This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

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.

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