many lives, but the plague itself cannot be called morally evil. Likewise, a false ideology, which amounts to a lie, is said to be evil in the sense that it represents a departure from the truth, but the lie itself cannot possess a moral quality. The moral evil that is associated with the lie is situated in the liar himself, and not in his deceptive speech, which merely conveys the evil and gives it external, verbal form. The distinction seems trivial, but trivial mistakes in judgement have significant consequences in action, discernment, worldview, and public policy.

It does not matter whether we are considering the suffering that results from disease or famine or the pain of torture or the grief of the survivors of a terrorist attack. In every case, it is inappropriate to try and situate moral evil within the material order, which would amount to a confusion of two separate categories of evil. Nature as such is always morally neutral. The weather cannot be morally good or evil. Even our own bodies, when they seem to betray us through disease and pain, cannot be good or evil in the moral sense.

To be clear, this does not mean that all moral discernment is subjective; it only means that all external phenomena are morally neutral until their consequences cross the threshold of human consciousness and produce certain effects in the heart of man, and only at this point can we accurately speak of good or evil.

We can see the truth of this in the starkly different ways people deal with earthly suffering: one person might interpret his disease as a cosmic injustice and become spiteful and bitter; another person might transmute his suffering into an opportunity for spiritual purification. In one case we can speak of evil, in the other we can speak of goodness and the nurturing of virtue, and both in relation to the same material phenomenon.

Even in systems that emphasize objectivity, every moral question cannot fail to take into account the orientation of the will. Taking Catholicism as an example, it is said that there are certain acts which are intrinsically evil, which is to say, evil without our having to analyze the intent knowledge of the human actor. Abortion is one example of an intrinsic evil, since it is evil always and everywhere.

But what is really being expressed by this manner of speaking? It seems that the concept of intrinsic evil acts as a bridge-concept between physical evil and moral evil and this keeps Catholic morality from spiraling into either subjectivism or a cold, mathematical morality. It essentially makes the point that a human action that realizes a definite evil of the physical order (for example, the taking of an innocent life through abortion) is evil and that this act remains evil regardless of the condition of the will of the individual.

This concept allows Catholic morality to continue to situate moral evil in the human heart while at the same time acknowledging that this situation does not nullify the whole concept of physical evil, and that when human action brings about death and destroys human flourishing, that this is always evil, even while the Church goes on to say that, if the individual did not understand what they were doing or were perhaps being compelled to an extreme degree, then they might not be completely culpable, deserving of blame, for this evil. Thus, the gravity of the evil in its physical aspect is admitted into the moral system, saving it from one-sidedness.

Thus, what we have said about moral evil being situated in the human heart and not in the natural world remains in effect, because the culpability of the individual is dependent on their knowledge and willful participation in the evil they made manifest. We could say that moral evil occurs when the will (subjective) cooperates with some physical evil (objective). Thus, abortion presents itself as an aspect of physical evil because it destroys the life of the unborn, but its subjective-moral dimension is determined (in part) by whether or not the will of the physician was cooperating with or consenting to the realization of an objective evil.

This complexity also allows us to see why it is short-sighted to assume that certain physical actions are evil in and of themselves. Using the case of the physician, it would of course be absurd to situate the evil of abortion in the mere sequence of physical motions executed by the surgeon, such as the wielding of the surgical instruments or the dissection of flesh, which would be nonsense, since these actions also part of many beneficial medical procedures.

Additionally, the concept of intrinsic evil permits us to speak of moral evil without direct reference to specific events or actors. It allows us to generalize about things that are not immediately susceptible to generalization. For example, we can say that murder is intrinsically evil, but we must always remember that this is an abstracted manner of speaking, valid in itself, but in actual reality, there is no such thing as a generic ‘murder’, there are only specific murders involving specific people. There is no such thing as murder that is not first and foremost the work of a murderer, even though we speak of ‘murder’ as if that depersonalized concept were an existent thing possessed of moral qualities. So it is with all intrinsic evils.

We therefore find that even objectively evil actions bring about personal blame only because of the inner states that may or may not be involved. It must be so, since it cannot be imagined that a good will could accomplish murder and then be judged guilty of moral wrong-doing after-the-fact as a kind of punishment based on an external classification, or according to some kind of imposed standard. In order for one to be guilty of murder, the will must be severed from alignment with the good, and the accomplishment of the evil act becomes objective witness of this divorce.

Ivan Ilyin wrote that ‘evil begins where the person begins.’[1] We can appreciate his point, but we must add that he failed to make the proper distinctions between moral and physical evil and tended to oversimplify things by ignoring the latter. Again, we know that natural disasters build up virtue in some people while turning other people into veritable monsters. Thus, it is not the natural disaster but its consequences in the human psyche that become morally good or evil.

We conclude by saying that moral evil cannot take up residence in this or that external thing, it can only be realized as a certain psychospiritual deviation from truth. The devil does not generally inhabit guns, knives, bacteria, or the weather. He manipulates the hearts of men.

[1] Ivan Ilyin, On Resistance to Evil by Force, p. 13.

The body as participation in the material order

We have spoken several times of material phenomena, and this applies also to the human body, which is itself part of the material order. To strike another person and cause them pain might be the result of a good or an evil will, and could therefore be deemed morally good or morally evil. The mere fact of causing pain is not enough to make the judgement. Our body language also is neither good nor evil but flows directly from the interior chamber where good and evil vie for supremacy, and also in the interplay between two persons and their influence on one another.

There are so many acts, expressions, and gestures the moral character of which might change drastically depending on the inner life of the person. Who could argue that a smile is always good and loving and not sometimes the façade of hypocrisy? How often is a seemingly kind word actually a manipulation, a flattery, or a seduction? To feed the hungry might be an act of love but it might also hide ulterior motives. We can mention here the Gospel story of the widow who gave a pittance and was judged morally superior to those who gave much more.

Good works support spiritual growth but cannot ensure it. Those who say that good works have no value are correct only in the very narrow sense that good works cannot guarantee that the will is in fact conformed to the good.

To summarize, we could say that material phenomena take on a strictly moral significance only insofar as they are signs and consequences of internal states. Actions and moral codes of action indicate and support an inner conformity with the good.

We all participate in evil

We have said that we will need to touch on all categories of evil, and here we must speak to the reality of metaphysical evil and its consequences.

We all participate in metaphysical evil, simply as a fact of our being creatures. Any limitation whatsoever is an imperfection in the metaphysical sense. Christ was speaking as a metaphysician, and not a moralist, when he exclaimed: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”[1]

The Fall is a thing far too complex to address here, but we can say that it involved (but was not limited to) the introduction of the moral dimension into the human experience, hence the ‘knowledge of good and evil’. From this moral point of departure, physical evil ensued (aka: death, hunger, daily toil), but the Fall could not have involved the introduction of metaphysical imperfection, since imperfection in this sense is present even at the earliest stage of creation, as soon as the distinction between Creator and creature comes into being. The Creator possesses Absolute perfection, while the creature is always, by virtue of status, metaphysically imperfect. The creature is, however, capable of a relative perfection, hence the ‘perfection’ of the saints, which could not possibly be identical to the perfection of God.

Again, any absence of perfection implies the presence of imperfection, which is to say, of some type of evil, since evil is precisely this privation of the good. This privation, however, is bound up with metaphysical evil and is not the same thing as moral culpability. As we’ve said already, the individual is not considered culpable for every imperfect act, although we must admit that this imperfection manifests evil in some way and that we are always involved.

Short of a total realization of the good, we find evil. One need not be committing genocide to be guilty of evil. Every inconsiderate remark, every hasty or unjust generalization, is an evil.

This will sound pessimistic to some, since it paints a picture of man that is far from humanistic and implies that everyone is responsible for evil in some sense. But again, we did not say that every person is fully culpable for every imperfection, and this is the key.

Part of the problem is that evil tends to be conflated with guilt and sin, and although these things overlap, this equivocation is not precisely accurate. To say that people are susceptible to evil and that evil colors all our actions, or even that evil is present in our hearts and motivations at all times, is not to say that we are all condemned for it. It only means that we are not perfect. The more aware we are of this fact, the better off we will be, since this awareness is what makes spiritual education possible.

Contemporary sentimentality cannot bear to admit that we are less than what we ought to be, and that moral improvement is universally mandatory. This is what happens when imperfection is considered equivalent to sin and blame: either imperfection is denied or the blame for it is denied. In order to have a balanced concept of justice, both must be admitted. This is why there can be no humane concept of justice without an adequate doctrine of the Fall.

The religions are realistic because they accept man’s fallen nature. They can afford to be ‘pessimistic’ in this sense because they also possess the means of salvation from this unfortunate state. Secular humanists cannot accept man’s fallen nature because, in the absence of any theory of salvation, if they were to accept the doctrine of the fall, man would simply be doomed.

What we wish to emphasize for now is that even our more mundane activities are tainted with imperfection, and it is only a question of degree. Evil is omnipresent, and to ignore this is dangerously naïve, even if it is more pleasant.

[1] Mark 10:18.

The concept of inducement

We have made some general observations about good and evil, but we still lack an adequate means of formulating our answer to the problem of resistance to evil in its social aspect, especially when we come to the problem of resistance through the use of force.

Again, we insist that distinctions are essential. We must make it clear what we are talking about, and this is more difficult than most people assume, who do not seem to notice how often, on the most important subjects, two people argue with one another without ever realizing that they are talking about two different things. Many questions only seem to be unanswerable because they are improperly posed or, on the other hand, because the vocabulary used to pose the question is confused or insufficient.

The question of resistance to evil is a perfect example of this problem, especially when it comes to the use of the term ‘violence’. The proponents of non-resistance and pacifism tend to group all forms of resistance by force under the heading ‘violence’. As will become clear, this is inaccurate, and it confuses the issue so much that it becomes hopelessly insoluble (and we cannot help but think that in some cases this is intentional).

The next step in our discussion, then, is to identify terminological confusions as they appear within existing formulations, and then to introduce the necessary distinctions that have thus far been ignored, and finally to propose an adequate vocabulary which will enable us to speak coherently about this subject.

First, as to the term ‘violence’, which is laden with sentimental and moral implications. Even to speak it out loud is to experience some level of revulsion. This is because violence, even without precise definition, is rightly understood as an expression of evil. How unfortunate for us, then, if every single act of resistance to evil is an act of violence! Happily, this is not the case, but to demonstrate the point, we will need to introduce a series of more precise terms and distinguish between them.

These terms are: inducement, compulsion, and coercion.

None of the above are synonymous with violence, and on the contrary, each of them signifies a form of resistance that stands apart from violence and abuse.

We can start at the most general level with concept of inducement.

Imagine that an acquaintance of mine is making an argument and I believe that he is wrong, and so I make my own argument against his. If he accepts my argument and changes his mind, then I have induced him to discard his old opinion and to adopt mine in its place. If we grant, theoretically, that I was in the right and that I was not leading my friend astray, then we can say that I have induced him, and that through my influence I caused him to abandon an error, which is to say, an evil, in favor of the truth, which is to say, the good. To put it plainly, when confronted with evil in the form of error and in the person of my friend, I responded by exercising mental inducement and in this way resisted evil and promoted the good.

Not only was this truly resistance to evil, but we could even say that I exercised a kind of force on my friend. Here we can see immediately that the whole question is more nuanced than is often supposed. Most of the arguments for or against ‘non-resistance’ seem to run right to extremes and forget that this resistance to evil plays itself out again and again at various levels in our daily lives and that we all do it instinctively all the time and could hardly do otherwise.

The example above may seem trivial, but again, even trivial opinions have their reality and their moral outcomes, and besides, what if the opinion had to do with abortion, capital punishment, marriage law, or some other far-from-trivial social issue? And is there not currently serious debate in universities about what can or cannot be mentioned or argued, and in that context, does it not appear that even mental inducement is being construed as a kind of violence?

To make matters more complicated, it is possible to induce oneself as well as others. For example, if I wish to form in myself a habit of exercise but I find that I am too lazy to stick to a routine, then I might present arguments to myself trying to reinforce the goal that I am pursuing. I might rehearse slogans, etc., and a common way of speaking about this is to say that I am trying to ‘motivate’ myself. This is self-inducement, and this technique is constantly used by everyone as a way of resisting internal evil.

If we frame the issue of force as one of degrees beginning with the most general and least invasive and escalating to the most extreme, then inducement is the first stage in this progression. It is the first degree of social or interpersonal force exercised by one against another, or against oneself. What is essential here is that we understand that inducement is nonetheless an example of resistant force, even if it is a very non-invasive form of it.

To elaborate somewhat, we can say that when I attempt to induce someone, I bring to bear the force of my will (through verbal formulations) in such a way that they feel it and unless they are sociopaths or narcissists, cannot avoid feeling it. If I prevail, then what I am given in return is their consent, and, presumably, they desist from whatever evil was in question. My attempt at inducement was successful.

In a general way, all forms of education are examples of inducement, and this holds true even if the inducement is voluntary, undergone with intention, or by request and as a matter of contract, such as when a student enrolls at a college. Here the student implicitly requests to have the evil of personal ignorance (which is responsible for so many errors) removed via inducement through the process of teaching and guided study. Although we do not use this terminology with regard to university education, it is obvious that this is what it is, and anyone who does not grasp this will miss the point of academics altogether. We can understand when someone objects to being induced to error in the university, but what seems to be in question today is the idea that students would be induced to anything at all, and that is a different issue altogether.

Returning to the nature of inducement, it can be accomplished with or without the consent of the person who is being induced. All arguments or conversations that end with one party being ‘convinced’ and altering their course of action are examples of inducement and rarely is conscious consent given at the outset. Consent regarding this type of general social inducement is, in a way, implicit in membership in any community.

All inducement is an imposition of a will on a being. This will might be mine or someone else’s, and so it is either self-inducement or the inducement of others. It could be objected that to induce oneself does not involve an imposition, but this is due to an oversimplistic anthropology that denies the manifold nature of the inner life, and that fact that our internal voices are always coming into conflict, vying for control, each claiming to represent the true self, each more or less bearing false witness to the same.

The will is not identical with the rational faculty, nor is it identical with the body and its carnal appetites. Due to this separating between the will and the rational faculty, I can impose my will on my reason to direct my thoughts and, as a result, my actions, and in fact I must do this ceaselessly. The example of self-inducement to bodily exercise would involve physical self-inducement, while the internal effort to maintain one’s patience with a difficult child is a form of mental self-inducement wherein we try to maintain control over the negative and dangerous emotional states.

Having clarified what is meant by inducement, we can see that here at this first stage we are dealing with a definite example of the use of force, with or without the prior consent of the subject, and that this is an example of forceful resistance to evil that no one in their right mind would categorize as violence since it is a natural and necessary component of the human condition.

Parenting and inducement

We have just said that no one would consider the day-to-day activity of inducement of either ourselves or others to be a form of violence, yet this was not precisely accurate. There are some today who actually do say this, but with respect to a very specific relation: that of parent and child. It is the opinion of some atheists that the teaching of religion (and its moral codes) to a child is a form of mental abuse, which is to say, of violence. We will deal with this objection eventually, but we thought it good to mention here at the outset in case the reader was beginning to wonder if we were not stating the obvious, because it turns out that what we have said is not obvious at all to more and more people.

Coercion and compulsion as types of inducement

Beyond inducement, which is general, we will speak of coercion and compulsion which are modes of inducement, and we will make use of these terms throughout our discussion.

Coercion involves the application of pressure (through discourse or other social means) to induce the subject to an action or else suppress an undesirable action, but coercion stops short of enlisting the use of physical force. Instead, coercion tends to increase the cost of the alternatives in such a way that the desired outcome is more certain. Coercion works by psychological and emotional pressures and manipulations.

Compulsion is more severe and obtains the desired result via force, removing all possible alternatives. This can be accomplished through legal prohibition or physical confrontation.

To illustrate the difference between these two modes of inducement, we can point to the means used by governments to recruit soldiers for war. They might use either coercion or compulsion. When they encourage preachers to preach in favor of enlistment, when they fan the flames of patriotism, and when public sentiments are such that non-participation is equivalent to cowardice, then we are dealing with various forms of coercion. However, should this coercion fail, they might resort to the institution of conscription (which we call ‘the draft’). Conscription is compulsory military service and it ignores the question of consent entirely. It seeks to compel men to serve, under pain of serious legal consequences.

The distinction can also be seen with regard to participation in the educational system. There are means of coercion, such as literacy propaganda, and this encourages attendance by presenting non-participation as irresponsible; but at the present time, at least in the United States, participation is not merely coerced but is compulsory. Anyone who does not comply is subject to legal consequences.

It is clear that we can utilize both forms of inducement against others and also against ourselves, but there are limits involved.

As for compulsion of the self, we can say that occasionally we must go beyond encouragement and mental ‘urging’ and enter the realm of self-discipline. In this case, the force of will is our own, and assuming that it is strong and properly developed, this will asserts sufficient control to ensure that the evil is stopped. This could mean forcing oneself to do something or to refrain from doing something. The decision to undergo a painful dental procedure and the discipline required to endure it are examples of self-compulsion.

An important distinction, when it comes to compulsion and coercion, is that we can speak of physical compulsion of the self and of others, and we can speak of mental coercion and compulsion of the self, but we cannot speak of the mental compulsion of others.

We can attempt to coerce another person emotionally or psychologically, and we can enlist physical compulsion as a way of achieving this. For example, in order to extract information from an enemy spy, we might throw them in jail (physical compulsion) and interrogate them (mental coercion) but we cannot truly compel them to tell us what we want to know. Even if we resorted to the most outrageous forms of torture, we are, in the end, only increasing the cost of their refusal.

This is significant because it informs the way we think about law and force on the social level. If you live under the illusion that mental compulsion of others is actually possible, you might try to make laws to either forbid or achieve this, and the laws would be either abusive or moot.

To clarify further, we can say again that mental self-compulsion is possible and occurs whenever we ‘force ourselves’ to confront some unpleasant idea and to ‘deal with it’, or, on the other hand, control ourselves so as not to entertain some toxic or perverse idea. We ‘overcome’ ourselves in these instances, even if the result is merely a suppression. Again, this goes beyond the tentative ‘urging’ of what we have called self-coercion. With self-compulsion the will actually asserts control over rebellious passions, reaching even to the mind, in order to achieve its end.

We can now see why mental coercion of others is indeed possible, and every appeal to the conscience of another person is a healthy attempt at coercion, but true mental compulsion is not. We can argue, we can preach, we can parent, and we can even threaten an individual with painful physical consequences, but this is all coercion and as such these measures do not close off the alternative. The subject can still decline, although at some cost.

We can influence by various means, but we cannot take possession of the mind of another. We can make laws to reward and punish and dole out prison sentences, but, in the end, throwing someone in prison amounts merely amounts to physical compulsion in the service of mental coercion. No real mental compulsion occurs. We can even torture and brainwash, at which point we have embarked on a project of violence properly so-called, but this abusive physical compulsion never amounts to true mental compulsion.

Here we can point to the political rhetoric about ‘freedom of thought’ and ask if this makes any sense. What, precisely, was the alternative arrangement? Is there any other option? Was there ever? Freedom of thought has always and everywhere been the fact, since it could not be otherwise. The only thing that we can restrict, and that has historically been restricted, is the freedom to express specific thoughts publicly or in such a way that they might influence the public. If there is a good reason to preach about ‘freedom of thought’ it is merely to dissuade fools who believe that they have the power of mental compulsion of others. The only thing we can outlaw is the external action that may or may not be motivated by a particular idea. We cannot control what ideas a person has.

To head off some misunderstandings by way of illustration:

If we wish to coerce someone, and in order to do so, we take one of their children hostage and make threats against the child in order to get the person to do what we want, this certainly targets the emotions of the subject, but on the basis of these manipulations we can only make them do certain things or even profess certain beliefs, but merely forcing someone to say a thing does not touch their reason and so it does not go beyond physical compulsion. Throughout all of this, then, the inner life remains invisible and inaccessible and whatever the subject might do or say, they are free to think something else entirely.

This is why forced conversions are impossible. If, in the above situation, I demanded a religious profession of faith, the futility of my efforts might not ever become clear to me, but they would be futile nonetheless. By trying to force a person to sincerely ‘change his mind’, in other words, by attempting the mental compulsion of another person, I am only setting up two possibilities, neither of them actually involving success: either I force an act of hypocrisy, in which case the subject lies, or else the subject will maintain honesty and refuse to profess (which is not so much a refusal as a statement of the impossibility of my demand) and suffer the consequences.

To summarize our remarks, we have available the following types of inducement: mental self-coercion and mental coercion of others; physical self-compulsion and physical compulsion of others; lastly, we have mental self-compulsion. There is no mental compulsion of others.

When does inducement become violence?

Having clarified the various forms of inducement we must acknowledge that each of these forms may or may not constitute a type of violence.

They represent, as we have already said, so many ways in which the human will is imposed on a being, whether one’s own being or that of another, and as such they are susceptible to abuse. Insofar as this imposition is abusive, it is reasonable to call it violence.

Thus, violence is the abusive imposition of the will on a being. This holds true for inducement of oneself, since examples of self-abuse are easy to come by. A person who uses his willpower to cut himself with a sharp knife might do so as a matter of self-compulsion for the sake of medical necessity, and might also, under the same self-compulsion, do so as a means of suicide. In one case we are dealing with self-preservation and in another we are dealing with self-abuse, which is to say, violence.

The dual criteria of love and spiritual insight

Since it is clear that people will disagree about when and how inducement actually crosses the line between the reasonable and necessary and the abusive and violent, we should identify what standard we can use ourselves in this discussion.

We can say generally that inducement guided by love is valid, and that inducement that acts against love, which is to say, inducement motivated by indifference or hate, is likely to be abusive. Yet this is not nearly specific enough, since it is not clear what we mean by love. Further clarification is in order.

Love means first and foremost a genuine concern for the well-being of the beloved.

The beloved could be another person, or it might be oneself. We are, in fact, required to love ourselves, and self-love is almost a precondition to knowing how to love others properly. When it is a question of self-inducement, it should be within the context of a healthy love for ourselves, such that it is for our own good to action or inaction. When it comes to inducement of others, it should be for their good, and not according to our own pleasure or arbitrary ends.

Yet we have still not been specific enough, since, if love means to desire the good of the beloved, there is too drastic a variation between one person and another to know with any precision what that good would look like. Since our understanding of individual good derives from our understanding of the Good as an objective and transcendent truth, then it is clear that disagreement about personal or social goods always boil down to disagreement as to the nature of Goodness Itself, since I cannot will your good if I do not know what Goodness looks like.

We take for granted in this manual that there is a spiritual dimension to man and that man’s ultimate good is beyond this life and that temporal goods are subordinate to his spiritual good. Thus, in order to love anyone, the lover must first and foremost have a degree of spiritual sightedness. In other words, to love, we must know God and know what He looks like, else we cannot know how to love any creature. The lover must acknowledge and be able to see with some degree of clarity who God is, what his attributes are, so that he may truly discern the spiritual end of the beloved. This goes back to what was said above about desiring the Good, since God is Good, and love of God is the basis of all true love for his creatures.

Just as earthly delights can come between creature and Creator, so also can temporal and intermediate goods undermine the ultimate good of the human person. What is implied here is that at times our love for another might mean withholding from them a temporal good if this subordinate good undermines the ultimate, spiritual good of the being. This is true not just when weighing the temporal against the absolute, but even in weighing various temporal goods against one another. I might deny myself the pleasure of eating additional servings of delicious food, even though the pleasure of food is itself a good, in order to pursue the superior good of bodily health, so that in turn I may pursue the still superior goods of peace, clarity of mind, and temperance. These are goods properly ordered.

Likewise, anyone with some level of moral discernment regularly forgoes immediate pleasures and inferior goods for the sake of superior goods that might be more lasting and more edifying. The spiritually attuned person will, for this reason, deny themselves certain temporal goods which interfere with the pursuit of the one good that is everlasting and of ultimate value, which is union with the Divine.

The greater the spiritual insight, the greater the prerogative

Here we come upon a guiding principle that must be kept in mind regarding love as a motive for intervening in the lives of others.

The fundamental reason that God is permitted to take the lives of his creatures is that God’s spiritual insight exceeds that of any creature by an unfathomable degree; and since it is said that God loves humanity perfectly and has perfect spiritual insight, his prerogative for intervention is absolute. If he takes the life of a creature, no injustice is done, and no abuse has occurred. His prerogative for action is in proportion to the truth of his love.

The reason that creatures are generally prohibited from killing one another and, on the social level, strongly cautioned against even minor interventions in each other’s lives, is that their spiritual insight is always very dim, and therefore their love is so susceptible to error that their prerogative for intervention must be placed within narrow limits.

This does not mean that no prerogative exists, but that it is important to understand the nature of the prerogative. In comparison to the prerogative of the divine, that of the creature is minimal. The point, however, is not to explain away the prerogative, but to indicate decisively that to love someone and to act on that love, I must have a degree of spiritual sightedness. If this vision is lacking, then my love is ‘blind’ in the worst possible way, and I am likely to harm the beloved even when I am trying to help them.

We will develop this issue of spiritual insight and love. For now, we must simply make the point that if the imposition of a will on a being is to be justified, it must be a matter of love, love of the spiritual good of the beloved, and this requires that the lover know in what that consists.

Violence is always wrong

We are now in a position to ask what constitutes violence. Violence involves the abusive imposition of the will on a being, either through a self-centered motive that undermines the good of the beloved, or one that directs the induced subject toward an evil end. If violence is understood in this light, we can say that it is always wrong, if at the same time we keep in mind the multitude of other circumstances in which morally licit inducement might occur.

To recapitulate what has been said, it is not inducement (whether that means coercion or compulsion) that renders force violent, but the relation to goodness of the inducement, as well as the presence or absence of a context of love. There is good self-inducement (including mental self-inducement and physical self-inducement) and there is permissible inducement of others (up to and including physical compulsion), and all these are distinct from violence, which only occurs when we step outside the sphere of love or act without a real knowledge of what love is, from the point of view of spiritual vision.

Secular powers and just war

At the risk of getting too far ahead of ourselves, we can anticipate a political problem:

Secular governments, meaning those modern regimes that find religious justifications abhorrent, have virtually nullified their own capacity to wage a just war. That is not to say they have nullified it in practice, since all governments, insofar as they meet a bare minimum of legitimacy, have a right to wage war. “For there is no power but of God, and the powers that be are established by God.”[1] Insofar as a state represents a legitimate political authority, it exercises prerogatives as an ordained power, just or unjust. We mean to say only that these states have, from a moral point of view, even if not a purely political one, confused things beyond recovery.

As for rhetoric, these secular powers still offer justifications for the force they deploy, and these justifications might involve appeals to love or to some perceived good (in our day, typically it is for the sake of ‘freedom’ or ‘democracy’), and they will claim that they are pursuing ‘humanitarian’ ends, but this only amounts to admitting outright that they have no interest in the spiritual good either of their own people or of the people they are using force against, and so the criterion of spiritual vision that would validate their use of force up to and including the killing of an enemy is obscured.

In short, we could say that the only just war, speaking broadly, is a holy war, and an atheistic regime, or what in the end is the same, a regime that is silent on the question of religious truth, cannot hardly discern what situations justify the use of force and how and to what degree the use of force is permissible.

We say this as a preview and an anticipation. Further clarifications are needed in order to give full force to such a general claim and we do not intend to develop a theory of war in this section.

[1] Romans 13:1.

The line between healthy and abusive inducement

Anyone who has set before themselves the task of spiritual self-education knows that mental self-inducement and physical self-compulsion are primary ways of making spiritual or moral progress in this life. The task is to find the line between necessary, healthy self-inducement and perverse inducement that is abusive and therefore violent.

The process of forgiveness, presented by Christianity as an essential component of spiritual development, is an excellent example of how inducement comes into play, because forgiveness in spite of pain always involves discipline in the form of mental self-compulsion. Prayer itself involves inducement, since to ‘pray without ceasing’ we must exercise regular discipline.

Self-inducement is not only for lofty spiritual goals. Normal mental hygiene (not letting oneself get carried away by negative emotions, for example) is maintained first and foremost by the correct application of mental self-inducement.

On the other hand, it is possible to mentally induce oneself in a harmful way and to become guilty of self-abuse. In order to justify our vices or avoid punishment for a crime, we might compel the mind to invent lies, distorting its true function which is the discernment of truth. We may also use our intelligence to manipulate others to their detriment, and so on, and in these cases our self-compulsion becomes self-abuse.

Physical self-inducement is healthy when it gets us out of bed in the morning and causes us to carry out our physical labors, and in matters of health and medicine. But on the other hand it is possible to coerce oneself into committing all types of illicit acts, and typically the mental self-abuse mentioned above is accompanied by forms of physical self-compulsion. A manipulative liar will ‘put on a good face’ and act in all kinds of disingenuous ways, enlisting his body as an instrument of deceit. How many of us have, in our lowest moments, had to ‘force ourselves’ to ignore the voice of conscience and to overcome our own disgust in order to be able to accomplish a clearly recognized evil? All of the above represent attacks on oneself, and are forms of violence.

The question of external assistance

Given the weight and universality of the task of spiritual self-education, it should not be difficult to see that each of us will, sooner or later, need assistance from the outside. We are responsible for ourselves first and foremost, but at some point, our blindness or weakness in the face of passions will stop us short, and without aid we will stall and regress.

To say it another way, the powers of the individual are primary in this process but never sufficient. “It is not good for man to be alone” because he cannot become all that he must be if left entirely to his own devices. He is fallen. His will tends toward weakness. This is the concept of concupiscence, without which no adequate social teaching, no valid anthropology, can be developed. Without the notion of concupiscence society will tend toward a fantastical overestimation of the powers of the individual.

In view of the weakness of the individual will, especially in the early years of childhood development, it is impossible to imagine anyone making great moral progress in complete isolation. We do not civilize ourselves, rather we participate in our own civilization.

Only a very naïve anthropology, such as that of Rousseau, could teach that individual effort can suffice and that it is never necessary to subject a will to pressures of inducement originating in other wills.

Again, we need only refer to the state of childhood to see that external assistance is not simply an exception but is in fact the rule for human moral development, and that the task becomes predominantly ‘individual’ only very late in the game. We might say that moral education is only individualistic after graduation and therefore after all the groundwork has already been laid and the structure mostly in place. And it never becomes purely and individual affair. People continuously educate one another, with or without knowing it, with or without the consent of either the educated or the educator.

Who would deny that a child lacks the fundamental skill of self-restraint? In the interest of individualism, should this child be left to his own devices? This would be the abolition of parenthood.

The same holds true for persons of any age, especially in cases of demonstrated weakness of character, when his or her actions beg for assistance. Who would argue that the drug addict ought not to experience any negative pressures from without, or that a person who cannot keep from stealing should not have to live in fear of punishment, when this punishment is in place for their own benefit (among other reasons), to help them build up the power of self-restraint, which is the only thing that can save them from themselves in the long run?

The lives of many people cry out for aid, and the crime of naïve and individualistic moral theories is that in practice they produce heartlessness, condemning each to his own weakness. Who would not reach out and seize the hand of a person in despair who was about to swallow poison or throw themselves in front of traffic? We do not even need to address the risks faced by the intervening person, even though they are real, since the philosophy we oppose does not hate intervention on grounds that it is risky but because it is unjust, suggesting that such persons ought to be left alone to fight their own battles, regardless of how clearly and decisively they have been defeated!

The fact is that most people, in some way, shape, or form, are not up to the task of self-inducement in the total absence of supportive external inducement. At that point—when my own powers fail or my blindness intervenes—the only hope for progress in moral development is to subject ourselves to pressures originating in others, both in the extreme and in daily routine, via social norms and legal prohibitions.

Reciprocal moral education is inescapable

We need to drive home the point that, even if certain philosophical movements try to deny our obligation (both private and public) to aid others who are not up to the task of spiritual self-education, they nonetheless are involved in it because it is a fact of social life. Even the individualists benefit from education of the supra-individual order, just as atheists benefit from the grace of a God they do not believe in.

Every one of us has a hand in educating others, regardless of any ideological attitudes to the contrary. Every smile, every approving or disapproving gesture, every look has its moral impact on persons around us. This impact is especially pronounced between parents and children, but the encounter occurs between all persons everywhere. No one is exempt. We are social beings, and we are constantly adapting to our social environment, for good or evil. This pertains to situations where the conversation is consciously directed toward educating someone or changing the subject’s mind about a particular thing, but it is not limited to that context and extends even to the way in which we carry ourselves physically, to our posture and facial expressions.

It also works in the negative sense, through the absence of external pressure. For example, the absence of a disapproving mannerism or facial expression condones what is done in one’s presence and in this way no response is a response. Action and inaction both teach people what is acceptable behavior and what is not. In the absence of objections and social-psychological obstructions, those behaviors and tendencies that call for self-restraint are left unchecked and in the extreme they become pathological.

This is why the refusal of a parent to correct their own child’s destructive impulse is a kind of negligence, and in a similar manner, the refusal of society to censure evil is a collaboration with it. There are no sidelines on this field of battle.

The difference between childhood and adulthood

Something that is bound to come up in this discussion is the distinction between adulthood and childhood.

It is obvious that both coercion and compulsion are necessary to the education of children, but are they still necessary to the adult? Those find these things distasteful will inevitably object that once we reach adulthood, such pressures and interventions are an offense to the dignity of the ‘free will’ and ‘self-government’ of the mature being possessed of reason.

First, we respond that the distinction between child and adult is qualitatively real but, in daily life, it never altogether clear. We ignore this by choosing arbitrary timelines. This was helped in traditional societies by details rites of passage that reached beyond the merely legal and into the psyche of those who were ‘crossing over’, but today there is nothing of the sort. One day your are a ‘minor’ and the next you are sent off to war. Thus, we seem to pretend that beings populate different moral worlds based on an arbitrarily chosen date and time. However, if we set aside these confusions and admit that there is a very important distinction between the compulsion of children and of adults, we can say that it is more a question of degree and form than it is a question of presence or absence of external compulsion. There is a progression in things, and while it is not difficult (and in fact it is undeniable) to see that children are not adults, and that adults should not be treated as children, it is less clear exactly when this transition occurs internally and it seems to us that in many people it never does occur, at least not completely.

We are far from arguing that adults have no justification for demanding greater freedom, and we agree completely that a ‘paternal’ style of government is degrading. Nonetheless, we should not hastily assume that the fundamental means of spiritual education are discarded at some arbitrarily chosen age, for example after eighteen years. It would be more coherent to say that man remains perpetually in need of both internal and external forms of compulsion, but these must be adapted to his state and make allowance for his personal dignity, which in adulthood involves the use of reason, the taking on of series obligations, and, presumably, a more developed capacity for self-restraint and self-discipline.

Graduation into adulthood does not involve the abolition of all external forms of inducement. Compulsion that was valid in principle for the child does not suddenly become unjust in principle simply due to age. Rather the form of delivery and the origin of the will are changed so that great scope is given to adults and no single individual holds arbitrary sway over their actions.

The goal of childrearing is to spiritually educate the child to the point that they can spiritually educate themselves, and this implies the construction of a strong will proficient in all healthy forms of self-inducement. But when a parent succeeds, and the child becomes an adult, they do not suddenly become independent of all external educating forces.

As the individual transitions from the original society of the family to join the greater society of which the family is a part and begins to participate in its projects and activity and direction, parental compulsion transforms into broader social forms of compulsion. Law and custom are—if they are just—expressions of Divine Law and descend upon us via the authorities placed on earth for just that purpose. That is the objective aspect of social moral education. But we can also conceive of them in another aspect, as ‘externalized’ means of ‘self-compulsion’ utilized by a self-conscious collectivity to pursue the good. It is therefore short-sighted to act as if government cannot be an indirect expression of self-government, and to construe all its prohibitions and obligations as abusive and totalitarian, even if it is certainly possible for it to be that as well.

Individualism and socialization

One of the greatest crimes of modern individualistic societies is that they deny and therefore deprive people of one of the greatest benefits of membership in a community, which is the collective spiritual education that societies are traditionally understood to provide.

Liberal individualism tends to see spiritual and moral education as a matter of private discernment alone, and when it does not deny the social aspect of this education, it presents it as an ‘interference’ and sometimes as an abuse.

Individualism teaches that man is not fundamentally a social being but is instead a fully autonomous molecule amongst other more or less similar molecules, each possessed of a mutually exclusive ‘free will’. It is then the prerogative of this will to pursue whatever it deems worthy. Hence the popular vision of personal development as ‘self-creation’ where the individual constructs an identity based on his own aspirations and tastes. If this process is derailed or obstructed by the imposition of an external will, it is considered an act of violence because in this paradigm spiritual self-education should not permit any external intrusion except in cases of prior consent.

This view ignores the fact that everyone who was raised under the protection of other humans (and there is no alternative) has already been carried along for years through the influence of another will or by multiple wills, belonging primarily to his parents, and that our will is always in flux and responding to external pressures. This continues throughout adulthood. For individualism, the intrusion of external influences is perceived as injustice, but a more realistic anthropology would suggest that this intrusion is a natural and necessary situation. The real question should be: how do we build up in communities a set of forces that are conducive to healthy spiritual development and not completely ignorant of it or destructive of it.

What is, for individualism, an offense to ‘autonomy’ is for us a gift that in normal cultures is the most significant benefit of living alongside other people. Again, we refer to the Christian principle that it is not good for man to be alone.

The externalization of the spiritual life

If a community is vigorous in its pursuit of moral and spiritual development, these energies of willful self-discipline overflow from the individual domain and combine to form complex social institutions. These institutions (customs, laws, literature, art) are the hard-earned products of a collective project in spiritual progress.

Art, to take only one example, is not only a ‘product’ of the spiritual vitality of a people, but is also a guide and cause of education for new members, such as children. To grow up in the shadow of a Catholic cathedral is to receive a certain inner formation: it imposes a certain spiritual style by mere proximity. The same goes for all the various products of culture. They are formative.

All of what we have been discussing involves a degree of mental coercion, and imposes itself on the free will of each member of society. The overall task of these socially organized forms is not to take over from the individual the responsibility of self-inducement, which remains necessary always; rather, they exist to reinforce individual self-education by supporting the shared goal of moral development. Again, this is the greatest gift offered to the individual by society, and only becomes a curse when the society in question is corrupt in such a way that it reinforces vice instead of virtue.

Lastly, we can say that religion, and the moral ambience it provides, is the most powerful formative force for the individual conscience. The principle of ‘separation of church and state’ which in the modern world amounts to the exile of religious expression to the home and to certain officially designated buildings is a horrible injustice. It does precisely what it was intended to do: renders the moral and spiritual influence of religion inert.

Physical compulsion and restraint

We have just discussed mental coercion in society and observed that not only is it permissible but in fact there is no real alternative. Now, we have to deal with situations in which mental coercion through external influence is not enough. This brings us to the question of physical compulsion.

The use of physical force is an extreme. It represents the last and least desirable stage of inducement, but it should be clear that it always takes place in connection to the lesser forms of inducement and presents itself only when other options prove untenable.

It was said above that external things cannot be evil in themselves, and this applies to external means of physical compulsion. To cut a person with a knife is not evil in itself, and to universally condemn this action without qualification is absurd. In the context of surgery, for example, the use of the knife might be lifesaving. Although this example is obvious, the same error is manifest in universal condemnations of physical compulsion.

External means are evil insofar as they manifest an evil will and/or are not directed to the good of the person being compelled. To return again to the example of the surgeon, it is easy to see that surgery might be lifesaving when done correctly and for the right reasons, but perverse when carried out with perverse intent and contrary to the good of the patient.

What, then, of general arguments against compulsion and suppression? Should small children be permitted to take drugs and play with weapons? Would an authority (first and foremost the parents) be right in using physical force to stop them, and if that was not enough, to lock them up long enough for the danger to pass?

If I see a neighbor entering a fit of rage and, knowing that he is weak and prone to be ruled by his passions, would it not be an act of love and friendship to restrain him and, if necessary, to lock him up?

If, out of love and out of a desire to save my friend from moral and physical destruction, I use physical compulsion (or restraint) to impose my will over and against his, how could this be construed as an act of ‘violence’ or ‘abuse’? And yet it seems to us that the proponents of a permissive liberalism would have difficulty explaining how their logic of non-resistance would not at the same time stop so many morally licit acts of physical compulsion.

The most important point here is that physical force cannot be categorized as either good or evil without consideration of the moral essence of the act as to whether it was done in accordance with love, and more specifically, love understood not as a transitory emotion but as a concern for the spiritual good of the one being compelled.

For the sake of free will and not against it

Physical compulsion and restraint—for example, locking someone up in prison for a reasonable sentence—is justified insofar as it is conducive to the spiritual education of the individual. Prison can be justified in this sense because if properly managed and if situated withing a system of authentic justice, this kind of restraint not only protects others from the acts of the prisoner, but also gives them space and time to reach a moment of clarity and to be rehabilitated. It removes their liberty because liberty is conditional and may simply permit someone to self-destruct. Prison can provide an opportunity for moral education—perhaps long overdue—to take place.

In this case it cannot be said that the free will of the offender is being denied. It is quite the opposite: the fact that someone could commit rape or murder or some other soul-destroying crime demonstrates that they do not have a will that is truly free and that their situation cries for help, even if they themselves do not explicitly ask for it. Most people who lack strength of will to stop themselves from doing horrible things will also lack the strength of will required to admit defeat and to beg for help. Social restraints that provide space for moral development are also going to result in the strengthening of a will in the hope that it will, eventually, be able to operate with sufficient ‘freedom’ to avoid being further enslaved by addiction, passion, and other weaknesses of character once the restraints are removed.

Needless to say, this excludes all forms of compulsion that do not respect the spiritual integrity of the person but instead undermine it or deny it: depraved conditions, torture, withholding food or sleep or contact with loved ones. Ignorance of the possibilities of rehabilitation and the nature of human needs. All of these have no place because they undermine strength of will and are more likely to nourish spite and hatred. Inhuman methods break the will of an individual that is already on the brink, at which point things become hopeless.

Lastly, it is necessary at times that inducement produce suffering, sometimes in the extreme, and this does not imply violence or abuse. When an addict loses access to drugs, the result is not only physically painful, but also mentally excruciating. We point this out to say that when sentimentalists try to argue that any physical compulsion or mental coercion that produces pain is, for that reason, abusive, we can say once again that this is too general a statement to be true.

This is not a defense for current forms of compulsion

It should be obvious from what we’ve written in other sections of this manual that we do not approve of the values pursued by modern civilization. We are not convinced by all of the rhetoric about rights that is not counterbalanced by an interest in the rights of God. Nor can we condone the unqualified pursuit of liberty when it is denied that the only freedom that matters is freedom from sin.

We are outlining a theory of resistance to evil that cannot be easily reconciled with the institutions of contemporary society, and so our argument should not be misconstrued as a defense for the justice system as it stands, not to mention any of the other forms of compulsion utilized by the modern state for its ends. If we admit that compulsion on the part of the community is in principle legitimate, this does not mean that we condone ‘the draft’ which in the current sense amounts to total bodily authority over every citizen for whatever purpose and for an indeterminate period of time. Nor do we condone compulsory participation in an educational system that is propagandistic and atheistic. As for prison, if we proclaim that it is, in principle, justified, this does not mean that we are supportive of the American prison industry. Our theory is offered as a way of appraising current ideologies and social systems, not as a justification for what they happen to be doing, even if there seems to be some superficial agreement.

Some apparent difficulties involved in the use of physical force

There are still some difficulties involved in the use of force that we must examine, difficulties that would seem to present serious problems with its application. First and foremost, it is obvious that the use of physical force does not seek the consent of the individual but acts against his will. Can this be justified?

We have already said that the criteria for resistance to external evil, especially in the form of physical intervention in the lives of others, are primarily love and spiritual knowledge.

To clarify, we can say that the whole reason for accepting and respecting the ‘dignity’ of the free will, and for giving those in possession of will some degree of personal liberty, is the fact of our spirituality, which means that, if we have dignity, it is because we are endowed by God with dignity. We respect the liberty of persons on this spiritual basis and without it all talk of human dignity falls short.

Likewise, what gives legitimacy to our external acts is the fact of their origin in such a spiritualized free will, since a will that is not spiritualized is not free. If a man is spiritually awake and his self-government thereby intact, then even his external errors are not immediately subject to correction by the imposition of an external will, because it is assumed that he will use his own will to correct his own errors. It is obvious that this is the first choice and that we should not impose our will on a person who is fully capable of self-imposing their own within the domain of their person.

What happens when these conditions are not present? What happens if a person has never received adequate spiritual education and is in possession of a malformed conscience and has no ability to conduct themselves according to the good? What happens when a person is so weak-willed that they cannot control their lower self and when corruption bleeds out into relationships with others and threatens their well-being in turn?

Man against himself

An essential point of spiritual anthropology, especially for our discussion here, is the fact of our being able to turn against ourselves. The battle of the spirit and the flesh so often mentioned in the Bible is just one way of depicting this very real situation. We find that we are rarely an inner unity, and there seems to be a multiplicity of selves within us, all vying for control. When out of spiritual blindness we betray ourselves and permit demons to make their home within the inner chamber of the heart, the dignity of free will becomes a bad joke. The situation is described well by Ivan Ilyin:

“…if a person affirms his independence with evil deeds, abusing his autonomy and degradingly perverting his spirituality, his personality turns into a deep inner division. On the one hand, his spirituality is potentially not yet extinguished: somewhere, in its unfulfilled depths, it retains the ability to turn the eye to spiritual perfection and embark on the path of self-restraint and self-government…But, on the other hand, it turns out that the forces of his soul are actually absorbed in anti-spiritual content and aspirations which turn against love, his spiritual eye is closed or blinded, his passions and deeds breathe enmity and division. He does not exercise spirituality, but anti-spirituality, and the inherent power of his love becomes perverted and pernicious. Clarity does not rule him through will, love does not satisfy him; he lives and acts not as a spiritually free lord of his soul and his behavior, but as a helpless slave of his evil impulses and mental mechanisms. He becomes not that which he could potentially be, and cannot become what he is in the hidden meaning of his emptiness. His personality consists of a deceased spirit and an intensely charged anti-spirituality born from a dying love, a cold indifferent cynicism, and searing anger.”[1]

Resisting the free exercise of a will is unacceptable only insofar as we offend the spiritual truth it manifests. Ultimately there is no right but that of truth, and if there are any other rights, they derive from their participation in truth, and they become invalid once they turn against it.

Does this mean that there should be no laws protecting rights? Of course not, since the abuse of a prerogative does not mean that the exercise of the prerogative is itself an evil. What it does mean is that our view of ‘rights’ as ‘absolute and inviolable’ lacks humility and is in need of modification, otherwise the whole conversation is a dead end.

When we use resistant force against the villain, we are not combating spirituality, but anti-spirituality. We are resisting evil, and the enemy is not so much the imprisoned soul as it is the malevolent force which has bound him. We restrain this man for the sake of the spiritual man who is entombed within.

The will of the villain is not a will properly so-called. The will in such a being is latent, which is to say not in force. Due to negligence or weakness or error, it has lost its power of self-discipline. The will of this man is involved in the manifestation of his actions but blindly, without the ability to effectively exercise moral discernment. He is puppet monarch who still seems to sit on the throne, and might even fancy himself in control, but he has become possessed through the manipulations of another.

[1] On Resistance to Evil by Force, p. 44.

We cannot wait for consent

There is a point at which the soul becomes submerged in evil passions so much that to manifest a good will would require an act of heroism bordering on the miraculous, and it is never prudent to delay a good deed in expectation of a miraculous intervention.

Actions which would be simple for a healthy and morally ‘free’ individual—a man of good character and a strong will—become almost impossible. We all know individuals for whom even the most commonplace acts of self-discipline are immensely challenging. They are at the mercy of their impulses.

To insist that we must wait for consent, or for an explicit request from the individual before coming to the aid of his drowning soul, is inhumane, and the disciples of this kind of ‘autonomy’ are the same who, through the ages, have always asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

False equivalence between the villain and the just

We descend the ladder of means so that we can climb back up. The first goal of physical resistance is to make room for the healthy mental inducement that at some point became untenable. The target of influence is the soul, and we seek to come to its aid by weakening the negative influences that assail it, up to and including the physical removal of the person from a harmful environment, and then, assuming the possibility is open to us, by strengthening the will through the provision of spiritual education in the form of healthy relationships, opportunities for therapy, etc.

When the situation becomes so dire that room for moral salvation can only be created through the use of physical force, then physical force becomes not merely permissible but obligatory.

When confronted with a group of men who are raping someone, should we stop short at mental coercion, offering a sermon and appeals to the conscience to try and awaken their convictions in the hope that they will cease and desist? Of course not, and to do this would be an act of either cowardice or extreme naivety. It would amount to the refusal of an obligation to intervene via physical force.

Sometimes we are told that by using physical force against the villain who is likewise using physical force, we are ‘lowering ourselves to his level’ and adopting an evil means to fight evil. This was the position of Leo Tolstoy, to cite one example. But this shows a total ignorance of the criterion of spiritual goodness.

What the rapist says to the victim is essentially this: You are a means to the satisfaction of my perverse passions, my lust, and I deny your autonomy and your own spiritual good, and I subordinate your being to myself and reduce you to an object to be used at my pleasure.

It is easy to see here a total absence of love. These actions are contrary to spiritual truth. Such a situation degrades both the attacker and the victim. It inflicts violence on both.

Contrast this with the intent of the intervening will, the one who steps in as ‘defender’, saying: You despise your spiritual good and the good of your neighbor. You find yourself at the edge of a precipice at the bottom of which is your destruction. For your sake and for hers, I will stop you.

There is a difference between the attacker who ignores the good and the defender who acts to preserve as much good as possible. To make out both persons to be perpetrators of ‘violence’ is to disregard entirely the criteria we set forth earlier, which make the essence of the moral act a question of spiritual clarity and benevolent love. The attacker is manifesting externally his own blindness and hate and is possessed by evil; the defender is manifesting his love, guided by his perception of truth, and he is acting in the service of truth. The defender is ultimately acting in defense of both attacker and victim, and in a real sense, in defense of society at large.

Free speech as mental coercion

The whole concept of free speech is misunderstood today. Engulfed by ‘the logic of rights’, free speech has become a slogan pulled out of thin air, without connection to any principles capable of justifying it.

Free speech rightly understood is a lesser form of combat intended to preserve peace, which is to say, a form of invasive coercion that cannot be otherwise. It is combat with purpose, with social utility, and its value is social. In other words it is a contingent liberty designed to have a social benefit. But in the modern context it is reinterpreted individualistically, so that it becomes a special prerogative of individuals which they claim for themselves alone without regard to any social good. Free speech is ‘my right’ and is defended not because it is better for everyone in the long run but because it is something I am allowed to do and no one can stop me.

By locating its source and justification in the individual, which is to say, in subjectivity, free speech turns against its original reason for being. It is no longer a liberty in the service of society, but instead a form of license, wielded over and against society. Combative or disagreeable speech is no longer justified because it is a way of helping society discern the good, for the sake of mutual spiritual education, but is instead seen as one of so many other rights that need no justification whatsoever and that can therefore be exercised indiscriminately for or against the good of the community as a whole.

If free speech is valid, it can only be as a way of allowing people to come into conflict without having to resort to physical force. Free speech is a publicly sanctioned form of mental coercion of others via argument and the expression of moral sentiments. It has always been assumed that it would manifest aggression, but it is a controlled aggression, a civilized form of combat, and this is why it is acceptable.

The bizarre view of free speech that we see today is completely different. Since in liberal regimes there is no concept of the common good and no obligation to pursue it, free speech becomes an instrument for the suppression of the good.

If individuals are protected when they condemn a certain government action or policy, this is not because dissent is a good that we wish to protect, but because we know that the prolonged suppression of dissent will eventually produce revolt, and that it is better for our leaders to hear criticism than to be dragged out of their offices and hung.

Critical speech against a certain idea or activity or institution is necessarily unpleasant or hurtful to the persons involved in the criticism, but this acceptable because, if it could not happen, and if there were no hope of ‘fighting it out’ verbally before having to resort to more extreme and invasive measures, there would be bloodshed. Restricting verbal conflict undermines peace because it removes an important stopgap between peace and war.

Today all public criticism that has a moral or religious tenor is reframed as hate speech. This is the natural outcome of generations of training to the effect that you, as an individual, are in possession of a veritable library of rights, rights that have no corresponding duties, no obligatory direction for their exercise, and that they are gifts to you to use as you please to build a life as you please, and that this is the essence of freedom. When a person educated in this way runs up against resistance and outright moral criticism, they cannot but feel it as an attack, and attacks on private individuals who are, it is said, ‘not hurting anyone else’, must be unjust and wrong.

Evil proliferates through tolerance

The problem with the public tolerance of even seemingly mundane evils such as crassness, intemperance, or personal impiety, is that evil is more pernicious when ignored. Subtle behaviors matter and leave their mark become more serious when discounted as irrelevant.

Prolonged exposure to a social atmosphere where evil is tolerated leads inevitably to the corruption of everyone involved, even if only in a very subtle way. It is impossible to imagine a virtuous man who begins working at a strip club every day and still somehow retains his resilience to the sin of lust. Some will suggest here that men who struggle with lust are imbalanced from the start, and that such men are the problem and not the situation. They suggest that healthier men would be impervious to external erotic stimuli. Here again we stumble upon the naïve anthropology of the humanists, who somehow imagine that the human condition is beyond the impulses of the flesh. We respond that any man who finds that lust is not a problem is likely not a man with robust internal resources. To be unaffected by eros is not to be whole or healthy, and certainly not morally superior. Even the hermits of the desert, even the saints, dealt with this aspect of the human condition. We suspect that putting the blame entirely on the men is a result of the individualistic moral mentality, which says that each person ought to see to themselves, and that our moral lives are not intertwined, and if you have a problem, it is your problem alone and I have nothing to do with it.

Thus, if we insist that it is contrary to the building of character to expose oneself to an immoral atmosphere due to the spiritual peril it involves, we can say that the same peril is experienced by any man who lives in a society where there are no norms regulating sexual behavior, not to mention the type of clothing people can wear in public. To say that a strip club might feed the demons in anyone but then say that people of all ages should be unaffected by the provocative clothing of women they pass on the street is to contradict oneself.

In our experience, the real issue is not that people don’t understand what we’ve just said. Most would agree that on-going exposure to a temptation, which is to say, to a spiritually corrosive atmosphere, is not healthy. Where we run into a brick wall is when we suggest that the freedom of others might need to be curtailed to prevent this exposure. For example, people who adhere to the absolute view of rights will be disgusted at the thought of anyone regulating how much flesh can be revealed in public. Modern people are caught between evils, one of which they do not recognize because it is an object of worship, and so they cannot escape their contradictions.

The point here is that leading others into temptation is a very powerful form of mental coercion, and as we have already said, mental coercion can be good or evil depending on the presence of love and the spiritual clarity it involves. In this light, we can see that the decision to flaunt one’s body amounts to a disregard for the spiritual good of others. It is no stretch of the moral imagination to say that it in many cases it qualifies as abuse, and that a civilization that permits this permits abuse on a grand scale.

It is ironic that certain freedoms are defended by saying ‘you cannot compel me’ when in fact the behavior in question is itself an act of coercion bordering on compulsion, even if they choose to ignore it.

We have used the issue of provocative dress, but this is only because we’ve seen it discussed multiple times and so it is a familiar example. This is a general principle that touches on all aspects of social life, and we can say that both men and women can produce a morally corrosive atmosphere.

Private acts have social consequences

As we develop our position further and approach additional arguments about social evil, we can point out another misconception. When resistance is weighed and judged, it is usually examined in the specific context in which it was exercised. This means that the judgement about its appropriateness tends to only take account of the immediate facts of the interaction, and this is misleading.

For example, let’s imagine that one night a man wakes up in his own home to encounter a burglar he shoots the burglar, who promptly dies. Some might protest that the force deployed—which in this case was lethal force—exceeded the threat, and therefore was not justified.

The problem is that this objection ignores the social nature of evil, that it is never contained within a specific situation where it played out. It was a private home and the decision to commit the crime was a private one, as was the decision of the homeowner to kill him. Nonetheless, the consequences of these private decisions are far from isolated. Let us imagine instead that, in the name of proportional response, the homeowner had simply threatened the burglar and driven him away. Or perhaps, in the name of turning the other cheek, he actually permitted the criminal to take what he wished and to go freely. What then? As a result of this non-resistance, the evil would have branched out in several directions. First, it would spread into the community. People would know that a thief was in their midst, and was still out and about, social trust would be undermined accordingly. No one would be able to go to sleep at night in peace, knowing that they could be next. What is perhaps worse is that the criminal, who might have been motivated by desperation, will be left to his own devices, and his only hope of salvation will be an act of heroic willpower on his part that is almost certainly out of the question.

In other words, to judge the evil consequences of theft only in terms of the monetary value of what has been stolen is to lie about the nature and scope of its evil.

This is also why terrorism is a horrible crime: it destabilizes society, destroying its unity by creating fear and revulsion and confusion. It renders the entire people more susceptible to temptation, since in desperation we are always more vulnerable to evil suggestions.

It is important to understand that our obligation to contain evil is real even if we don’t feel particularly offended by it, because by permitting it, we speak on behalf of everyone, and in a real sense we permit it to be visited on everyone by turning a blind eye.

Conditions for the use of physical force

At this point we can consolidate our position and say that several ‘conditions’ have emerged that can help us determine when the use of physical compulsion is justified.

First, we must be in the presence of evil. Not the presence of something that we find annoying, or that makes us uncomfortable, or that does not appeal to our temperament. We must be dealing with an evil will that is manifesting itself through external physical actions, and not merely a mistake on the part of a good, clear-sighted person, since in the case of mistakes it must be left to the individual, if at all possible, to re-establish self-government that might have been momentarily lost and correct themselves.

Second, we need a correct perception of the evil, which is to say, we need to know with confidence that we are dealing with an evil through a true appraisal of its nature, discerning what the external action indicates about the will of the actor. This point goes without saying, but by mentioning it we are enabled to see the problem with social movements that downplay evil or reinterpret every vice or crime as a ‘mistake’ and tend to turn the criminal into the victim. By choosing to deny the presence of evil, it becomes easy to deny the issue of resistance to it. In short, only those who have seen real evil (and this does not mean perpetrated it) have justification for confronting it by use of physical force.

Third, resistance via force must involve a sincere love for the good, not only our own good and that of the community, but of the villain. What should the person do who loves the good but is confronted with an evil that will extinguish that which he loves? This is the part of the question that escapes those indifferent souls who propose ‘non-resistance’ and toleration. Since they cannot see the good or are so lukewarm that they have no desire to protect it, how could we possibly expect them to see the reason for resisting the evil that attacks? They see no evil, so the point is moot from the start. Their solution is not really a solution since it presupposes inner indifference. The question is entirely different for the one who is burning with love for spiritual perfection.

Fourth, we require a strong will capable of confident action for and against world processes. This is why strong character, courage, confidence, zeal, are all attributes traditionally encouraged in those whose vocation it is to resist evil by force. It is not enough to see evil and to hate it: resistance can only be carried out by individuals with backbone. This is a rare thing today since in our society the manifestation of a strong-will tends to be punished and shamed, and those who speak about these things are usually those who have intentionally rendered themselves impotent, both by habitually turning a blind eye to evil, or by ideologically denying its existence. Those with backbone, on the other hand, tend to become bitter in the face of a civilization that has no use for them, and wishes only to be left to debauch itself.

Fifth, we can say that physical force must be the last resort. All other intermediate means must be untenable. First and foremost this means that we need to be confident that the individual in question cannot correct the problem themselves, in the context of their own self-government. After that, mental coercion originating in others is the appropriate secondary option. When that proves powerless to stop the evil, then compulsion via physical force enters into the picture.

This progression is the only real option, since if things get this far there are only two possibilities: to stop resisting and do nothing, or to carry resistance to the next degree. We either abandon our position and give way to the evil, or we fight it via the only practically feasible means.

Physical compulsion cannot force a mental result

We have already mentioned this point, but it is worth repeating. We should never try to invoke a mental response directly via physical compulsion. Physical compulsion is at best a preliminary or a preparatory stage that makes education and proper socialization possible.

We can hope of course that the villain who is stopped by force from committing his crimes will eventually be in a position to understand the evil that is driving him, but we must always be cautious of the temptation to imagine our own interventions as being able to force this kind of epiphany. It puts too lofty a goal before such a blunt instrument as physical force.

This means that if we determine that it is permissible to compel citizens to serve in the military via the draft, we may choose to implement such a thing, but at the same time it would be foolish and counterproductive to demand something like patriotic fervor from unwilling participants. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him thank you for it. Anyone who is in a position to resist evil with physical force should also accept that it is not ideal and is not necessarily going to bring about any kind of conversion, at least not directly.

The nature of spiritual love

Since we have made the presence of love a determining factor in the legitimate use of force, we would do well to clarify as much as possible what we have in mind when we use this word.

We have already said that we do not have in mind the sentimental love that is more an emotion than an orientation of the will. Love does not pursue pleasure or enjoyment or wealth or even happiness. If these are experienced as byproducts of the pursuit of love, we may be grateful, but true love of the highest order yearns for the spiritual perfection of ourselves and others.

Spiritual perfection is often acquired at the cost of happiness, at the cost of comfort, and in spite of suffering and inconvenience. In other words, it is possible to cause someone suffering out of love for them, and it is possible to make someone very happy while degrading them.

We do not wish suffering on anyone, and we live in fear of the possibility that those we love might suffer, but fear of their spiritual debasement must always be stronger than the fear of their suffering.

It is easy to see why this is very distinct from ‘worldly love’ which pursues temporal well-being. This ‘love’ cannot imagine why earthly pleasures would ever be sacrificed for the sake of something beyond life. This is unfortunately the kind of love that motivates certain humanitarian movements, movements which displace ancient cultures and undermine religious life of the people being ‘helped’, all for the sake of ‘modernization’ and ‘development’, on the assumption that material standards are the only standards of living.

We can see too often the objects of ‘humanitarian’ love end up being materially improved but spiritually impoverished.

Errors of compassion

The ‘greatest commandment’ given by Christ in the Gospel was to love God and love thy neighbor as thyself. The commandment is threefold, even trinitarian: love for self, for the other, and for God. Christ, Holy Spirit, Father. Identity, community, transcendence. This triple aim leads the Christian into rough waters because, due to the limits of his nature, being fallen, these aims seem to come into conflict and appear mutually exclusive. When in doubt, it is always the love for God which must act as the standard, and this gives the outward impression that the self or the other is being degraded, and that love is withheld. It is even possible to imagine situations where an expression of sympathy toward my neighbor would amount to a betrayal of love for God. This is not due to incoherence in the commandment so much as it is a result of divergence between my will (or my neighbor’s will) and the will of God. When the will of God and the will of my neighbor are at odds, my relationship with my neighbor remains subordinate. If ever I am called to turn a blind eye to acts that offend God and destroy his creative work, whether out of ‘sympathy’ or distorted ‘love’ or humanitarian ‘compassion’, then it is time to withhold support from my neighbor.

In short, love is measured by the standard of the divine, and to promote or condone that which departs from that standard does not qualify as love. Those who do not measure love by the standard of God cannot understand why, for the love of God, we might allow or even cause the suffering of our fellow man. They will never understand why a moral ‘no’ is in the service of the person so rejected, and they will never understand that an indulgent ‘yes’ could mean hateful indifference to what really matters.

For those who measure love by the arbitrary standard of the world, any expression of ‘negative love’ will be reframed as an act of hate, and this is why anyone today who makes a public stand on a moral issue is immediately accused of hate speech or something similar.

In its early form, this all-accepting all-compassionate anti-spiritual love manifests itself as indifference. To modern progressives, the highest form of love is to be indifferent to the rightness or wrongness of acts, so long as they are pleasing to the one acting. To love someone is not to want the best for them, but to want them to do whatever they please, no matter if it degrades the soul. In such a world, nothing less than complete indifference to the spiritual health of others can be permitted. And again, that is only the bare minimum—what is really expected and, in the long run, what comes to be demanded, is approval. We see this every day, as it becomes more clear that it is not enough to simply withhold our criticism and accept evil in our midst. We must approve. If you are not willing to openly express approval, you have implicitly admitted to your bigotry. First acceptance, then approval. But approval is not the final stage.

The limit of love

The limit of spiritual love is that it loves persons but cannot love evil in persons. This distinction between the person and ‘their evil’ is essential. If we ignore it, and if we see the evil and the person as inseparable, then we will fall into one of two dangers. Either we hate the person on account of their evil, in which case we hate something that we ought to have loved; or else, for the sake of the person, we give our love also to their evil, in which case we love something that ought to have been hated.

Due to the intermingling of good and evil in persons, the response of spiritual love will present itself as complex and even ambiguous. Think of the responses of Christ and the way they ranged from gentle and soothing to baffling and even to physically aggressive. In each case we must assume that spiritual love was the animating force behind the response, and yet it presented itself in so many ways.

Spiritual love will not resemble worldly love since it desires first and foremost the spiritual perfection of the beloved. Spiritual love wants the beloved to live free—which is to say, free from sin. The only true liberty. This is the opposite of the liberty the modern world would have us pursue, which amounts to the freedom to live in whatever sin we feel like. This is a loveless pursuit of liberty, liberty in the context of spiritual blindness.

This doesn’t mean that spiritually sighted people should go around trying to force everyone to change in accordance with their spiritual vision. We have already explained that this cannot be done because the only real transformation must be a process of self-education, as opposed to change under brute force or external compulsion.

It does mean, however, that when evil is discerned in a person, our attitude toward them changes, and must change in accordance with the magnitude of the evil that is present. It is simply not possible or appropriate to treat a man possessed of great evil with the same respect and the same affection as one who is spiritually healthy. In some cases, spiritual love calls for gentleness and compassion, and when permissible we should give these things to our neighbors. But in cases of serious spiritual danger, true spiritual love might involve withdrawal and isolation, and, in the extreme, it might call for the use of force.

The point is that even a negative response, for example one of withdrawal from the beloved, is a ‘blessing’ for the one who receives it, because it is the receiving of love and is for the sake of love.

Communion is inescapable

Now we will more directly address the social nature of evil, how it is communicated, and its inescapability.

The modern world operates on an individualistic anthropology that is not only anti-spiritual but is even anti-social. We could even say that our civilization is sociopathic because the truths that it ignores are essential to the healthy flourishing of human communities. It not only does not pursue these truths, but actively undermines them. One such ignored truth is the community of persons in good or evil. Were this understood, it would be easier to comprehend the duties and obligations such a ‘universal connectedness’ would impose on people who live together.

The first thing to be said is that the human person is a complex of body, psyche, and spirit. Today only the first term is acknowledged. The second (psyche) is talked about but misunderstood to be but an extension of the first term, situated on its level, and so only presents itself in a degraded form. For all intents and purposes, the psyche and the spirit are unknown, and our anthropology is stunted accordingly. If these terms were rediscovered, it would open vast horizons for mystery and self-exploration that are currently closed off. Self-knowledge is only a part of a part of a part. The truth is that most people know themselves very poorly. A counterintuitive result of this self-ignorance is that we do not understand how enmeshed we are—how open our hearts are to the influences of the world. Our inner lives are not nearly so private as we imagine them to be. My mind and will are hidden from me to the degree that I am ignorant, but they are not hidden from the world by virtue of my ignorance. The world is what it is, and it touches us deeply, moves us in ways we do not notice.

Since our anthropology has simplified things to their most superficial level, we in turn develop an utterly simplistic view of the self, and based on a few half-baked notions about personality, we think that we have insight into our being, when we have hardly scratched the surface. From this poor starting point, we rest easy and assume that we all know ourselves completely. We assume that our secrets are ours to keep, and that what we reveal and what hide are under our full control. We project this fantasy of privacy onto the people we meet.

The truth is quite the opposite. We reveal almost everything immediately. We may dress as we wish but there are no clothes for the psyche. Even on a purely physical level, the body discloses much of our inner condition through posture, gait, mannerism, and facial expression, and the only reason we think we have secrets is due to our inability to see ourselves and the fact that, even admitting this disclosure, there are few people who can consciously interpret these silent communications. It is here that the unconscious becomes important, because here much of the ‘communication’ and ‘communion’ takes place in terms of subtle bodily and psychic signs. It is here that the communication of good and evil becomes inescapable. Since the modern world is blind to this subtlety, the social trafficking of good and evil takes place entirely in the shadows.

We imagine that we are free to associate with only people we choose, or that we find agreeable, but the fact of our bodily-psychic-spiritual complexity means that we associate to some degree with everyone we encounter. Every day when we get out of bed we enter into a collective flow of reciprocal inducements. We exchange influences with the world around us, even people we did not notice and whose names we never learn. It is terrifying to truly comprehend our vulnerability. We live in a psychic chaos.

All of this is a matter of involuntary human experience and does not cease to operate simply because we do not consciously pursue relationships with people.

Part of the difficulty here lies in the perceived ‘total separation’ between mind and body. We could blame Descartes, but this error naturally presents itself in the absence of a true spiritual anthropology. We struggle to see that the attributes of the soul ‘bleed into’ the body and through it, into external actions. This should come as no surprise to those acquainted with Catholic anthropology, wherein the soul is the ‘form of the body’. The body speaks volumes about that which informs it. We walk around with far more on display than we would like to admit.

This is made more complicated by the fact already mentioned, that we do not know ourselves very well but think we know all that there is to know. Even if you tried to veil the signals you conveyed to others, you could only control those you knew about, which are the minority.

One result of this constant communion between beings is that we always know far more about people than we think we know, and that much of what we know has never been consciously disclosed to us by the person we are observing. We find that we just know. Most of this ‘data’ is perceived unconsciously or semi-consciously, so it never rises to the level of conscious admission. It is felt as an impression, and the fact that many impressions are false does not mean that there is nothing to them. It only means that we are incompetent in our conscious, rational interpretation of these subtle communications.

To ignore this is not to avoid it

Given the reality of constant mutual influence, what can we say of the person that, for whatever reason, chooses to ignore the nature of what is being communicated? They cannot escape the exchange since this would require the alteration of human nature itself. They remain exposed but choose not to apply their discernment to the process, and this attitude has three consequences. First, they become willfully blind even to those aspects of the reciprocal exchange of influences that they might have been able to control or modify. Second, they become more ignorant of their own nature than they were before. Third, they become incompetent to discuss virtually any question of a moral and social nature, since they have discarded most of the raw material needed to obtain any meaningful insight into the subject.

There is no purely private good or evil

Alexander the Great allegedly said: “Remember, upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.”

With this maxim in mind, we can better understand the Catholic teaching on ‘social sin’, which states that when one person is (morally) victorious, we all share in the victory, and when one falls to sin, we all have a share in the defeat.

We must not oversimplify, of course. Those who participate only secondarily do not share the sin in precisely the same relation or degree as the one directly responsible for it, but they do share it in some relation and to some degree.

Moving from general social observations to the question of morality, we can say that if there is any truth to what we said above about the inescapable communion of persons, then there is no evil act that remains the private possession of the individual who sins. There is not some impenetrable barrier around my soul that encapsulates my sin and ensures that it is mine alone, and the same goes for my neighbor. Should he entertain demons in his heart, there is no security fence that can effectively contain them there, and I will meet them sooner or later.

In countless ways every day, the good and the evil within us are expressed and, in being expressed, are transmitted to others. This occurs regardless of whether I am trying to transmit my evil to others or not, and in spite any conscious intent to the contrary. We cannot contain our evil. This is why it is good to eradicate particular evils that we do know about and to which we are susceptible. When possessed of a vice, we are infectious, not in the sense that I may pass my addiction to others who are not at all prone to addiction, but that my poor moral hygiene will, in some way that I may never understand, affect the hygiene of those around me, especially those closest to me, who are most vulnerable to my influence. Unless the inner victory has been achieved and there is no longer this particular evil in my heart, then it is susceptible to transmission.

Again, this applies to both good and evil. No kind act is limited in its consequences only to the person who is shown the kindness. They are, of course, the most direct recipient of the kindness, but in a multitude of direct and indirect consequences, mankind as a whole is benefited. The same is true of any evil act, even if it takes place when I am alone and if its origin is in my mind, in the form of some horrifying idea that I permit to take root. I will carry it with me, and it will speak of itself.

It is very disturbing for the individualist to be told that they cannot simply ‘be left alone’. For man, there is no ‘alone’. Man is placed in relation to others the moment he is brought into being. To ‘be’ is to ‘be in communication’ with people, even if this is reduced to the emotional and auditory communication between a mother and her unborn child.

We can understand why people might refuse to acknowledge this, because it implies at one and the same time a vulnerability and a great power. It implies the possession of a far-reaching influence that normal people have no interest in wielding, and so they deny that they wield it. But it is not up to them, and by denying that they possess this power, they do untold damage to others and permit others to do damage in return.

Conclusions based on the communal nature of good and evil

Some conclusions are now unavoidable, and these will help us ascertain rules governing the moral use of physical compulsion.

First, we can now see that even private evil is a public menace, regardless of whether it is expressed openly through action. Everything is communicable. A private lust is a danger to the community even if it never ‘materializes’ as harassment, rape, or adultery.

Second, we have a duty to pursue good and eradicate evil in ourselves. The idea that we can each go our own way and that, if my neighbor chooses to embrace a sinful lifestyle, then he alone suffers the consequences, can now be seen as utterly naïve and irresponsible.

On the contrary, I will without doubt do damage to others if I am not actively resisting evil within myself. This means that the pursuit of goodness via self-education is an imperative, and the public flaunting of a ‘personal decision’ not to pursue goodness is, in this light, enough to justify some level of resistant inducement on the part of the community. We are involved in mutual improvement or mutual destruction, and this implies a real responsibility to pursue moral improvement.

To elaborate on this second point, we can say that no one has the right to ignore the presence of evil in themselves. This is not a political statement meant to justify a totalitarian level of social control for the sake of enforced spiritual development, since this would be a contradiction in terms. We are only pointing out that a ‘right’ to pursue evil cannot exist and if justice permits it to exist it can only be in those instances where intervention would result in a more serious evil, in which case it is not so much a ‘right’ that is in question, but rather an implicit admission that evil will manifest itself and we cannot control all of it.

To put it bluntly, there is no such thing as poisoning only your own well. All of our wells combine at a certain depth. They are connected and the poison you add to yours will inevitably leech into the wells of others and, on a large enough scale, the whole spiritual reservoir is contaminated such that purity is no longer accessible to anyone.

Moral education is a public duty

Neglect of spiritual hygiene turns communities into hotbeds of moral disease wanting quarantine. We do not call for immediate physical quarantine of persons who sin, for reasons already given. However, there are psychic and social forms of quarantine, and these forms of coercion can be utilized to induce people who show no regard for the wellbeing of the community, and it can be done without radically disrupting their lives. In traditional cultures this was common. To socially ostracize a person who promotes a lifestyle that is generally considered immoral is a way of psychically quarantining them so that their influence is minimized, and so that physical removal does not have to occur.

At any rate, the underlying principle is that moral education is a public duty, not in the sense that the public authority ought to be responsible for conducting it in its structure and method, but in the sense that it is a duty imposed on all individuals by the fact of their participation in society; and this is in addition to the private duty for self-education, the latter being facilitated primarily by the traditional religions. But do not be confused: the latter does not replace the former.

The importance of a shared vision of the good

One of the reasons that religion was always placed at the top of the social hierarchy in traditional societies was the awareness of the communality of good and evil, and the necessity of collective spiritual development for the sake of shared moral hygiene.

The problem that faces us today is that contemporary political systems deny the universal responsibility (of persons and of public authorities) to pursue the good. Rather, they propose to limit the purpose of government to the enforcement of certain liberties, which is just as contradictory as it sounds. This reduces the whole purpose of government to that of ‘rights referee’, and how terrible it would be to play referee in a game wherein the rules are always changing and with players who each think they are playing a different game.

The result of modern political philosophy is that not only do societies not possess a shared vision of the good, but they do not even consider it legitimate to pursue or discuss such a thing. Each citizen is told to do as he wishes so long as he does not infringe on the rights of others. The good does not factor in.

Faced with this situation, much of what we have said would require delicate interpretation before it could be given external implementation, and one should be extremely careful about attempting to translate what we’ve said here into political action. We will repeat that we are not trying to build a party platform but to render the world more comprehensible to a few people.

We feel compelled to emphasize this warning not because political resistance to evil is forbidden, and in fact it would be very good in principle, but because the governments we know today are not guided by a religious authority and therefore have a distorted and partial understanding of the good, not to mention humanity itself. Thus, contemporary public authorities are so incompetent that they could not even participate in the discussion we are having.

It is permissible for government to have a role in the shared pursuit of the good, but only as a late-stage externalization of that pursuit. The political authority is enlisted organically in a spiritual project already underway. Society must first and foremost decide where its loyalties are, and the soul of a people must achieve some level of unity of spiritual vision, or else any government action on behalf of spiritual education is bound to become monstrous and misguided.

Worship of liberty ends up justifying abuse

Given the contemporary obsession with liberty and the fact that nothing can be justified to people today unless it appeals to liberty and nothing condemned unless it affronts liberty, we will find it beneficial to frame our comments as follows:

There is legitimacy to the idea of giving people latitude to act as they wish, but perhaps it is time to talk not about the right to live immorally, which is basically the freedom to abuse one’s neighbors, and instead defend the freedom to live without being subject to constant moral and spiritual abuse. Does such a freedom exist? Why does it receive no consideration in the on-going battle of rights against rights, freedom against freedom?

Evil in our day has found liberty-worship to be a supreme instrument. Even factions so opposed as American political parties are at least unanimous in the way the gush slogans about liberty. Having established the script in this way, evil no longer has to fight long and hard to convince people that sinful acts are permissible: it merely has to appeal to freedom as such, and if these acts seem to coincide with ‘the exercise of liberty’ then the conversation about their moral essence does not ever have to come up. Once the case is made in terms of liberty, a flood of well-meaning but simple-minded people appear to defend evil, and they take up the side of evil in the name of good.

Think, for example, of slogans such as “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll die defending your right to say it.” As noble as this sounds, from a moral point of view it is terrifying. No better statement of the perverse outcome of liberty-worship could be found. It explicitly admits that truth and goodness are irrelevant in the face of liberty, taken here as ‘Liberty-with-a-capital L’, an absolute semi-divine value. And once goodness loses its standing as a primary criterion for action, odd things start to happen. Even good people allow themselves to be enlisted in defense of something they know damn well to be untrue. In the example just given, when the noble freedom-fighter promises to die defending the right of the liar to lie, we might ask: defense against whom? What menace threatens the liar? The freedom-fighter might say: I will defend him from totalitarianism, etc., but in practice, they defend the liar from the representatives of truth.

In this way, evil appeals to freedom as a means of escaping restraint and through this appeal, recruits the naïve to fight in its defense, as it proceeds to wreak spiritual havoc on society. For those who would resist, no freedom from abuse is permitted.

Here we can see that the liberty promised by modern regimes is liberty of a certain flavor, and heavily prejudiced.

Any spiritually aware community will constantly have reason to use compulsion, first mentally and then physically, in order to provide an atmosphere of true freedom, which is to say, freedom from abuse by evil people.

Not only do individuals have the obligation to resist evil in themselves, but a properly ordered society also has this obligation and must act on it according to reasonable means.

There is no neutrality

Having come to understand how evil communicates itself, we can no longer ignore our situation: the moral struggle is already commenced, and we find ourselves thrust into the middle of it. We are either permitting the propagation of evil throughout society, or else we are resisting it via all permissible means.

This is the human experience unless we have blinded ourselves to it. To be human is to engage in a moral confrontation.

Even minimally sensitive people know that it is impossible not experience evil when it presents itself before us. We cannot help but feel ourselves somehow involved in the atrocities we witness, even when we are assured that they are ‘none of our business’ or when popular ideologies tell us that these people ‘are not hurting anyone’. We sense the lie and that part of us urges us to act, and it takes a great deal of training to override that impulse.

Evil beckons, solicits, and demands affirmation or rejection. Once the anthropological truth about good and evil is known, there is no neutrality.

Evil is by nature aggressive

Sometimes people talk of evil as if it will pass us by if we just ignore it, as a thing we may observe without risk to ourselves. They present sin as a thing encapsulated within the person who sins, in such a way that we can pass by if we wish and involvement is purely optional, such that only a moral busybody would be interested in some else’s ‘private affairs’. They ask us: “What is it to you if this man sins? It isn’t as if he were holding a gun to your head, making you sin with him. Let him be.”

Even on the level of practical experience this is demonstrably false. Sin propagates itself and what begins as a ‘private affair’ can consume an entire nation. Think of the most pernicious ideas in the history of politics. Were these plans not at one point the ‘private affair’ of one man, and at what point would it have been reasonable for someone else to intervene?

As for free speech that ignores its responsibility to truth, we encounter the same problem. If we permit someone to lie, the lie will likely be believed by someone, and this is enough to qualify as an abuse. Should we, on the basis of our infatuation with liberty, permit this abuse to go unchecked? Many lies are convincing and convincing lies left unchecked become truths. This happens all the time on the social level. Statements that would have been understood to be nonsense a few decades ago are now considered ‘facts’ for those who become convinced by them, and those who simply defend the alternative are today informed that they are ‘spreading hate’, etc.

Evil cannot be left to its own because evil is aggressive. Evil wants freedom first, but it can never stop there and eventually demands approval and finally participation.

Evil is evangelical. To opt for non-resistance is not to stand aloof but to be enlisted. This is why the ‘neutral bystanders’ wake up one day to find themselves either participants or heretics because the idea they ignored became an article of faith for their peers, and then it is too late.

The choice cannot be dismissed as a false dichotomy. Admittedly, a similar form of reasoning is frequently deployed in politics in order to drive voters to the voting booths. We’ve all heard the specious argument wherein are told that if we don’t vote for this person then we are implicitly voting for that person, and so on. Clearly, though, we are dealing with a difference of level and that this dualism, while disingenuous and frankly untrue when used in the context of party politics, is weighty and authentic when it comes to the fundamentally moral situation in which every person finds himself. That which, in elections, is a manipulative exaggeration is, in the soul, the very nature of things. In the order of social systems, economic theory, and political programs, there is always a multiplicity of possible solutions. Dichotomizing is almost always the mark of deceit. But on the level of good and evil, it is not so. There is no neutrality in this order of things.

This is why we say that evil must be resisted first and foremost because it is aggressive, and to ignore it is actually to submit to it. To cite again the work of Ivan Ilyin:

“Only one deprived of life experience could fail to see the aggressiveness of evil, its natural tendency to expand its possession, its domineering pressure, and then imagine that the power of evil can and must be exhausted by appeasement, patient humility and the giving over of all sacred things, human souls and the entire culture to a sacrificial doom.”[1]

[1] Ivan Ilyin, On Resistance to Evil by Force, p. 150.

Evil makes use of all means

It is sometimes said that the devil is happy to quote scripture as long as he can guide its interpretation and use it for his purposes. This demonstrates the tendency of evil to enlist everything and everyone. Indeed, the devil has no prejudice when it comes to his partnerships and his means. Evil does not pursue evil by evil means, but by any means, even those we might normally consider ‘good’.

Evil takes the form of kind words—spoken without honesty. Evil promotes love—but it is a perverse love, without reference to truth. Evil encourages charity—but it is a patronizing and degrading charity.

The tragic encounter

Whenever we witness evil, we are put in a tragic situation because we are tested in the moment insofar as a response is demanded. We are put on the spot, without warning or adequate preparation. In the face of this spontaneous trial, we are bound to become flustered, maybe even indignant at being called out in such an invasive way. We can see why it is so common to simply step back and watch the situation unfold, or to avert our gaze and keep walking. We justify this and we tell ourselves that we did all we could, after all we barely had time to think. In such moments we are forced to either shrink back or to step forward and reveal ourselves, and in revealing ourselves, to either come out against or for evil.

First and foremost, we must understand that to defer the test is to fail it. To choose not to reveal oneself in that moment is already a self-revelation. There is no opting out of this test, and to meet these situations with escapism is to be defeated by them, even if it is a more comfortable defeat than we might have suffered had we acted openly.

Every witness is implicated in every crime. This does not mean that every witness is guilty the crime, since often the situation is truly out of our hands, but even in such cases, when we were powerless to help, we respond all the same, even if only internally, and that response is of a certain character.

Evil actions act as a catalyst. They are like a mirror reflecting our moral character, putting on public display the spiritual maturity of everyone in the vicinity. When your gaze passes by this mirror of evil, what do you see in your reflection?

The fact that we tend to fail this test and, through silence or hesitation, permit ourselves to be implicated, is a demonstration of the importance of inner preparedness. As we observed, in these situations we do not have time to think, and at that point training is what matters, and an absence of training becomes obvious. Thus, we find the necessity of moral training. Only by preparing ourselves ahead of time can we hope to meet evil with a confident response in the moment. The easier path, which is to ignore or minimize the test as ‘none of our business’, or choose not to think about this most difficult part of life, sets us up for complicity and spineless behavior.

We reiterate: encounters with evil are tragic, victimizing everyone indirectly, even passersby, who, with a little foresight and honest preparation, might have acted differently. For some of us, these are the moments we think about late at night many years after the incident, wishing we had had the courage and strength of character to act when instead we shrank back or looked the other way or just observed in silence.

Inherited victory and squandered social capital

There is talk in some contemporary literature of the importance of ‘social capital’, by which is usually meant the immaterial common goods that healthy communities build up and enjoy, and which should not be squandered.

Social trust is a primary form of social capital. It is what permits people to trust that their governing authorities do intend to serve the people, that their doctors know what they are talking about, that teachers have the best interest of students in mind, that economic structures are relatively just, and so on. As social trust is squandered and undermined, the community falls apart because they can no longer put faith in the institutions responsible for the preservation of order, health, education, and industry. We are seeing this right now as new generations develop in a context where they cannot put their faith in anything because nothing seems trustworthy.

We bring up this example because it is obvious that this ‘capital’ takes much longer to accumulate than to squander. It was built up over many generations, perhaps even several centuries, and is the result of hard work carried out by men of good character.

To return to our subject, we would insist that the spiritual and moral capital of a community, which is to say, the soundness of its social conscience and its awareness of moral law, works in a similar way. It is built up only slowly, over centuries, but can be depleted very quickly when ignored.

The United States, at least insofar as it is a modern nation state, was founded by Europeans who brought with them a very specific type of social consciousness. The conscience they possessed was not pulled from thin air but came with a definite pedigree. This conscience was Christian, both in its immediate content and in its historical lineage. This conscience (and, for that matter, this particular flavor of consciousness) took many centuries to develop, and its development was pursued with intention and discipline until it became part of the very spiritual temperament of Western civilization.

When the American Founders wrote with enlightened optimism about the moral uprightness of men, they took it for granted that their listeners possessed a degree of spiritual education. They were correct in this assumption, but what they did not acknowledge, and what people today know nothing about, is that it had come at a cost and was not part of the nature of man so much as it was part of the inheritance of Christendom—that civilization which had recently been demolished. Thus, they did not understand that without constant maintenance this moral edifice begins to decay and disintegrate and will eventually revert to barbarism. It may revert immediately, or it might be a prolonged crisis of faith, but into disrepair it will fall.

It has been the struggle of mankind throughout the ages to fight evil and establish a foothold for good, and a civilization is worthy of the name insofar as it successfully educates its people about the good such that they can recognize it when they see it. We stand on the shoulders of giants in ways that we could not possibly perceive. We have no idea how much our very perception of reality, not to mention our discernment of beautiful and ugly, the true and the false, are influenced by the hard work of our ancestors.

We sit in a spiritual fortress that we did not build, and unable to see this, we put no work into maintaining its defenses. We do not even think that it needs defense. Now it is in shambles, overrun by an enemy we cannot even recognize as such, so far has our blindness proceeded.

The very idea that we could deal with evil by ‘peaceful non-resistance’ could only arise in ignorance of the historical work that was involved in establishing the moral knowledge we take from granted. It was an ancient project wherein the best people gathered together to curb evil and then established a moral discipline to keep evil at bay once defeated.

The pacifist of today enjoys the fruits of a violent struggle won be predecessors he does not acknowledge and does not think he needs. He basks in an inherited peace that he is in the process of slowly destroying.

We could say that civilization develops when men of strong will and character come forward and not only defeat evil through force but also civilize their fellow men through the establishment of order and by carving out a social space wherein a collective and on-going spiritual education can take place.

It is true that paradise is not built by compulsion, but hell only retreats when it is fought, and physical force is that last resort which, when necessary, makes space for the more subtle and cooperative project of spiritual and moral development that is not physically compelled.

To build a paradise, sometimes a hell must be cleared away; and once cleared away, it’s influence must be perpetually fended off. Evil is always encroaching. It is too easy for doctrinaire pacifists to ignore these observations and to take for granted the peace which they presently enjoy.

Persuasion and inducement

We have already observed that to demand consent before compulsion is to ignore the complexity of the human condition, since at times consent is implied, and even if not implied, there are considerations that outweigh the need for consent.

The same holds true for the concept of persuasion, which is desirable and ought to be attempted but is not the last resort beyond which nothing can be done. Even here the line is not so clear. It can be very difficult to see when persuasion becomes compulsion, since as we have already observed, argument is in fact a form of mental inducement and insofar as it succeeds it involves the imposition of a will on another will to achieve a desired result. By insisting on ‘persuasion’, we still do not avoid the problem of compulsion. We merely insist on certain of its forms of delivery.

The formula should run as follows: induce by persuasion, and induce without persuasion when necessary.