Revolution and Redefining Evil

The danger is perhaps greatest when the orders of authority are themselves immoral, because the subversion of our perception of right and wrong ensues. Indeed, ones conscience then opposes the inclination to stop and encourages ones duty to participate further. Hence, how can one know what is actually right when values experience a role reversal? Therein lies the difficulty. In such a situation, a commitment to basic truths necessitates a rebellion against society and steadfast opposition to immorality. Albert Camus in The Rebel illustrates the complexity of confronting that which oppresses beyond a tolerable limit:

"What is a rebel? A man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation. He is also a man who says yes, from the moment he makes his first gesture of rebellion. A slave who has taken orders all his life suddenly decides that he cannot obey some new command. What does he mean by saying no? (13)."

As Camus relates, the act of rebellion is more than simply refusing. It demands the placement of morality before all else, even to life itself. It is becomes a struggle for the supreme good, an All or Nothing scenario from which awareness is born (Camus 21). Either the rebel identifies completely with good or faces complete destruction and suffering by a domineering force. Hence, the act of rebelling demonstrates a willingness to sacrifice life itself for a common good more important than ones own destiny. Yet, one must ask if it is natural for one to place collective good before the individual, or simply necessary? Further, how can one be convinced that the rights one defends reflect absolute good and embody waterproof ideological constructs?

The perpetrators of the Holocaust demonstrated an ability to redefine evil. This is perhaps the most frightening concept of all (Haas 179). In fact, those who carried out heinous crimes under Nazi rule were not morally deficient, essentially evil and grotesque people, but ethically sensitive and conscious. Their actions displayed acquiescence and an awareness, but because the Nazi ethic presented an entirely new moral standard, they perceived their deeds as anything but evil. Indeed, the Nazi ethic found extensive acceptance due to its gradual, incremental development, and its similarity to the conventional Western system of ethical convictions. The motto of the SS, the Nazi police, further illustrates the power of ethics: Right is that which serves the German People (qtd. in Haas: 142). With this realization, the problem of the Holocaust becomes not only how common people can commit extraordinary evil, but how evil is understood. By what mechanisms is evil redefined so people in good conscience can commit Holocausts (Haas 179)?

The Holocaust is embodied not by utter, absolute evil, but by an ethic and the ability to alter society by providing new definitions to and conceptions of good and evil. Indeed, isolating the Holocaust strips it of its lessons. Therefore, it we care about humanity, we must deromanticize and confront evil, realizing our potential within. Similarly, there are those who regard the murder of the Jews of Europe as a shoah, or natural catastrophe. Yet, Amos Oz illustrates that the Holocaust was never an outbreak of forces beyond human control. An earthquake, a flood, a typhoon, an epidemic is a shoah. The murder of the European Jews was by no means a shoah (81). Hence, confronting evil necessitates an understanding of the power of words. Words can both reduce the individual to a mere fragment of a symbol, or permit the ignorant a glimpse of blazing light.

The Holocaust also marked the failure of the law to stand above individual choices and institutional ethics. While humanity ideally casts law as guardian to moral standards of right and wrong, the Nazi experience and the resulting Holocaust illustrate how law is at best merely a slave to society (Haas 203). The laws of a country do not guarantee against crimes against humanity. Logically, one must question the role of international law and its guarantee against evil. In fact, international law can also deviate from its noble origins. It is dissapointing to realize the force behind the Holocaust and all evil, the capacity to redefine morality, ultimately proves far beyond the reach of legality. It lies within.

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