“Evil in Modern Thought” as a Facebook Discussion (part four)

Evil in Modern Thought, by Susan Neiman

Susan Nieman’s Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy visualized as a modern social media discussion thread, the fourth and final chapter.

(Those of you reading this in a feed aggregator will probably want to follow the link to read the post at my blog where the formatting will make a lot more sense.)

You can find the rest of this series at the following links:

Trending Article
Lisbon destroyed by earthquake, fires, tsunami; tens of thousands killed; God’s benevolence thrown into doubt.
Johann Gottlob Krüger
This is a sign and a warning. Don’t be sorry for the victims, but be thankful for the mercy shown to the survivors who now have a lesson in God’s promised end to worldly treasures.
Gabriel Malagrida
Immanuel Kant
This was a natural disaster, but it should humble us in our scientific and technological hubris.
John Stuart Mill
Nearly all the things which men are hanged or imprisoned for doing to one another are nature’s everyday performances. Killing, the most criminal act recognized by human laws, is nature’s plot against every living being — in many cases after tortures such as only the greatest monsters whom we read of purposely inflict on their fellow living creatures.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Imagine that you are rebuilding the world with the object of making people happy — of giving them peace and rest at last — but to do this you must inevitably and unavoidably torture just one small child, and raise your edifice on the foundation of her unrequited tears. Would you agree to be the architect on such conditions? Will you believe that the people for whom you do this would agree to accept their happiness on the unjustified blood of a tortured child, and having accepted it, remain forever happy?
Albert Camus
Hannah Arendt changed her relationship status with Martin Heidegger to “It’s complicated.”
Trending Article
Nation that brought us Goethe now brings us the premeditated, methodical, industrialized murder of millions of people. World saved from those rat bastards by a people who celebrate the incineration of cities and advance the technology of mass murder to make it push-button and near-instantaneous. Philosophy again caught flat-footed by evil.
Philosophy is out of its depth here. You don’t respond to Auschwitz by trying to make sense of it, but by acknowledging and trying to cope with the senselessness of it.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Hannah Arendt
We must rationally grapple with this. It was refusal to think actively that enabled so many people to bring this evil about. We have to analyze, and judge, and condemn, and not just stare slack-jawed at this as though it were a natural disaster or an inevitable growing pain of historical progress.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
In the history of the world, we see before us the concrete image of evil in its most fully developed form. If we consider the mass of individual happenings, history appears as an altar on which individuals and entire nations are immolated; we see all that is noblest and finest destroyed. But out of death new life arises, purified and rejuvenated.
Hannah Arendt
Who would dare to reconcile himself with the reality of extermination camps, or play the game of thesis-antithesis-synthesis until his dialectics have discovered ‘meaning’ in slave labor?
David Rousset
This is a sign and a warning. Germany was the innovator in the creation of the concentration camp world, but she is not so different from the states that will follow her.
David Rousset
For example, the Soviet Union and its gulag world.
good Communists everywhere
Why are we so shocked? The British created the concentration camp world in South Africa decades earlier, World War Ⅰ should have gotten you used to senseless mass murder already, and were you not paying attention to the Russian pogroms and the massacres in Armenia and the carnival-like American lynchings? There is nothing really new here. Philosophical responses to evil have never been able to keep up with evil itself.
Giorgio Agamben
Would Nietzsche ask us to will this evil? Could anyone consider himself blessed if his eternal recurrence included an eternally recurring Auschwitz? Were its victims made stronger by their suffering? Whatever else Auschwitz did, it decisively refuted Nietzsche.
Jean Améry
Theodor W. Adorno
Hannah Arendt
Auschwitz should not have happened. It is something to which we cannot ever reconcile ourselves. Amends can never be made.
Jean Améry
And yet it did happen, and Nietzsche is right at least in saying that there is something amiss in our irrational desire to alter the unalterable past.
Arthur Schopenhauer
If the world were not something that ought not to be, it would also not be theoretically a problem. On the contrary, its existence would require not explanation at all, since it would be so entirely self evident.
Emmanuel Levinas
Adolf Eichmann
My life’s principle, which I was taught very early on, was to desire and to strive to achieve ethical values. From a particular moment on, however, I was prevented by the State from living according to this principle. I have nothing against the Jews, personally.
Hannah Arendt
Nonsense. You could and should have chosen differently. Others did. Tremendous evil sometimes takes the banal form of a thoughtless bureaucrat, and to convict you of it does not also require that we discover in you a frothing malice that seems proportional to the crime. Why should we feel the need to trudge through the cesspit of your soul to inspect your motives and intentions? Your crimes speak for themselves.
Hannah Arendt
Some people went along with the horror, but others did not. Some people said ‘no, I won’t.’ Evil is not a mighty, domineering, magnificent, calculating agent — it is a petty, threadbare, cowardly, weak, and vulnerable one. This allows me to still feel at home in the world and to have a childish trust in God.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Sigmund Freud
‘Childish’ is right.
Theodor W. Adorno
We have so broken the world that it’s indecent to feel at home in it now. We can’t even feel at home in our own skins.
John Rawls
I think, if we use our imaginations, we can envision a realistic, possible social and political order that minimizes injustice. Envisioning it is only the start, of course, but it gives us reasonable hope that we can again be reconciled with the real world.
Albert Camus
In the midst of a murderous world, reflect on murder and make a choice. After that, we can distinguish those who accept the consequences of being murderers or accomplices, and those who refuse. Over the coming years an endless struggle is going to be pursued between violence and friendly persuasion, a struggle in which, granted, the former has a thousand times the chances of success than that of the latter. But I have always held that, if he who bases his hopes on human nature is a fool, he who gives up in the face of circumstances is a coward.
Trending Article
Terrorists turn airliners into missiles, crash them into the Twin Towers in New York and elsewhere in a remarkably un-banal fashion; thousands killed. Those few philosophers still interested in evil still trying unsuccessfully to grapple with the Holocaust, surrender the discussion to postmodernist provocateurs and pundits.

By the way, in case it hasn’t been clear throughout, I’ve been playing fast and loose with chronology, and have mixed actual quotes with paraphrases. Neiman’s book puts all of these philosophers, from various time periods, into a sort of conversation with each other, and I’ve just tried to somewhat whimsically illustrate it as one.

Someone really did put a magnet on our refrigerator depicting an angel in flowing gossamer next to the (unattributed) quote from Kant about how he is filled with awe when he reflects on the starry heavens above and the moral law within.

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