Resisting Evil by Force | Rupert August

The Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin found himself in a situation which we might find quite familiar. Writing from exile, after witnessing the horror of the Bolsheviks after the majesty of the Imperial era, he was trapped between men on one hand who possessed all the power of the state and many more powers besides to destroy any opposition, and used this power for Evil. On the other hand, men who were guided by good and pure impulses were either dogmatically consigned to inaction due to a belief which framed any use of force as evil, or who were so unsure of themselves as to be totally inactive. A tradition lay open, which he believed had lapsed from the public consciousness, but remained robust and true; that of virtuous force and compulsion. As such, he wrote a book to lay out his case in the most clear and forthright terms: ‘On Resistance to Evil by Force’.

Evil, you see, is not found in the nature of actions, but of men who desire to bring about evil outcomes. It is a product of their wills and intentions, even if the source of all evil is more supernatural. Good, by contrast, is something distinctly divine – to see God and divinity in qualities and aspects of the temporal realm, but something which can be approached, particularly, perhaps even only, under the tutelage of the Church. The pursuit and proliferation of Evil are achieved by men possessed by it, and they will seek to use whatever methods available to do so. In much the same way, the men who oppose Evil, and are instead possessed by good and righteous impulses, are not committing evil acts when they interrupt evil, and prevent evil outcomes. When guided by piety, love, and compassion, Evil may even be halted with a forceful strike – but still be rightly guided by a wish to see the evildoer return to the right path, or simply to protect an innocent. Even execution might be the more moral act, both to protect an innocent otherwise threatened, and to prevent the perpetrator from damning himself and his soul any more than he already has. With this being the case however, it is still not necessarily appropriate to punish all deviations equally, nor to approach every moral failing in the same way, either too laxly or too forcefully.

The proliferation of Evil is ensured by many gradations of compliance. There are those who actively pursue Evil, though who passively do so, those who obstruct the Good, and those who passively allow Evil to take place. Conversely there are those who actively oppose Evil (and/or pursue the Good), those who passively do so, those who obstruct Evil, and those who passively allow Evil to be opposed. There forms a natural aristocracy on both sides of this divide; between those who are active in the pursuit of suppression of Evil, and those who are more passive, and either tacitly support, or make no attempt to stop – Evil or Good taking place. In suppressing Evil therefore, different requirements will be presented in different situations.

Those who know the Good but do not act on it must be encouraged to. Those who resist the authority of the Good must be persuaded or compelled. Those who passively support Evil must be suppressed. And those who actively pursue Evil must be stopped by any means necessary. If this is not done, then Evil will be proliferated in the world by men who are possessed by it, and they will be allowed to disrupt and damage the spiritual health of those Good innocents who are made victims by evil men. As such, those men who are most active in the defence and upholding of the Good – must be empowered and enabled to act. As a moral aristocracy, they take up the mantle of the knight, and the duties associated. To stare Evil in the face again and again, but always pick the right path, and never be overcome by lies, temptation, or a delight in sadistic punishment for its own sake.

He must be able to judge each case according to the spiritual health of the judged, and determine whether they can be persuaded and saved; what is the least necessary punishment, is there time to prevent an evil act peacefully, and whether the Good and innocent are protected by the action. He must always approach even the most malicious man of Evil with love, and the best of intentions for himself and his soul, but not bow to sentimentality, and improper forgiveness. Though he may, and indeed often must, forgive an evil act; he must carry out his duty to punish all the same. To do otherwise would be to abrogate his duty to act as a force of the Good in an imperfect world; to pretend or imagine that moral perfection is possible while in the presence of Evil and immorality, even if it means carrying out acts which are unrighteous, and tarnishing to the knight’s own soul. He takes this burden upon himself willingly, but not alone.

If the knight is he who acts unrighteously to protect righteousness and the Good, the monk is he who lives and knows the Good with utmost sureness. He lives in purity, protected physically by the knight, and in return provides spiritual sanctuary, guidance, and protection. The monk, and the church at large; can properly instruct on the actual specificities and boundaries of the Good, but also give forgiveness and confidence to the knight. He must be reminded of the right path, and to not stray into sadism or disillusionment, and to remain a bastion against Evil.

Evil then, is not an abstraction separated from man, but a force which possess the will, and guides men to actively spread it. What Evil definitively is not; is a certain act. To strike, coerce, or even kill is not equivalent in the case of Evil or Good men.

At a greater level, this is the role of the church itself to the King and state. The two are inseparable because without guidance and absolution, a knight will fall into immorality and confusion – mistaking his desires for the Good, or falling to Evil itself. Meanwhile the church will be predated upon, like the unspeakable horrors inflicted on Christian nuns in Asia and Africa in the midst of war and savagery, or the monks and holy men at Lindisfarne and beyond. Worse still what Ilyin had experienced, when confusion and apathy had led to the Bolshevik rise, the mass enslavement and starvation of the peasantry, the dispossession and persecution of the church and clergy, and wholesale slaughter dictated by cruelty and quotas, first of the good and righteous, but soon after by anyone else. All because a few hundred evil men were protected and enabled.

Evil then, is not an abstraction separated from man, but a force which possess the will, and guides men to actively spread it. What Evil definitively is not; is a certain act. To strike, coerce, or even kill is not equivalent in the case of Evil or Good men. To kill a murderer before he can harm an innocent does not render the knight a moral equivalent, and were the knight compelled to act according to dictates of moral perfect – the murderer would complete the deed unopposed. To assume that all the world can be lead into moral perfection is a fantasy, and cowardice, retreating from hard questions of human judgement into self-satisfaction. There are many ways to exorcise Evil, from proper spiritual guidance, and encouraging self-reflection so that a man might purge it from himself, but alongside these tools there is force and violence – which is equally legitimate and no less lovingly applied. Force can be applied both to protect the innocent, to save the soul of those incapable of restraining themselves, and as a show to all those who might be emboldened by a lack of punishment. For these reasons, it is the duty of the knight that the man of Evil must be loved, forgiven, and punished all the same.

In all this there is an acknowledgement that not all will be up to the duties of a knight. They lack either the steadfast confidence, moral fortitude, or will and courage to actively oppose Evil. But it is still the duty of all, in as much as possible, to remain clear-sighted as to the nature of the Good, and to encourage, enable, or at least not obstruct the actions of the knight. But all who are up to the task, should take up the mantle, even at the cost of their own spiritual purity and perfection – for the good of all.

Ivan Ilyin packs many more insights into his book, ‘On Resistance to Evil by Force’, and covers more ground in greater detail. An excellent translation is available from Taxiarch Press, and well worth reading (I hasten to add that I have not been sponsored, nor in contact).

Above all the key lesson is that if we are rightly guided and oriented towards the Good, we should not, indeed must not shirk the duty to use every tool necessary to purge Evil – for the benefit of all. Doing so does not reduce us to their level, so long as we do not stray from the path towards Evil or malign influences. If we are to take up this duty, we must do so in full knowledge of the cost and the toll it will exact, but ever fixed upon the unselfish spiritual love, which looks not towards man and his comfort or pleasant feelings, but towards God and the immortal souls of both the victim, and the man of Evil himself.

Photo Credit.

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