Thomas Aquinas considered evil to be one not fulfilling his/her telos, or purpose. The telos was a concept taken from Aristotle, who thought of reality in the context of its true end. Aquinas thought of happiness as the ultimate telos, and in turn, happiness is found in the contemplation of God. Hence, without knowledge and appreciation of God, every human being would be unable to fulfill his/her true telos, be unhappy, and become consumed by sin.
Aquinas also believed in natural law, which is a derivation of eternal law, or God’s divine wisdom, which is manifested as a blueprint for all creation. Natural law had to be perfectly just since it was derived from eternal law.
From this synthesis, Aquinas developed a political ethic as a means to promote the welfare of the common good. He surmised that society was built like a pyramid: an established hierarchy with superiors and inferiors and that everyone (especially those at the top) had a vested interest in society as whole since the unified gaze remained fixed on God. Although the Thomistic end was admirable, the means by which he proposed to accomplish this task was onerous—the use of coercive force. Particularly, Aquinas thought this force would be put to best use to restrain evil. In the Summa Theologica, he says the following:
“Since some are found to be dissolute and prone to vice and not easily amendable to words, it was necessary for such to be restrained from evil by force or fear, in order that, at least, they might desist from evildoing, and leave others in peace, and that they themselves, by being habituated in this way, might be brought to do willingly what hitherto they did from fear, and thus become virtuous.”
To become virtuous by freely applying oneself is admirable. To become anything by “force or fear” is deplorable and invariably lays the foundation for human cruelty and oppression. The law, society, or any type of established order should set its goal to punish evil, thus disarming those who would seek to purify the world through futile attempts to defeat evil.
Niccolo Machiavelli, for example, advocated wielding fear in order to secure power and coerce the masses to do as he saw fit. In The Prince, Machiavelli dismisses love as susceptible to “every whisper of private interest,” while the fear of reprimand “never relaxes its grasp.” Although Niccolo was diabolical, even he realized the efficacy of punishing those who deviate from the law.
In the same volume, he goes on to describe exactly how political aims are to be achieved through the molding of the subjects’ wills. He champions deceit as an effective tool and states, “Men are so simple, and governed so absolutely by their present needs, that he who wishes to deceive will never fail in finding willing dupes.” He proceeds on how to deceive, including appearing moral and religious only so that the leader seems to embody many desirable qualities.
In both instances, the end result is evil. For Aquinas, evil results from the attempt to restrain it, and for Machiavelli, evil is fashioned as a tool to push the herd in a chosen direction. The reasoning of both men sanctioned their malevolence, just as in contemporary society where evil is either given a halo of moral legitimacy by the “nobles” who want “good” for [insert cause here] or promoted as a necessary step to defeat [insert villain here], with the invariable backing of fear and urgency in order to deceptively consolidate power and control.
These two pillars of thought become evident in the utter calamity that is in progress in Ukraine. Essentially, the Ukraine protests are evil manifest under the guise of virtue, truth, and morality.
In brief, before all of the riots and military occupations began, former Ukrainian prime minister Viktor Yanukovych was vilified because he did not support a trade pact that was very friendly to the European Union. The same pact would have severed all trading ties to the Russian Federation.
The Western powers became very upset at their potential loss of economic power and the alignment of a former Soviet republic with Mother Russia. So in an attempt to do “good” for the people of Ukraine, the West instigated a nationwide protest that has now become so volatile, it is no longer under anyone’s control. Even more so, this liberation movement is actively being rejected by many Ukrainian citizens, especially in the eastern portion of the country.
To counter this perceived aggression from the West, Vladimir Putin invades (well, sort of) Crimea and is now calling for a referendum so the citizens of the small region in the Black Sea would be able to decide whether to remain under the control of Ukraine or reintegrate with Russia.
Putin is thus portrayed as an evil, maniacal autocrat who invaded a sovereign nation. However, if the people in Crimea do vote in free and fair elections, who holds the moral high ground to label their desired intent as invalid or illegal? Let us all not forget that the British, for example, used a referendum to determine the status of the Falkland Islands. Same blueprints, different countries. Why is Crimea now so different? The Americans invaded Iraq and Afghanistan under false pretenses (more than 500,000 people have died in those illegal wars). How have the rules changed?
Both the Europeans and the American recognize Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk as the legal interim prime minister of the Ukraine, but one must ask if proper constitutional procedure was followed after Mr. Yanukovych’s departure to select the appropriate successor. The answer is no, and all the Western powers are aware of this fact. Just because the guy they like has assumed power does not mean he has the legal authority, or constitutional right, to be prime minister. In addition, financial sanctions against Russia, a move favored by the European Union and the United States, will be allegedly imposed if the situation in the Ukraine escalates. If even economic pressure strains the political system (the desired goal) leading to acquiescence, would that be worth the all potential unintended consequences including more Russian military campaigns, more authoritarianism, and a return to—gasp—communism, in the East?
Why does good turn into evil contingent upon the persons or nations involved?
Notably, what you rarely hear about in the media are all the human rights violations of ethnic Russians living in Ukraine (e.g., rape, murder, and torture) carried out by Ukrainian nationalists, particularly in the western region. The Ukrainians are not innocent, passive bystanders in all this. They too have gotten drunk on evil.
In that light, was Putin “evil” and “autocratic,” or did he virtuously respond to a humanitarian crisis concerning his own people? Further, why is anyone in the world shocked that the Russians invaded Crimea after a perceived threat became apparent—after all, the only warm-water Russian naval port exists in Crimea? And for Mr. Putin, he’s simply acting in the same way he did when he invaded Georgia during the Bush administration.
Moreover, if you’ve ever doubted the foreign nations’ involvement in the movement that overthrew Viktor Yanukovych, just ask where all the protestors got the financing to remain in Kiev’s Independence Square while being given food, shelter, and organized advice. After all, you can’t just deploy all these resources on the spur of the moment. Several NGOs are suspected of being fronts for the intelligence agencies of European and American governments. Consequently, when the vicious protests reached a tipping point and the world watched on with horror, the forceful ouster of the prior regime was granted some form of legitimacy in the eyes of the international community since the well-orchestrated protest movement was so large, swift, and powerful.
Clearly, no parties in these equations have any concept of natural law in a Thomistic sense or any idea of what is truly just. They all do, however, have a very well-defined concept of deceit and its application to the masses at large. If all parties involved would stop to think of their actions (and the subsequent consequences) not in terms of what they want but what’s in the best interest of the Ukrainian people, then an amicable solution would present itself. This would be a rational path, but we do not live in a rational world. Instead, the alleged leaders on all sides of the table will continue to wield treachery as a means to secure selfish ends, all the while proclaiming to defeat the “wicked” forces that stand in their way.
Dr. C.H.E. Sadaphal