Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Sauron Himself Is But An Emissary - Part II

The nature of evil

Evil is not self-existent, it is always just spoiled goodness. Demons are fallen angels. Cancer is cell growth run amok. The writings of CS Lewis opened this to me; Lewis got it from Milton, who in turn got it from Genesis. This theme is especially prominent in Tolkien, and we witness the deterioration of Denethor and Boromir, of Gollum, of orcs bred in imitation of elves, or trolls of ents. Saruman was once like Gandalf; Sauron himself was once fair to behold.

We see this principle in action in those around us, and if we are honest, in ourselves. A desire to help becomes intrusiveness or smothering; self-reliance can become contempt for others; protectiveness turns to aggression if left unchecked. Even honesty can become rudeness and brutality, or love itself wind its slow deterioration into possessiveness and demand. The old saw that one’s weaknesses are just strengths swollen out of proportion, and that all virtues are two-edged, turns out to be true.

There is a second feature of evil that is related. Things can only fall so far as they might rise. To use Lewis’s examples again, mad scientists are made from the intelligent and industrious, not from indifferent students. A chicken turned to evil is scarcely distinguishable from one devoted to good, but demons are made only from fallen angels.

In our attempt to trace the roots of communism and its cousins, then, we will eventually arrive at some good thing. That is the nature of all evil. It is also a cautionary lesson about those things that conservatives believe to promote good – faith, patriotism, free markets, free speech, free anything. Any of these can also be twisted into something destructive.

We may find that the religion of marxism is ultimately no more than a Christian heresy or Jewish heresy, or a desire for peace and equality left to rot in the sun. In fact, it is more than likely that this is exactly what we will find – some great good ruined, some ambrosia poisoned.

As Christians, we are to expect that all evil can eventually be traced to The Fall, and while that is true, it is not very helpful to leap there. To see how the evil applies to us, to understand it and counteract it, we need to see not its earliest stages, but its latest. When was this fruit last healthy to eat?

Thomas Sowell, in his A Conflict of Visions, traces all thinking of the left back to the idea of the perfectibility of people, either as individuals or as a society. He indicts Rousseau and other thinkers of the Enlightenment in this (Goethe and Lessing, for example). The timing is right, just about two generations before Marx and all those utopian dreamers. This would give us a quick tracing across centuries of Renaissance revival of the Greek idealized individual plus discovery of New World peoples and riches leading to Rousseau’s Noble Savage and tabula rasa, leading in turn to utopian experiments and socialist dreamers.

Again, that may be true, but it is hard to see how it is immediately useful, except as a framework for more specific thoughts. Still, that may itself inspire enough reflection on all of our parts to carry us on to the next bit. In Part III, I will work from the other direction, trying to organize the statements of those of good will from the left, trying to find patterns and core principles.


terri said...

"perfectibility of people"---a good phrase.

We know people aren't perfectible....but we never stop trying. We always think there's a better way to do things, and if we could just find that perfect "method" everything would be just peachy.

Is it human nature to strive for things we have no way of achieving?

Brent said...

Mencius Moldbug claims that the Independents and Presbyterians in the English Civil War were the origin of modern liberalism.

Brent said...

I think it's useful to compare the groups that the medieval Church confronted repeatedly, with the strains that make up modern liberalism: the millenarians, the perfectionists, the gnostics. They do all seem to burst their bonds in the English Civil War.

Brent said...

Add to that, the arrogance of the humanists and their war against medieval civilization (language, learning, customs, laws) -- C.S. Lewis describes this really well in the first chapter of his History of English Literature in the Sixteenth Century.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Brent - I hear you, and will keep that in mind as part of my research when I return to the historical angle.

Anonymous said...

I was once trying to buy a house from a professor at Eden Theological Seminary (eden.edu) and, while talking to him about this & that, he told me that he regarded both Communism and Capitalism as Christain heresies.

Since he lumped Capitalism in, he kind o' piqued my ire so I didn't ask for details. But I wish I had; it would have been interesting to hear, I think.

OBloodyHell said...

> It is also a cautionary lesson about those things that conservatives believe to promote good – faith, patriotism, free markets, free speech, free anything. Any of these can also be twisted into something destructive.


I've long been putting it thusly:

There is no idea conceivable by the Mind of Man -- not love nor honor nor kindness nor decency nor duty nor loyalty -- not anything -- which some idiot can't take and run straight off the end of the earth with it...