The Myth of Evil

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Just came across a book that looks interesting: The Myth of Evil, by Philip Cole…. Reviewing The Myth of Evil, Niall Scott writes:

The Myth of Evil does not just concern the words in the title, but is a sophisticated treatment of evil in general, focussing strongly upon both the coherence of the concept and the attribution of the description ‘evil’ to phenomena and human behaviour. Cole’s aim throughout the book is to show that evil is a myth, that as a concept it is neither philosophical nor psychological, nor religious, which is quite a challenge. Although he argues that we would be better off without the concept of evil altogether, flying his flag in this way from the outset does not diminish how serious he takes the discourse of evil to be. This is evident in his willingness to recognise how the term and associated adjectives are used. In his introductory chapters, he provides a truly illuminating history of the devil, and challenges what is meant in descriptions of human behaviours as diabolical or demonic.
Although predominantly a politico/philosophical enquiry, the book offers much more than this. It is an argument drawing upon literature, history, and popular visual culture, and as a result it speaks to a range of disciplines. Cole addresses contemporary questions that have arisen around the multi-faceted concept of evil, such as fear and horror. This is also a political work that does not just provide a treatment of evil as a myth. It engages directly and importantly with the now frequently encountered political discourses regarding the holocaust, terrorism, Iraq, and the Bush and Blair administrations’ participation in disseminating discourses of fear and (in)security. These use the terminology of evil, the demonic, and the monstrous in contemporary conflicts, and the frequent occurrence of ‘evil’ functions as an explanatory device in the justification of appalling human behaviour. Cole provides four possible ways of conceptualising theories of evil. They are: (1) a monstrous conception, (2) a pure conception, (3) an impure conception, and (4) a psychological conception.” (Scott, p.97)

Apparently, Cole’s “concluding chapter presents a challenge to the reader where it addresses the contemporary state of world politics in the context of discourses of evil, with a detailed analysis of terror, terrorism, and violence. Cole spends time laying out the Iraqi problem, drawing parallels between the language of terror and fear and the phenomenon of witch trials and the eastern European vampire myths dealt with earlier in the book. Cole’s strategy is again seductive. At times, he tempts the reader into agreeing with the description of, for example, the western regimes and the terrorist as monstrous and demonic. However, it is clear that if one has paid any attention to his preceding argument, such very understandable, but simplistic assessments of terrible and horrific human actions require a more responsible treatment. So he refers to the sheer monstrous arbitrariness of terrorist victims in recent terrorist activities, and rhetorically asks that ‘Surely this arbitrariness fits the model of Monstrous evil?’ (234). But it is this very description that he challenges. We can move beyond evil in our understanding of such events and come to a position that even the arbitrariness is not without significance, and this reminds us that literary monsters have a history of grievance and need not be characterised in terms of a model of monstrous evil.” (p.100)

Ref: Niall Scott (2009) Has Evil Run its Course? Phillip Cole, The Myth of Evil, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2006, 256 pp. [Review] Res Publica (2009) 15:97–101 DOI 10.1007/s11158-008-9062-2

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