Radical Evil

2010.07.19
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In making this argument, I address many popular misunderstandings regarding the overcoming of radical evil, such as the idea that it is morally impossible for humans to achieve on their own and that it cannot occur in a sequence of events in time. Ethics and Political Philosophy Commons. Advanced Search.

Privacy Copyright. Sheridan Rd. Skip to main content. Abstract In Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason , Kant makes the claim that all humans are radically evil, both by nature and through a free choice. Included in Ethics and Political Philosophy Commons. Say, it is clear that the US overthrowing of Saddam Hussein, legitimized in the terms of ending the suffering of the Iraqi people, not only was motivated by other politico-economic interests oil , but also relied on a determinate idea of the political and economic conditions Western liberal democracy, guarantee of private property, the inclusion into the global market economy, etc.

The Mountain Goats - Radical Evil Song

The purely humanitarian anti-political politics of merely preventing suffering thus effectively amounts to the implicit prohibition of elaborating a positive collective project of socio-political transformation. What if one should rather endorse the paradox of the inhumanity of human being deprived of citizenship, and posit the "inhuman" pure man as a necessary excess of humanity over itself, its "indivisible remainder," a kind of Kantian limit-concept of the phenomenal notion of humanity? Any difference grows faint between democracy and totalitarianism and any political practice proves to be already ensnared in the biopolitical trap.

Radical Evil

Far from being pre-political, "universal Human Rights" designate the precise space of politicization proper: what they amount to is the right to universality as such, the right of a political agent to assert its radical non-coincidence with itself in its particular identity , to posit itself — precisely insofar as it is the "surnumerary" one, the "part with no part," the one without a proper place in the social edifice — as an agent of universality of the Social as such.

The paradox is thus a very precise one, and symmetrical to the paradox of universal human rights as the rights of those reduced to inhumanity: at the very moment when we try to conceive political rights of citizens without the reference to universal "meta-political" Human Rights, we lose politics itself, i. You give them to the poor. Those rights that appear to be useless in their place are sent abroad, along with medicine and clothes, to people deprived of medicine, clothes, and rights.

It is in this way, as the result of this process, that the Rights of Man become the rights of those who have no rights, the rights of bare human beings subjected to inhuman repression and inhuman conditions of existence. They become humanitarian rights, the rights of those who cannot enact them, the victims of the absolute denial of right.

For all this, they are not void. Political names and political places never become merely void. The void is filled by somebody or something else. This is what is called the "right to humanitarian interference" — a right that some nations assume to the supposed benefit of victimized populations, and very often against the advice of the humanitarian organizations themselves. The "right to humanitarian interference" might be described as a sort of "return to sender": the disused rights that had been send to the rightless are sent back to the senders.

And the moment Human Rights are thus depoliticized, the discourse dealing with them has to change to ethics: reference to the pre-political opposition of Good and Evil has to be mobilized. No wonder, then, that the advocates of such humanitarianism like to refer to the notion of a transpolitical radical Evil. A lot is at stake here: is there a line from the Kantian ethics to the cold-blooded Auschwitz killing machine?

Are concentration camps and killing as a neutral business the inherent outcome of the enlightened insistence on the autonomy of Reason? Is there at least a legitimate lineage from Sade to Fascist torturing, as is implied by Pasolini's film version of Days in Sodom , which transposes it into the dark days of Mussolini's Salo Republic? Here we encounter the content later baptized by Marcuse "repressive desublimation": after all the barriers of sublimation, of cultural transformation of sexual activity, are abolished, what we get is not raw, brutal, passionate satisfying animal sex, but, on the contrary, a fully regimented, intellectualized activity comparable to a well-planned sporting match.

The Sadean hero is not a brute animal beast, but a pale, cold-blooded intellectual much more alienated from the true pleasure of the flesh than is the prudish, inhibited lover, a man of reason enslaved to the amor intellectualis diaboli - what gives pleasure to him or her is not sexuality as such but the activity of outstripping rational civilization by its own means, i. So, far from being an entity of full, earthly passion, the Sadean hero is fundamentally apathetic, reducing sexuality to a mechanical planned procedure deprived of the last vestiges of spontaneous pleasure or sentimentality.

About Difficult Freedom and Radical Evil in Kant

Kant's account of radical evil demonstrates how evil can be a genuine moral alternative while nevertheless being an innate condition. Given the general. Radical evil (German: das radikal Böse) is a phrase used by German philosopher Immanuel Kant in Religion within the Bounds of Reason Alone (), one.

What Sade heroically takes into account is that pure bodily sensual pleasure and spiritual love are not simply opposed, but dialectically intertwined: there is something deeply "spiritual," spectral, sublime, about a really passionate sensual lust, and vice versa as the mystical experience teaches us , so that the thorough "desublimation" of sexuality also thoroughly intellectualizes it, changing an intense pathetic bodily experience into a cold, apathetic mechanic exercise.

For Lacan also, Sade consequently deployed the inherent potential of the Kantian philosophical revolution, although Lacan gives to this a somewhat different twist - his point is that Sade honestly externalizes the Voice of Conscience which, in Kant, attests the subject's full ethical autonomy, i.

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The first association here is, of course: what's all the fuss about? Today, in our postidealist Freudian era, doesn't everybody know what the point of the "with" is - the truth of Kant's ethical rigorism is the sadism of the Law, i. Lacan's point, however, is the exact opposite of this first association: it is not Kant who was a closet sadist, it is Sade who is a closet Kantian.

That is to say, what one should bear in mind is that the focus of Lacan is always Kant, not Sade: what he is interested in are the ultimate consequences and disavowed premises of the Kantian ethical revolution.

Slavoj Zizek - Radical Evil as a Freudian Category

In other words, Lacan does not try to make the usual "reductionist" point that every ethical act, as pure and disinterested as it may appear, is always grounded in some "pathological" motivation the agent's own long-term interest, the admiration of his peers, up to the "negative" satisfaction provided by the suffering and extortion often demanded by ethical acts ; the focus of Lacan's interest rather resides in the paradoxical reversal by means of which desire itself i. Suppose that someone says his lust is irresistible when the desired object and opportunity are present.

Ask him whether he would not control his passions if, in front of the house where he has this opportunity, a gallows were erected on which he would be hanged immediately after gratifying his lust. We do not have to guess very long what his answer may be. Lacan's counterargument here is that we certainly DO have to guess what his answer may be: what if we encounter a subject as we regularly do in psychoanalysis who can only fully enjoy a night of passion if some form of "gallows" is threatening him, i.

Introduction

HuffPost Personal Video Horoscopes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Download preview PDF. We might pause to wonder just what measure Freud is using here. This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Mario Monicelli's Casanova '70 with Virna Lisi and Marcello Mastroianni hinges on this very point: the hero can only retain his sexual potency if doing "it" involves some kind of danger. At the film's end, when he is on the verge of marrying his beloved, he wants at least to violate the prohibition of premarital sex by sleeping with her the night before the wedding - however, his bride unknowingly spoils even this minimal pleasure by arranging with the priest for special permission for the two of them to sleep together the night before, so that the act is deprived of its transgressive sting.

What can he do now?

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In the last shot of the film, we see him crawling on the narrow porch on the outside of the high-rise building, giving himself the difficult task of entering the girl's bedroom in the most dangerous way, in a desperate attempt to link sexual gratification to mortal danger So, Lacan's point is that if gratifying sexual passion involves the suspension of even the most elementary "egotistic" interests, if this gratification is clearly located "beyond the pleasure principle," then, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, we are dealing with an ethical act, then his "passion" is stricto sensu ethical.

It may seem that we are dealing with a simple linear graduation: "normal" evil, more "radical" evil, and, finally, the unthinkable "diabolical" evil. However, upon a closer look, it becomes clear that the three species are not at the same level, i. In contrast to it, "diabolical" evil does designate a specific type of evil acts: acts which are not motivated by any pathological motivation, but are done "just for the sake of it," elevating evil itself into an apriori non-pathological motivation — something akin to Poe's "imp of perversity.

"Radical Evil"

Interestingly enough, the concrete case he mentions in Part I of his Metaphysics of Mores is that of the judicial regicide, the murder of a king executed as a punishment pronounced by a court: Kant's claim is that, in contrast to a simple rebellion in which the mob kills only the person of a king, the judicial process which condemns to death the king this embodiment of the rule of law destroys from within the very form of the rule of law, turning it into a terrifying travesty — which is why, as Kant put it, such an act is an "indelible crime" which cannot ever be pardoned.

However, in a second step, Kant desperately argues that in the two historical cases of such an act under Cromwell and in the France , we were dealing just with a mob taking revenge… Why this oscillation and classificatory confusion in Kant? Because, if he were to assert the actual possibility of "diabolical evil," he would found it impossible to distinguish it from the Good — since both acts would be non-pathologically motivated, the travesty of justice would become indistinguishable from justice itself.

Lacan's further point is that this covert Sadean dimension of an "ethical sexual passion" is not read into Kant by our eccentric interpretation, but is inherent to the Kantian theoretical edifice. Although Kant insists on the absolute gap between pathological sentiments and the pure form of moral Law, there is one a priori sentiment that the subject necessarily experiences when confronted with the injunction of the moral Law, the pain of humiliation because of man's hurt pride, due to the "radical Evil" of human nature ; for Lacan, this Kantian privileging of pain as the only a priori sentiment is strictly correlative to de Sade's notion of pain torturing and humiliating the other, being tortured and humiliated by him as the privileged way of access to sexual jouissance Sade's argument, of course, is that pain is to be given priority over pleasure on account of its greater longevity - pleasures are passing, while pain can last almost indefinitely.

This link can be further substantiated by what Lacan calls the Sadean fundamental fantasy: the fantasy of another, ethereal body of the victim, which can be tortured indefinitely and nonetheless magically retains its beauty see the standard Sadean figure of a young girl sustaining endless humiliations and mutilations from her deprived torturer and somehow mysteriously surviving it all intact, in the same way Tom and Jerry and other cartoon heroes survive all their ridiculous ordeals intact. Doesn't this fantasy provide the libidinal foundation of the Kantian postulate of the immortality of the soul endlessly striving to achieve ethical perfection, i.

Judith Butler pointed out that the Foucauldian "body" as the site of resistance is none other than the Freudian "psyche": paradoxically, "body" is Foucault's name for the psychic apparatus insofar as it resists the soul's domination.

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That is to say, when, in his well-known definition of the soul as the "prison of the body," Foucault turns around the standard Platonic-Christian definition of the body as the "prison of the soul," what he calls "body" is not simply the biological body, but is effectively already caught into some kind of pre-subjective psychic apparatus. A look at Wagnerian heroes can be of some help here: from their first paradigmatic case, The Flying Dutchman , they are possessed by the unconditional passion for dying, for finding ultimate peace and redemption in death. Their predicament is that, some time in the past, they have committed some unspeakable evil deed, so that they are condemned to pay the price for it not by death, but by being condemned to a life of eternal suffering, of helplessly wandering around, unable to fulfill their symbolic function.

This gives us a clue to the exemplary Wagnerian song, which, precisely, is the complaint Klage of the hero, displaying his horror at being condemned to a life of eternal suffering, to err around or dwell as the "undead" monster, longing for peace in death from its first example, Dutchman's great introductory monologue, to the lament of the dying Tristan and the two great complaints of the suffering Amfortas. Wagner's solution to Freud's antagonism of Eros and Thanatos is thus the identity of the two poles: love itself culminates in death, its true object is death, the longing for the beloved is the longing for death.

Is, then, this urge which haunts the Wagnerian hero what Freud called the "death drive", Todestrieb?