Mises Wire

The Existence of Evil

In these last days science has retrograded and been driven back. It has been bent and twisted under the obligation imposed upon it, if I may so speak, of denying the existence of Evil under pain of being convicted of denying the existence of God.

Writers whose business it is to display exquisite sensibility, unbounded philanthropy, and unrivaled devotion to religion, have got into the way of saying, “Evil cannot enter into the providential plan. Suffering is no ordinance of God and nature, but comes from human institutions.”

As this doctrine falls in with the passions that they desire to cherish, it soon becomes popular. Books and journals have been filled with declamations against society. Science is no longer permitted to study facts impartially. Whoever dares to warn men that a certain vice, a certain habit, leads necessarily to certain hurtful consequences is marked down as a man devoid of human feelings, without religion, an Atheist, a Malthusian, an Economist.
Socialism has carried its folly so far as to announce the termination of all social suffering, but not of all individual suffering. It has not ventured to predict that a day will come when man willno longer suffer, grow old, and die.
Now, I would ask, is it easier to reconcile with the infinite goodness of God, evil that assails individually every man who comes into the world, than evil that is extended over society at large? And then is it not a contradiction so transparent as to be puerile to deny the existence of suffering in the masses, when we admit its existence in individuals?

Man suffers, and will always suffer. Society, then, also suffers, and will always suffer. Those who address mankind should have the courage to tell it this. Humanity is not a fine lady, with delicate nerves, and an irritable temperament, from whom we must conceal the coming storm, more especially when to foresee it is the only way to ensure our getting out of it safely. In this respect, all the books with which France has been inundated, from Sismondi and Buret downward, appear to me to be wanting in virility. Their authors dare not tell the truth; nay, they dare not investigate it, for fear of discovering that absolute poverty is the necessary starting point of the human race, and that, consequently, so far are we from being in a position to attribute that poverty to the social order, it is to the social order that we must attribute all the triumphs we have already achieved over our original destitution. But, then, after such an avowal, they could no longer constitute themselves tribunes of the people, and the avengers of the masses oppressed by civilization.

After all, science merely establishes, combines, and deduces facts; she does not create them; she does not produce them, nor is she responsible for them. Is it not strange that men should have gone to the length of announcing and disseminating the paradox that if mankind suffers, its sufferings are due to Political Economy? Thus, after being blamed for investigating the sufferings of society, Political Economy is accused of engendering those sufferings by that same investigation.

I assert that science can do nothing more than observe and establish facts. Prove to us that humanity, instead of being progressive, is retrograde; and that inevitable and insurmountable laws urge mankind on to irremediable deterioration. Show us that the law of Malthus and that of Ricardo are true in their worst and most pernicious sense, and that it is impossible to deny the tyranny of capital, or the incompatibility between machinery and labor, or any of the other contradictory alternatives in which Chateaubriand and Tocqueville have placed the human race; then I maintain that science ought to proclaim this, and proclaim it aloud. 
Why should we shut our eyes to a gulf that is gaping before us? Do we require the naturalist or the physiologist to reason upon individual man on the assumption that his organs are exempt from pain or not liable to destruction? Pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris; such is the declaration of anatomical science backed by universal experience. No doubt this is a hard truth for us to receive—not less hard than the contested propositions of Malthus and Ricardo. But are we for this reason to spare the delicate sensibility that has sprung up all at once among our modern publicists, and has given existence to Socialism? Is medical science for the same reason, to affirm audaciously that we are constantly renewing our youth and are immortal? Or if medical science refuse to stoop to such juggling, are we to foam at the mouth and cry out, as has been done in the case of the social sciences— “Medical science admits the existence of pain and death; it is misanthropical; it is cruel; it accuses God of being malevolent or powerless; it is impious; it is atheistical; nay, more, it creates the evil the existence of which it refuses to deny”?

I have never doubted that the Socialist schools have led away many generous hearts and earnest minds, and I have no wish to humiliate anyone. But the general character of Socialism is very whimsical, and I cannot help asking myself how long such a tissue of puerilities can continue in vogue.

In Socialism all is affectation.

It affects scientific forms and scientific language, and we have seen what sort of science it teaches.

In its writings it affects a delicacy of nerve so feminine as to be unable to listen to a tale of social sufferings; and while it has introduced into literature this insipid and mawkish sensibility, it has established in the arts a taste for the trivial and the horrible; in ordinary life, a sort of scarecrow fashion in dress, appearance, and deportment—the long beard, the grim and sullen countenance, the vulgar airs of a village Titan or Prometheus. In politics (where such puerilities are less innocent), Socialism has introduced the doctrine of energetic means of transition, the violence of revolutionary practices, life and material interests sacrificed en masse to what is ideal and chimerical. But what Socialism affects, above all, is a certain show and appearance of religion! This is only one of the Socialist tactics, it is true—such tactics are always disgraceful to a school when they lead to hypocrisy.
These Socialists are perpetually talking to us of Christ; but I would ask them, how it is that while they acknowledge that Christ, the innocent par excellence, prayed in His agony that “the cup might pass from Him,” adding, “Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done,” they should think it strange that mankind at large should be called upon to exercise resignation also.

No doubt, had God willed it, He might have so arranged His almighty plans that just as the individual advances toward inevitable death, the human race might have advanced toward inevitable destruction. In that case, we should have had no choice but to submit, and science, whether she liked it or not, would have to have admitted the somber social denouement, just as she now admits the melancholy individual denouement. 

But happily it is not so.

There is redemption for man, and for humanity.

The one is endowed with an immortal soul; the other with indefinite perfectibility.

Excerpted from The Bastiat Collection
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