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Alan Wolfe on Political Evil (BOOK REVIEW)

By       Message Thomas Farrell       (Page 3 of 11 pages) Become a premium member to see this article and all articles as one long page.     Permalink

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Subsequently, Wolfe says, "Not everyone shares the conviction that evil lurks within each of us, just waiting for its chance to burst out in acts of intentional cruelty or indifference to mass atrocity" (pages 81). This statement appears to be consistent with the previously quoted statement.


However, in discussing former President George W. Bush's use of the term "evil" as a noun, as distinct from an adjective modifying a noun, Wolfe also says, "the really important struggle in which Christians must engage lies not in defeating external evil but in recognizing the capacity for evil we have inside ourselves" (page 83). This statement seems to imply that Wolfe is himself a Christian who understands the traditional Christian doctrine of original sin. But this statement strikes me as being at odds with the two previously quoted statements that Wolfe makes.


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Later, Wolfe says, "Whether inside us or out in the world, evil cannot be tolerated [by people who see themselves as dedicated to fighting evil], yet, unless we are capable of either transforming ourselves into sinless creatures or rendering the entire world anew, evil will have to be tolerated" (page 111). The first part of this sentence appears to be a critique of people who see themselves as dedicated to fighting evil such as former President George W. Bush. The next part of the sentence mentions the hypothetical possibility of somehow transforming ourselves into sinless creatures, showing thereby that the doctrine of original sin does not apply to us -- an impossibility. But this is as impossible as it would be impossible to render the entire world anew, leading Wolfe to conclude that "evil will have to be tolerated." Amen, I say to this conclusion.


Later on, after mentioning Lyndon Johnson and Dean Rusk and others, Wolfe says, "Their great mistake was simply the misuse of an analogy [with appeasement at Munich]" (page 139). But I am criticizing Wolfe's misuse of analogy by connecting Bush's use of the stark contrast between good and evil with Mani's teachings.

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Apart from digressing about Mani and his teachings and influence, what exactly is Wolfe objecting to in Bush's way of thinking and talking about evil?


In a context in which Wolfe is not discussing Bush, Wolfe says, "As I have tried to stress, terrorism is a form of political evil rather than an embodiment of evil per se" (page 147). For Wolfe, Bush's way of talking about evil refers to evil per se. But Wolfe wants to hold out for discussing political evil, rather than discussing evil per se. Good distinction, eh?


However, regardless of whatever Wolfe's position may be concerning evil in individual persons, I hold that every single person is NOT born virtuous. Nobody is born virtuous. In short, every single person is born with a capacity for evil. The capacity for evil is an aspect of our human nature.

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Nevertheless, I have no serious quarrel with Wolfe's points about how certain leaders take charge of state means of coercion to build up bureaucratic means for carrying out massive political evil, as Hitler and Stalin did in their respective countries.


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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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