A Map of the Dark

A Map of the Dark
Unseating Evil

Sean J. O’Reilly

“Ignoti Nulla Curatio Morbi.”
Do Not Attempt to Cure What You Do Not Understand

Graphic images of war in Ukraine, with burning tanks and dead civilians, bring the question of evil to the forefront of public consciousness. A sharpened understanding of the consequences of political action by rulers we might think of as crazy, or evil becomes a lens through which the past and future of the world might be more clearly seen. Using an assortment of intellectual tools from the past, coupled with modern wisdom, a map of the darkness caused by evil can be charted. Most of us think about evil with a capital “E,” which involves evil at its end stage. But what about the beginning of evil? Could it be that it comes upon us, silently, on cat’s paws? How do we map the pathways of human action that lead, often, to deadly consequences—personal, social, and political? What is evil? Most of us can provide an assortment of frightening examples, but when pushed, have difficulty describing exactly what evil is.

Attempting to understand evil and its dark associates, cruelty and violence, leads us to history. Tamerlane, whose will to power, and lack of consideration for his fellow man was legendary, even in his times, might be thought of as a poster boy for evil. Tamerlane (Timur the Lame) built a new Mongol empire in the fourteenth century based on the example and conquests of Genghis Khan. Tamerlane, for example, captured 100,000 Hindu prisoners after his conquest of Delhi, India in 1398 A.D., and killed all of them without mercy.[1] He did the same in Baghdad and Istafen, Persia. He erected 120 skull towers made of 90,000 severed heads across the ruins of Baghdad, and in Istafen, he massacred the entire population of 100,000 people, and erected at least twenty-eight towers of 1,500 skulls each.[2] Both Genghis Khan and Tamerlane killed, by some estimates, 40 million people, or approximately 11% of the world’s population at that time.[3] Other local rulers of the steppes had no compunction about boiling captured enemy generals alive and casually using other vile forms of torture. The moral sense that we take for granted today seems almost totally absent among the ruling class on the plains of central Asia during this period of expansion.

Tamerlane’s tomb, in Samarkand, Uzbekistan was discovered in 1941 and ordered opened by Joseph Stalin on the 20th of June 1941.[4] The locals advised the dictator of the Soviet Union about an ancient warning on the sarcophagus. Written on its top were the following words: “When I rise from the dead, the world shall tremble.”[5] Two days later, on June 22, 1941, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. Stalin was rattled by the coincidence of the two events and returned the body to the tomb.

The rise of more recent leaders, such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, who we understand in psychological language as psychopaths,[6] continues with Vladimir Putin’s attempt to maintain and extend the Russian Empire, inherited from the Czars, and expanded by Lenin and Stalin. He rules over many of the lands formerly owned by the Mongols. Kyev, for example, was sacked by the Mongols in 1240 A.D., and smoking ruins were all that was left of many Russian (then Rus) cities, from great centers like Novgorod to tiny trading posts like Moscow.[7]

Has Russia been infected by the historic consequences of this ancient evil or are there other ways of looking at Putin’s descent into uncompromising military and political lunacy? The origin of the word ‘Ukraine’ comes from the Slavic word ‘oukraina,’ first used in 1187 AD, which means outskirts or borderland.[8] Later on, ‘Ukraina’ referred to borderlands within the Polish Kingdom. Nonetheless, understanding that the eastern part of Ukraine has been part of Russia since 1668, we can sympathize with Putin’s sense of national entitlement. However, given numerous rebellions in Ukraine, even since World War II, and Stalin’s murdering of millions of Ukrainians, during the Holodomor,[9] (a combination of the Ukrainian words for “starvation” and “to inflict death”) we can understand that Ukrainians also have a long history of not wanting to be part of Russia.

These kinds of political dynamics cannot be resolved without good faith, but if good faith and compromise are absent, violence is inevitable. Putin would have been far better to have employed the carrot instead of the stick, considering the more recent history of Ukraine, under the former Soviet Union. How can we better understand the dynamics, or the cartography of poor choices on both sides? Under the present circumstances, we can observe with Paul Chalaux, author of, Why All People Suffer, that “suffering is a detector of evil.”[10] The failure to restrain extreme tendencies of willfulness, and to think rationally, almost always results in suffering and displacement.

Theologians have studied evil for centuries but curiously enough, there seems to be no discipline, outside of theology that studies evil academically, or as a separate discipline within the Humanities. As the Neoplatonist Plotinus once put it, “Those inquiring whence Evil enters into beings, or rather into a certain order of beings, would be making the best beginning if they established, first of all, what precisely Evil is.”[11] Many philosophers and theologians have described evil as a deficit of “the good” and we will explore this idea in greater detail.

A critical notion, ignored by many, is the role of the human will in making bad choices. We can say emphatically that the will, like a heat-seeking missile, is attracted to, and motivated by anything that appears to be good, unvetted as it were by cultural constraints and intellectual judgement. Let us use a crude but compelling example. A fifty-year-old man may be attracted to a beautiful sixteen-year-old girl. His will apprehends a certain “good” relating to his own sexuality and hers, but his intellect, if properly informed, will tell him to steer clear of sexual entanglement and help her to achieve her potential, by not engaging in acts that properly belong to romance, marriage, and the long horizon of her childbearing or professional years. Disregarding long term “goods” in favor of the gratification provided by short-term “goods” can have negative social consequences that reverberate through generations. Sexual predators, such as Hugh Hefner, Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Clinton and Jeffery Epstein, for example, probably ruined the lives of countless young women by turning the natural instincts of these women from long-term commitments to short-term gratification.

This deficit of the will, in terms of not immediately grasping the social dimensions, and long-term political, and other consequences of unvetted bad choices, began to be addressed scientifically and in a creative and penetrating manner, when Andrew M. Lobaczewski, a professor of psychiatry, and a group of psychologists in Poland, developed a series of analyses of the methods of those who oppressed Communist society in the 1950’s and 60’s. “Lobaczewski spent his early life suffering under the Nazi occupation of Poland, closely followed by the brutality of Soviet occupation after the war. His experience of these horrors led Lobaczewski to develop the concept of ‘pathocracy.’ This [occurs] when individuals with personality disorders (particularly psychopathy) occupy positions of power. Lobaczewski wanted to understand why people with psychological disorders so easily rise to positions of power and take over the governments of countries.” [12] The work of Lobaczewski’s group, conducted in secret. was discovered and destroyed by the authorities.

Lobaczewski later emigrated to the United States to reconstruct the collective work of his group in the 1980s. The result was an enormously clarifying book, Political Ponerology: The Science of Evil, Psychopathy, and the Origins of Totalitarianism, which describes the genesis of political and social evil. Ponerology (from the Greek word poneros meaning evil) is the study of evil, from a political, social, and psychological perspective, rather than a specifically moral or religious understanding.

“Ever since ancient times, philosophers and religious thinkers representing various attitudes in different cultures have been searching for the truth regarding moral values, attempting to find criteria for what is right, and what constitutes good advice. They have described the virtues of human character at length and suggested these be acquired. They have created a heritage containing centuries of experience and reflection. In spite of the obvious differences of originating cultures and attitudes, even though they worked in widely divergent times and places, the similarity, or complementary nature, of the conclusions reached by famous ancient philosophers are striking. It demonstrates that whatever is valuable is conditioned and caused by the laws of nature acting upon the personalities of both individual human beings and collective societies. It is equally thought-provoking to see how relatively little has been said about the opposite side of the coin; the nature, causes, and genesis of evil. These matters are usually cloaked behind the above generalized conclusions with a certain amount of secrecy.” [13]

Lobaczewski’s argument clarifies the dynamics of political systems that do not properly serve the communities they ostensibly represent. He describes the origin of what he calls macrosocial evil, which tends to come about when psychopaths and sociopaths, under various political systems, take charge of governance and create pathocracies. Lobaczewski notes: “Pathocracy is a disease of great social movements followed by entire societies, nations, and empires. In the course of human history, it has affected social, political, and religious movements as well as the accompanying ideologies… and turned them into caricatures of themselves…that explains why all the pathocracies of the world are, and have been, so similar in their essential properties [and ponerogenic processes].” [14]

What makes the psychopath frightening and dangerous is that he or she has absolutely no feeling for the suffering of others and wears a completely convincing ‘Mask of Sanity’. This may make such an individual extremely persuasive and seem entirely sane, according to psychiatrist Harvey Cleckley, who was the first to describe the key symptoms of the disorder in 1941.[15] The so-called Cleckley Mask is what many sociopaths, and those suffering from Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ASPD), hide behind. Both Stalin and Korean dictator Kim Il Sung could turn on the charm whenever it suited them, but both were utterly ruthless with their enemies. (One gentleman, who prefers to be anonymous, met Kim Il Sung and claimed that he was even more charming than Bill Clinton.)

“Ponerogenic processes” are those pertaining to all forms of personal, political and social evil, and in political systems, can result in violently oppressive governance. Joseph Heller described one extreme aspect of this ponerogenic process in his book, Catch-22:

“It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.”

“In ponerogenic processes, [notes Lobaczewski] moral deficiencies, intellectual failings, and pathological factors intersect in a time-space causative network to give rise to individual and national suffering.” [16]

We see this ponerogenic process at work today in Ukraine, Russia, and the United States. The half-truths and lies that Lobaczewski defines as paralogical,[17] meaning they have the appearance but not the substance of logic and reason, have become endemic in almost all modern societies. Paralogical thinking requires Putin to ascribe to Ukrainians the very things he himself is guilty of. “De-Nazification” is only a way of describing authoritarianism at odds with Putin’s own heavy-handed use of political authority. Putin, like Tamerlane, seems to be incapable of putting himself in the shoes of those he causes to suffer.

Twenty-two years ago, for example, Putin refused to allow an American vessel that could have saved the remaining crew of the Kursk, a Russian submarine, access to its location, based on a greater concern over revealing advanced weapons the submarine was testing. The last twenty-three crew members drowned, while Putin engaged in various delaying tactics.[18] Long before Putin became the head of Russia, Lobaczewski carefully documented these common and characteristic failings of psychopaths, by showing how they will allow others to suffer to maintain their own sense of position, place, and destiny.

The recent restrictions in Europe and the United States over the Covid pandemic has been the specific work of a group of individuals, who have been primarily concerned about augmenting their personal wealth, building a war chest for future activities, and manipulating political ideologies. Some of these individuals, and members of the medical establishment, have engaged in the most extraordinary intellectual gyrations to keep the narrative and the restrictions in place. Some of the policymakers are simply hypochondriacs, who should never have been allowed to influence public policy, and under no circumstances should they have been allowed to co-opt the legislative authority of the United States House and the Senate.

Aaron Kheriaty, MD observed with enormous clarity that: “Lockdowns were not just an untested public health measure. They were a new paradigm of governance.” [19] Once again, governments were seduced, using paralogical techniques to frighten millions into being vaccinated and intimidating those who refused with loss of work, and in many cases, pensions.[20] This is a classic example of a pathocracy at work, and is entirely contrary to the American spirit, and the division of governing power into legislative, judicial, and executive functions. While this analysis may seem particularly harsh, given the early confusion about the disease, and an initial reasonable attempt to contain the problem, Covid health management quickly became a tool of “Big Pharma,” government lobbyists and ideological agitators, who realized they had a new way of controlling a Democracy and demonizing medical and political opposition.

The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health by lawyer and congressman, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., makes a case for death, deception, and mismanagement on a wide scale, with the pharmaceutical industry taking on the characteristics of a criminal drug cartel. The medical profession cannot be in bed with the pharmaceutical industry, and government regulators, and hope to retain both the respect and trust of the public. This unholy amalgam of business, medical and political interests has all the characteristics of a full-blown pathocracy.

“Ian Hughes pointed out in his important book Disordered Minds, [that] the whole point of democracy is to try to protect the mass of people from this pathological minority. This was the central idea of the American constitution and the Bill of Rights. Democratic principles and institutions were established to limit the power of pathological individuals.”[21] Social media have, unfortunately, allowed morally and intellectually disturbed individuals to engage in the kind of propaganda that Lobaczewski observed in the former Soviet Union.

Lobaczewski clearly described the psychological and pathological characteristics of sociopaths, long before Putin and Covid arrived on the scene but unfortunately, does not, like many of those who are concerned about political and social ethics, clearly define good and evil, as it relates to the suffering that pathological individuals cause. Suffering always reveals the deficit of some “good,” whether it is self-induced or brought about by outside circumstance. He does, however, describe in excellent detail the results of ponerogenic processes that lead to the formation of pathocracies.

Lobaczewski observes that Saint Augustine defines two forms of evil: moral evil, the ill humans do by choice, knowing they are doing wrong; and natural evil, the bad things that just happen—storms, floods, volcanic eruptions, and fatal disease. Without defining the good, how can evil be defined? This is a sticky subject given that what may be perceived as good by one person may be perceived as evil by another. Is there any common cultural ground, for instance, in understanding the words of T.S. Eliot in The Wasteland: “between the idea and reality falls the shadow?” Might we not understand this as the darkness of human power when it ceases to restrain destructive appetites? Is it possible that moral goodness is the only shield we have against the darkness of evil?

What is the highest good? For Aristotle, eudaimonia [happiness} produced by engaging right reason, is the highest human good, the only human good that is desirable for its own sake, rather than for the sake of something else.[22] Plato, Aristotle’s teacher, described it as: “The good composed of all goods; an ability which suffices for living well; perfection in respect of virtue [excellence]; resources sufficient for a [human being].” Aristotle notes, additionally, in his Metaphysics that: “If…the happiness which God always enjoys is as great as that which we enjoy sometimes, it is marvelous; and if it is greater, this is still more marvelous. Nevertheless, it is so. Moreover, life belongs to God. For the actuality of thought is life, and God is that actuality; and the essential actuality of God is life [most good] and eternal. We hold, then, that God is a living being, eternal, [most good]; and therefore, life and a continuous eternal existence belong to God; for that is what God is.”[23] Aristotle sets the stage for the later Christian idea of a participation in God’s own life, through acts of goodness, and by choosing to avoid evil.

“Three Greek words[24] in the New Testament are generally translated by the adjective “good.” The first is kalos, which means something free of defects, and beautiful. The second is agathos, meaning moral excellence or something that is worthy of admiration. The third word is chrestos, which means something useful, profitable, or serviceable, later broadened to include kindness, and goodness of heart. These are useful definitions of goodness but without a definition of evil, they fail to more clearly illustrate why these things might be thought of as being good or be related to God.

The answer may lie in an astonishing quote, written on a blackboard in Rome fifty years ago, by Fr. Jubal Cain, professor of scholastic theology: “Evil is the absence of a ‘good’ that could and should be present,”[25] That was his lecture for the day—that one sentence. The class left the room both happy and stunned. I never forgot that line and daily employ it like a knife to cut through the ridiculously unclear media chatter about what constitutes right and wrong action.

If we understand evil as something that is missing, rather than as something positive, then the nature of evil becomes transparent. What is morally “good” is something that could and should be present in actions and choices. Evil is always the result of choosing the lesser good and this can happen in many small ways. If I eat a piece of cake, for example, after I have already had two pieces, my decision to eat more might be considered an “evil,” bad, or lesser choice based on an unrestrained appetite for sweets. Seizing the property or territory of others is usually a lesser good, relative to our notions of justice and fair play, than the greater good of allowing them to keep what is theirs. As Langston Hughes wrote so beautifully:

“I am so tired of waiting.
Aren’t you,
for the world to become good
and beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
and cut the world in two—
and see what worms are eating
at the rind.”

― Langston Hughes, Good Morning, Revolution: Uncollected Social Protest Writings


When we ask ourselves about moral and intellectual goodness, we are invoking a differential scale, which involves choices between good, better, and best in terms of choice of action. Put into the simplest, ethical terms, how we define goodness falls into two radically different categories. One: goodness based on a continuum of being that sees all moral action, and principles related to the notion of “should,” as being related to God as the source of goodness. Two: goodness based on processes merely related to subjectivity, circumstance, and material processes. The former, the ontological differential, is based on the philosophical science of being and the latter, the stochastic[26] differential, is primarily atheistic, based on scientific processes unrelated to Divine causality, with stochastic (meaning random and relativistic) relations between molecular, quantum and other physical structures defining the baselines of ethics and subjective ideas of goodness.

There are, of course, many principles that atheistic ethicists and religion-based ethicists can mutually agree on, but the fundamental differences should not be glossed over. There are moral grey areas on both sides but no honest discussion between advocates will be served by pretending both sides believe in roughly the same principles—they don’t. Particularly disturbing are comments by so-called Christian ministers in support of abortion or forms of deviant sexuality. It is simply not possible to imagine Jesus, for example, being in support of abortion or sexual license. People who take such positions are practical atheists, despite their stated belief in God, and should be reminded of the contradiction in their thinking at every opportunity. There is nothing wrong with being an honest atheist, who might believe these things, but there is something wrong with those who claim to be followers of Christ and yet embrace, for all practical purposes, the principles of atheism. Be one, or the other, and stop trying to sit on two chairs at the same time.

Yuval Harari, my favorite atheist, believes that all laws and rules are essentially cooperation agreements. These cooperation agreements have little to do with religious systems of morality in deciding what is appropriate and what is inappropriate behavior. They do indicate, however, that true cooperation agreements, between parties with significantly different value systems, can only come about when all parties honestly acknowledge those differences.

Ayn Rand, speaking through John Galt, in Atlas Shrugged outlined part of the problem that affects all of us, atheists and religious alike, at the very beginning of how we engage in deliberation and consider how to behave and to act. The following three ‘refusals’ are at the heart of all ideological distortion and political malfeasance.

“Thinking is man’s only basic virtue, from which all the others proceed. And his basic vice, the source of all his evils, is that nameless act which all of you practice, but struggle never to admit: the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think—not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know. It is the act of un-focusing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment—on the unstated premise that a thing will not exist if only you refuse to identify it, that A will not be A so long as you do not pronounce the verdict “It is.” Non-thinking is an act of annihilation, a wish to negate existence, an attempt to wipe out reality. But existence exists; reality is not to be wiped out—it will merely wipe out the wiper.” [27]

Some adherents of American jurisprudence, seeking greater freedom from religion, often engage in this “refusal to see,” claiming that there is an absolute wall between religion and politics that make it impossible to create laws based on moral principles derived from religious principles. This is also why the Declaration of Independence is bypassed by those who want an absolute separation of Church and State. Even a cursory reading of the Founding Fathers makes it clear that the separation of Church and State envisaged was more related to the statutes of one religion prevailing over another, than abolishing moral principles based on general religious laws derived from Christianity.[28] The law is merely described as “positive” by those who want to circumscribe the moral and religious horizon of the law. This means that all law is self-referential, meaning that it does not refer to any set of principles outside its own stated legal constructs. Contract law and much of civil law must be self-referential but larger issues, such as those presented by abortion and LGBT rights, move beyond the limits of self-reference and cooperation agreements.

Ronald Dworkin, considered one of the great, liberal jurists of the 20th century, lamented in Taking Rights Seriously (1977) that:

 “Constitutional law can make no genuine advance until it isolates the problem of rights against the state and makes that problem part of its own agenda. That argues for a fusion of constitutional law and moral theory, a connection that incredibly, has yet to take place. It is perfectly understandable that lawyers dread contamination with moral philosophy, and particularly with those philosophers who talk about rights, because the spooky overtones of that concept threaten the graveyard of reason.”

Dworkin, while not arguing that law be based on ontology, was moving towards a more complex understanding of the relationship between morality and law. More recently, Conor Casey and Adrian Vermeule have argued that: “The classical tradition distinguishes, as many European languages do, between two senses of the law: lex and Ius[29]. Lex is the enacted positive law, such as a statute or executive order. Ius is the overall body of law generally, including and subsuming lex but transcending it, and containing general principles of jurisprudence and legal justice.”[30] Both forms of the law aim at the common good, which as Dante indicates is, “the purpose of every right.”[31] The law, from this traditional perspective, is understood as Thomas Aquinas framed it: “an ordinance of reason promulgated by political authorities for the common good.”[32]

Ultimately, a return to these traditional meanings may lead scholars to question some aspects of the purely self-referential nature of the law in American jurisprudence. At some point, discussions of right and wrong must consider other dimensions of human experience, including biological preferences and spiritual experience. Ethical choices can only be made by choosing which appetites to suppress, and which appetites to engage, and when. The idea of appetites at variance with human and Divine goodness seems largely missing from contemporary discussions of asserted “rights” such as abortion, euthanasia, and homosexual marriage.

Plato thought that the soul of man could be likened to a chariot and consisted of three parts: a dark horse which represented the appetites, a white horse that represented thumos or the vital nature of man, and the charioteer who symbolized reason and worked to keep the two steeds in balance. The ancient notion that a civilized person might beneficially resist the appetites has now become exactly the opposite, whereby appetites of all kinds are celebrated as some sort of originality that is required for personal growth.

Many of these issues are augmented through our participation in social media, which amplifies what might, in past ages, have not been so keenly felt by the many. Our present media continues to feature, as social analyst B.A. Boone[33] noted, “politicians droning on about the decay of civilization and weak leadership; preachers wailing about sin and moral decline; talk show hosts gibbering salaciously about celebrity affairs and divorce.”[34] Other commentators do have thoughtful discussions about Covid restrictions, gun control, drugs in schools, assaults on teachers, and LBGT rights but never seem to get at the root of these problems. There is, unfortunately, often a lot of hand waving, as pundits claim that ‘’we must do something” about the situation in Ukraine, violence in Africa and the Middle East but never seem to have a solution that defines the common origin of the problems they identify.

What seems to be missing from many of these media-based discussions are definitions of causality that are not merely correlative, or even paralogical, but are based on an understanding of principles, generally speaking, immune from relativistic reductionism. Evil cannot be defined by superficial moralizing, political piety on both sides of the aisle, or identity politics designed merely to redistribute wealth, or influence, based on economic oppression.

Without an accurate definition of good and evil, all proposed cures and political therapies for the ills of the civilized world will amount to nothing more than a kind of background noise that has been with us since the beginning of time.

The older notions of virtue and vice, distinguished from a religious association with the diabolical and sin, might function as a secular map of the darkness of evil. The notion of a separation between moral, intellectual, and spiritual excellence (virtue)[35] can do much to illuminate the culturally estranged territory of good and evil. Theodore Roosevelt noted that “educating a man in mind and not morals was to create a monster.” Almost everyone has had an encounter with someone who “creeped them out” or had shifty eyes—indicating a disturbing gap between stated actions and intent. We do notice deficits of human goodness in the same way we can acknowledge the goodness that can be found in all people. When someone has “good or bad vibes” we can feel it.

How many of us know doctors, lawyers, scientists, and politicians who have cultivated some of the intellectual virtues but have the morals of alley cats? They have cultivated the intellectual virtues of science and art (understood as craftsmanship, sport, or politics) but not wisdom, understanding or prudence. They may also may have neglected some of the moral virtues specifically: courage, continence (self-restraint in general), liberality, magnificence (the ability to spend money wisely on great civic projects), magnanimity (giving without regard for gain), honor (a state of character which is a result of the practice of moral virtue) gentleness, friendship, temperance (self-restraint regarding pleasure), resolution, kindness, truthfulness, and justice. The idea that what someone does or does not do, for example, with his or her genitals, having an affect/effect on the quality of souls and emotional states is, currently, a notion in intellectual suspended animation in the West.[36]

Pawning off the continuum of vice to the work of the devil, unfortunately, entirely ignores the evils that our own biology and inclinations can take us to without any such intervention. The devil’s greatest boast would be to claim that he, and not us, is the source of evil. There is a legitimate association of the devil with extreme cases of evil[37] but pointing to the natural landscape of what we call, good and evil, can be immensely clarifying. Saint Teresa of Avila claimed, “I am more afraid of people who are themselves terrified of the devil than I am of the devil himself.” The way to deal with the devil is to treat him, merely, as a cancer on the collective backside of humanity.

Jack Maden, writing about 20th-century German philosopher Hannah Arendt, notes that “Evil is not monstrous; it takes place under the guise of ‘normality’.[38] The “banality of evil” is the idea that evil does not have the Satan-like, villainous appearance we might typically associate it with. Rather, evil is perpetuated [when immoral principles become normalized over time by unthinking people. Evil becomes commonplace; it becomes the everyday]. Ordinary people—going about their everyday lives—become complicit actors in systems that perpetuate evil.”  “Where does evil come from? Are evil acts always committed by evil people?[39] Whose responsibility is it to identify and stamp out evil? These questions concerned Hannah Arendt throughout her life and work, and in her final (and unfinished) 1977 book, The Life of the Mind, she seems to offer a conclusion, writing: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”[40]

Maden goes on to say: “Arendt saw the techniques and evil consequences of totalitarian regimes firsthand. Born into a secular-Jewish family, Arendt fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s, eventually settling in New York, where after the war she covered the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. In her report for The New Yorker, and later published in her 1963 book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Arendt expressed how disturbed she was by Eichmann—but [not] for reasons that might be expected. Far from the monster she thought he would be, Eichmann was instead a rather bland, ‘terrifyingly normal’ bureaucrat.”[41]

“He carried out his murderous role with calm efficiency not due to an abhorrent, warped mindset, but because [he had] absorbed the principles of the Nazi regime so unquestionably, he simply wanted to further his career and climb its ladders of power. Eichmann embodied “the dilemma between the unspeakable horror of the deeds and the undeniable ludicrousness of the man who perpetrated them.” His actions were defined not so much by thought, but by the absence of thought—convincing Arendt of the ‘banality of evil.’ “[42] This is, clearly, what Ayn Rand had in mind with her notion of the three refusals: “the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think—not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know.”[43]

The notion of biological possession is a useful concept and another way of understanding how Adolph Eichmann and many others can end up having minimal distance between appetite, desire, action, and the intellectual editor that most civilized people put in place to govern their basic instincts. Those with ungovernable impulses, or thoughtless indulgence in inclination, may have unwittingly, allowed nature to over-rule reason. The insanity that occurred in Rwanda in 1994, for example, with neighbors and friends, even husbands and wives, killing each other over tribal differences is a hideous example of biological possession. As many as 800,000 to 1,000,000 people died in one hundred days of senseless slaughter.[44] Other experiences of this kind of behavior, closer to home, includes criminals who are so absorbed in beating their victims that the threat of deadly force is not acknowledged, and they end up getting shot by police. Other irresistible impulses, such as the desire to rape or steal, encounter no moral resistance in the mindset of the biologically possessed. The continuum of biological possession is, typically, where evil spirits might find purchase on minds and souls.[45] Much in the same way that a black hole sucks in light, energy, and matter, once evil reaches a certain critical mass (whatever that may be) a portal can be opened to dimensions of evil beyond this world. This is what may have happened in Rwanda.

The relationship of God to evil is beyond the scope of this paper but it bears mentioning. David Hume an 18th-century skeptic wrote, “Epicurus’s questions {the Dilemma] are yet unanswered. Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Part X, 1779). This indeed can only be the position of the atheist because there is no greater good than what takes place in this life. Those with a Christian orientation choose to see suffering, in a larger sense, as God’s way of showing us what is problematic or spiritually dangerous. Suffering is often a sign that says like the robot in the TV series, Lost in Space, “Warning Will Robinson, warning.” We disregard the warnings of our own suffering, and that of others, at our peril.


Suffering, as a detector of evil, should remind us of the bright side that rational choices can bring to life. When human beings make war on their appetites—on their bad impulses, disordered sexual drives, greed, anger, selfishness, jealousy, pettiness, and all manner of poor choices, relative to “the good that could and should be present,” then they will have little time to create suffering for others. The ancient maxim that the stars “incline but do not compel” might be said of both God and the Devil.


The study of Ponerology need not be dependent on religion, although it could certainly be augmented by classical metaphysics and a theological understanding of evil. Presented thoughtfully, Ponerology might help our culture return to moral excellence by utilizing virtue-based ethical systems to better discern issues that are now dominated by critical theory and psychological fairy tales[46] that uncouple human action from moral deliberation.[47]

Critical theory [and its derivative, critical race theory] is any approach to social philosophy that focuses on reflective assessment and critique of society and culture in order to reveal and challenge power structures. With roots in sociology and literary criticism, it argues that social problems stem more from social structures and cultural assumptions than from individuals. It argues that ideology is the principal obstacle to human liberation.” [48]

Ponerology clarifies this point of view, as it locates the origin of political and social evil in the pathologies and vices of individuals, rather than in the ideologies such individuals, or groups of individuals, may create. Ideologies, or power structures opposed to schemas of virtue and vice, are merely symptomatic of ponerogenic processes that seek to obscure the consequences of evil. Political institutions that understand that the Divine inclines us in the right direction, and that evil inspires us in the wrong direction, need to codify this understanding more clearly without endorsing any specific religion.

The ancient Chinese had a concept that captures the general direction we might want to move in. The Mandate of Heaven (Chinese: Tiānmìng; Heaven’s will’) is a Chinese political philosophy that was used in ancient and imperial China to legitimize the rule of the King or Emperor of China.[49] According to this doctrine, heaven (Tian) – which embodies the natural order and will of the universe – bestows the mandate on a just ruler of China, the “Son of Heaven”. If a ruler was overthrown, this was interpreted as an indication that the ruler was unworthy and had lost the mandate. This idea was similar to the European Divine Right of Kings, which derived its authority from the Christian notion of the Kingdom of Heaven needing a regent on earth. Unlike the European concept, however, no Emperor could inherit the Mandate of Heaven through familial descent. In the Chinese system, if the ruler was not the embodiment of virtue, then he had no right to be Emperor.[50] Only the best man, in other words, should be the regent of any greater authority than that of man.

The Declaration of Independence points in this direction by affirming the creation of political power structures that serve the public, as in, “by the people, for the people and of the people” and must always be distinguished from false power structures that seek to elevate victimization over good behavior. Political structures that augment freely moving in the direction of goodness will finally free us from the shackles of political and religious intolerance.

Frederick Douglas, a man who understood the evils of racism from personal experience, never lost hold of his conviction that “the Declaration of Independence was the ringbolt of our Nation’s destiny.” Douglas felt that white America was not standing by its own principles as in: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Douglas had no desire to be a victim, he wanted what the Declaration of Independence guaranteed, and he was not quiet about it.

The divorcing of ideals from actual practice is an insidious, bureaucratic consequence of what T.S. Eliot called, in his essay, The Metaphysical Poets, “the disassociation of sensibility,” which occurs when ideas and principles, related to some original situation, or set of values, are forgotten but the habits and thoughts associated with those ideas are ritually perpetuated. This too is “the absence of a good that could and should be present.” Men like Douglas remind us that we need to go back to original sources and ideas, and take them at face value, without interpreting them based on legal contortions designed only to bypass the intent of original ideas. Opposition to this kind of sophistry is known in the legal community as “originalism,” i.e., that the Constitution should be “interpreted in terms of its public meaning at the time of adoption—and ‘textualism,’ which is essentially originalism applied to statutes.”[51]

Historically speaking, Americans ignored the intent of “all men are created equal” by excluding black people and women from the language of the Declaration of Independence. They engaged in uncritical, paralogical thinking, albeit based on the customs of the day, by catering to power structures that sought only to maintain political advantage. The notion, for example, that the right to, “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness” would not apply to the unborn is, prima facie, both constitutionally absurd and opposed to the idea of the “goodness” of human life. The claim by liberal interpreters of American jurisprudence, for example, that the common good is an “[undefined notion]” is noted by Casey and Vermeule as, “being both spatially and temporally parochial in the extreme.” [52] The attempt to constantly walk back the common meaning of words, in order to redefine values, is an enterprise that destroys both causality and the law.

Today, social power structures such as teachers’ unions, gun control lobbies, and many political organizations, are not genuinely interested in the well-being of those they claim to represent, nor are they concerned about constitutional issues related to liberty. They are primarily interested in expanding their power and increasing their funding. The words that come out of the mouths of advocates are, for the most part, vague slogans designed to encourage buy-in for various legislative agendas. Students need to be taught meaningful subjects that have not been politically neutered, and people with bad morals, not guns, kill other people. Individuals entrusted with leading these organizations, often exhibit many of the qualities of character, described by Lobaczewski. Paralogical statements, made by these organizations that appear reasonable, are often masking ideologies hostile to democracy and common sense.

Steve Taylor, PhD, notes: “At the other end of the scale, people with a high level of empathy and compassion usually aren’t interested in power. They prefer to be “on the ground,” interacting and connecting with others. They may even refuse the offer of a high-status position because they are aware that higher status will disconnect them (although for a non-empathic person, that is part of its appeal). So, this leaves positions of power open for people with psychological disorders (or at least with a high level of ambition and ruthlessness, even if not a fully-fledged psychological disorder).”[53]

The false attribution of causality is a major feature of all organizations employing paralogic, i.e., statements and slogans that appear reasonable but are divorced from a genuine understanding of cause and effect. Criminals, apprehended in the act, for example, cannot all be victims of bias and racism, or of the unjust power structures indicated by Critical Race Theory. Sometimes these individuals are just plain, garden variety criminals seeking to take advantage of circumstance and cultural guilt. This is not to say that there are no racially motivated crimes but that each case must vetted in terms of cause and effect, and not be based on theories that seek to insert victimization where it does not belong.

Casey and Vermeule, citing Dominic Legge, OP put forth a critical distinction:

Contemporary accounts of constitutional rights, and of rights adjudication, differ from the classical account “primarily because they have lost sight of the truth that justice, law [lex] and ius all depend on, and are facets of, a wise or reasoned ordering of individuals to the good.” [54]

Reinhold Niebuhr notes in his book, Moral Man and Immoral Society, that the social sciences understand the need for a concept of the good but cannot explain “the reverence for the good.” Unfortunately, the objective and reverential notion of the “good” has devolved, in the modern world, into merely subjective “goods” that may not be vetted by objective criteria that may have understood “goodness” as being related to the highest good, i.e., God. Relativity has dethroned this kind of objectivity in almost all matters of moral and political principle. This does not bode well for the future of our country.

The adoption of the study of Ponerology, by major universities, would mark a large step in the right direction in developing a new set of political principles,[55] ordered towards “the good,” for the twenty second millennium. This might help unseat the evils that have crept into American jurisprudence and help correct the intellectual and moral disorder of unrestricted media. Some of these principles may be found at www.founderscodeusa.com, which sees the Founding Fathers as pre-empting many of problems that atheistic systems of value are now attempting to hoist on the American public.

Tyler Cowen, an award-winning writer, and professor at George Mason’s Mercatus Center, observes in his book, Stubborn Attachments:

“When it comes to the future of our world, we have lost our way in a fundamental manner, and not just on a few details. We must return to principles, but we do not always have good principles to guide us. We have strayed from the ideals of a society based on prosperity and rights and liberties of the individual, and we do not know how to return to those ideals.”

There is yet time to right the world and try, as poetically suggested by Langston Hughes, “to cut the world in two—and see what worms are eating at the rind.” Ponerology, augmented by a deeper study of metaphysics, can provide us with critical tools to reinvent governance, unseat evil, and make the world a better, fairer, and more richly dynamic place than it is today.



[1] Peter Preskar, Tamerlane—Lord of Destruction, https://historyofyesterday.com/tamerlane-388241acc894


[2] Ibid


[3] Science Facts, https://www.scifacts.net/human/geh=nghis-khan-death-toll/


[4] Peter Preskar, Tamerlane—Lord of Destruction, https://historyofyesterday.com/tamerlane-388241acc894


[5] Ibid


[6] The term “psychopath” is often used to describe individuals who are callous, unemotional, and morally depraved. While the term isn’t an official mental health diagnosis, it is often used in clinical and legal settings. Such individuals, when put in administrative positions, are oppressive and create more problems than they solve.


[7] Study.com, https://study.com/academy/lesson/the-mongol-invasion-of-russia-in-the-13th-century.html


[8] Welcome to Ukraine, www.ukrainetrek.com


[9] The Ukrainian famine—known as the Holodomor, a combination of the Ukrainian words for “starvation” and “to inflict death”—by one estimate claimed the lives of 3.9 million people, about 13 percent of the population. And, unlike other famines in history caused by blight or drought, this was caused when a dictator wanted both to replace Ukraine’s small farms with state-run collectives and punish independence-minded Ukrainians who posed a threat to his totalitarian authority. https://www.history.com/news/ukrainian-famine-stalin


[10] Dr. Paul Chaloux, Why All People Suffer: How a Loving God Uses Suffering to Perfect Us, Sophia Institute Press, 2021, Section 1, pg.1


[11] Plotinus, Enneads, I, 8, 1


[12] Steve Taylor, When People with Personality Disorders Gain Power, July 31, 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/out-the-darkness/201907/pathocracy


[13] Andrew M. Lobaczewski and Laura Knight-Jadczyk, Political Ponerology: The Science of Evil, Psychopathy, and the Origins of Totalitarianism; Red Pill Press, March 18, 2022


[14] Ibid


[15]The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Clarify Some Issues About the So-Called Psychopathic Personality is a book written by American psychiatrist Hervey M. Cleckley, first published in 1941, describing Cleckley’s clinical interviews with patients in a locked institution. The text is considered to be a seminal work and the most influential clinical description of psychopathy in the twentieth century. The basic elements of psychopathy outlined by Cleckley are still relevant today. The title refers to the normal “mask” that conceals the mental disorder of the psychopathic person in Cleckley’s conceptualization.” Wikipedia


[16] Ibid


[17] Paralogical thinking indicates a disorder of the mental process arising from mental disorders, due to which the logic of reasoning suffers… It can manifest itself in systematic delusions or overvalued ideas. This type of thinking is typical for people suffering from paranoia and schizophrenia. Given Lobaczewski was a psychologist, he meant to use the word in a pejorative sense for those who were in positions of power and who were not assumed to be mentally or morally ill. Paralogic is also defined, in a secondary way by New Age advocates, as being the ability to accept paradox. This meaning would be totally inapplicable to Lobaczewski’s use of the word.


[18] How Putin Left Sailors to Diehttps://www.express.co.uk/news/history/1150991/putin-news-russian-submarine-kursk-colin-firth-david-russell


[19]Aaron Kheriaty, MD, The New Normal, https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1510493091572056069.html


[20] I personally know military and other personnel who were threatened with loss of both job and pension should they elect not to be “vaccinated”.


[21] Steve Taylor, When People with Personality Disorders Gain Power, July 31, 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/out-the-darkness/201907/pathocracy. (Dr. Taylor appears to have had Trump in mind with his analysis, but he left out an important distinction. Trump does indeed have many of the characteristics of someone with a personality disorder, but his laser-like focus on time-honored American business practices, and common sense, made his personality disorder serve a beneficial cause. Trump is a true rarity of the pathological type in that he is disposed to political and economic truths, while being indisposed to truths of the moral order regarding economic fair play and sexual activity. Trump, to his credit, has admitted to his personal greed but never to his sexual misconduct.


[22] Aristotle, Book 1, §7, p. 125 LC


[23] Aristotle, Metaphysics 12 1072b


[24] Greek Word Studies, https://greekwordstudies.blogspot.com/2007/04/good.html


[25] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1.48.3; “So, as a feature opposed to a thing’s good, evil is opposed to that thing’s being–it is a sort of non-being. The non-being that is evil, is not just any and every non-being or absence of good. It is the absence of a due good, the privation of a good that should be there. Not every absence of good is evil. For absence of good can be taken in a privative and in a negative sense. Absence of good, taken negatively, is not evil; otherwise, it would follow that what does not exist is evil, and also that everything would be evil, [by] not having the good belonging to something else; for instance, a man would be evil who had not the swiftness of the roe, or the strength of a lion. But the absence of good, taken in a privative sense, is an evil; as, for instance, the privation of sight is called blindness.”


“So, evil is not just any lack of being. It is the lack of some feature that a thing is supposed to have; it is the lack of a due good. Aquinas gives the classic example of blindness: a lack of an ability to see; but, more specifically, it is a lack of sight in something to which it is due, that is, in the sort of thing which has (or should have) that ability, and so is supposed to see. Unseeing rocks are not called blind, and do not suffer an evil. Only what is supposed to see (and doesn’t) is called blind and suffers an evil.

Aquinas sometimes calls these goods that a thing is supposed to have ‘perfections.’ “


[26] The word stochastic in English was originally used as an adjective with the definition “pertaining to conjecturing” and stemming from a Greek word meaning “to aim at a mark, guess”, and the Oxford English Dictionary gives the year 1662 as its earliest occurrence. In technical terms it means, “randomly determined; having a random probability distribution or pattern that may be analyzed statistically but may not be predicted precisely.”


[27] Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, multiple editions

[28] Sean J. O’Reilly, God Has Skin in the Game: How a New Understanding of Politics and the Soul Could Change America, House of a Thousand Suns, First printing, January 23, 2018


[29] Wikipedia notes that “Ius or Jus (Latin, plural iura) in ancient Rome was a right to which a citizen (civis) was entitled by virtue of his citizenship (civitas). The iura were specified by laws, so ius sometimes meant law. As one went to the law courts to sue for one’s rights, ius also meant justice and the place where justice was sought.” Think of ius as the larger sense of the law as it might commonly relate to goodness.


[30] Conor Casey & Adrian Vermeule, Myths of Common Good Constitutionalism, Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Volume 45, Number 1, Winter 2022, pg. 123


[31] Ibid, pg. 103


[32] Conor Casey & Adrian Vermeule, Myths of Common Good Constitutionalism, Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Volume 45, Number 1, Winter 2022, pg. 108


[33] BA Boone is the originator of the concept of a map of the dark.


[34] Sean J. O’Reilly, How to Manage Your What? Explore Sexual Energy and Discover Your More Spiritually Enlightened, Evolved Self, House of a Thousand Suns; 1st edition 2000; revised edition, August 2, 2017


[35] Aristotle defines virtue as a good habit or “acting in accordance with right reason”.


[35] Moral virtues are good habits of the will while intellectual virtues are good habits of mind. Both are needed for complete human excellence.


[36] Sean J. O’Reilly, God Has Skin in the Game: How a New Understanding of Politics and the Soul Could Change America, House of a Thousand Suns, First printing, January 23, 2018. Sublimation is viewed as a kind of antique curiosity from the dawn of psychoanalysis, instead of being a valuable way of describing the ecology of sexual energy.


[37] There are numerous documented cases of individuals who knowingly or unknowingly have opened themselves up to the actions of outside spirits, and some of these cases include some rather serious demons.


[38] Jack Maden, Philosophy Break, https://philosophybreak.com/articles/hannah-arendt-on-standing-up-to-the-banality-of-evil/



[39] Ibid


[40] Ibid


[41] Ibid


[42] Ibid


[43] Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, multiple editions


[44] Rwanda Genocide: 100 Days of Slaughter, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-26875506


[45] Biological possession is to be distinguished from the theological notion of diabolical possession as one of degree. There are numerous, documented instances of such possessions that are beyond the scope of this paper. This is my own concept, and as far as I know, is not employed elsewhere in academia.


[46] Much of modern psychology has become infected with the notion that human desires must be engaged rather than repressed. Part of this notion is true: human desire needs to be acknowledged, but that does not mean that it should be baptized as always necessary for human fulfillment. The notion of sublimation, and resistance to appetites, championed by Freud, is seldom adverted to.


[47] Stanford Encyclopedia: “Critical Theory has a narrow and a broad meaning in philosophy and in the history of the social sciences. “Critical Theory” in the narrow sense designates several generations of German philosophers and social theorists in the Western European Marxist tradition known as the Frankfurt School. According to these theorists, a “critical” theory may be distinguished from a “traditional” theory according to a specific practical purpose: a theory is critical to the extent that it seeks human “emancipation from slavery”, acts as a “liberating … influence”, and works “to create a world which satisfies the needs and powers of” human beings (Horkheimer 1972b [1992, 246]). Because such theories aim to explain and transform all the circumstances that enslave human beings, many “critical theories” in the broader sense have been developed. They have emerged in connection with the many social movements that identify varied dimensions of the domination of human beings in modern societies. In both the broad and the narrow senses, however, a critical theory provides the descriptive and normative bases for social inquiry aimed at decreasing domination and increasing freedom in all their forms.”


[48] Critical Theory was not designed to support Democracy in the West, as it is commonly understood, but was a critique of the institutions of society by Max Horkheimer who was sympathetic with the principles of socialism. There are those who would say that Critical Theory was designed to destabilize democratic institutions, and moral values, but simply looking at the utility of the idea, power structures can, obviously, become evil and corrosive of individual liberty. Critical Theory has difficulties, however, reconciling personal freedom with the limitations that all institutions put on those liberties. See https://counter-currents.com/2014/07/forgetting-max-horkheimer/ for a penetrating refutation of critical theory and its derivative, political correctness.


[49] Wikipedia: “The Mandate of Heaven does not require a legitimate ruler to be of noble birth, depending instead on how well that person can rule. Chinese dynasties such as the Han and Ming were founded by men of common origins, but they were seen as having succeeded because they had gained the Mandate of Heaven. The concept is…similar to the European concept of the divine right of kings; however, unlike the European concept, it does not confer an unconditional right to rule. Retaining the mandate is contingent on the just and able performance of the rulers and their heirs.”


[50] Ibid


[51] Honorable Justice Samuel Alioto, Remarks at the 2020 Legal Convention of the Federalist Society, Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Volume 45, Number 1, Winter 2022, pg. 100


[52] Conor Casey & Adrian Vermeule, Myths of Common Good Constitutionalism, Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Volume 45, Number 1, Winter 2022, pg. 109


[53] Steve Taylor, When People with Personality Disorders Gain Power, July 31, 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/out-the-darkness/201907/pathocracy


[54] Conor Casey & Adrian Vermeule, Myths of Common Good Constitutionalism, Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Volume 45, Number 1, Winter 2022, pg. 138


[55] These principles, along with reasons to employ God as the ultimate Source of our values, are listed at www.founderscodeusa.com



Sean J. O’Reilly is an award-winning author and editor who lives in Virginia. An outlier academic, he has a degree in Existential Phenomenology from the University of Dallas.