One often hears that money is the root of all evil. But this cannot be true, since money is an abstract form of wealth, wealth is a good thing, and the root of all evil cannot be something good. Perhaps it is the love of money that is supposed to be the root of all evil. But this too is false. Given that money is a good thing, a certain love or desire for its acquisition and preservation is right and proper. To fail to value money would be as foolish as to fail to value physical health. Well then, is it the inordinate love of money that is the root of all evil? Not even this is true. For there are evils whose root is not the inordinate love of money. The most we can truly say is that the inordinate love of money is the root of some evils.
Consider the crimes of Stalin. Were they motivated by the inordinate love of money? It would be truer to say that they were motivated by the inordinate love of power. Power is a good thing, and its pursuit and preservation are morally acceptable. But power that knows no check or restraint leads quickly to great evils. (For a litany of just some of Stalin’s crimes, see Robert Conquest’s book about the forced collectivization of the Ukraine, The Harvest of Sorrow, Oxford, 1986.)
This raises the question: Is there one root of all evil? But to be precise, my question is this: Is there one root of all evil such that this root is (i) empirically identifiable, and (ii) eliminable by human effort alone? Can we humans locate and remove the one source of all evil? My suggestion is that this is an extremely dubious, and indeed dangerous, idea. ‘Root’ in Latin is radix, whence ‘eradicate,’ to uproot, and ‘radical.’ A radical is one who goes to the root of the matter. But most of our dear radicals make the mistake of thinking that there is one empirically identifiable root of all evils, one root the eradication of which will solve all our problems. Thinking that there is such a root, they are liable to ignore the real root, the one that cannot be empirically identified, and cannot be eradicated, the one that is operative in them. Here are my theses du jour:
1. There is no one root of all evil that is empirically identifiable or isolable in experience. Thus one cannot locate the root of evil in the Jews, or in the bourgeoisie, or in capitalism, or in ‘globalization,’ or in the infidel, or in the ‘Zionist entity.’ I’ll even concede that it cannot be located in liberals, socialists, or Michael Moore.
2. The attempt to eradicate evil by eliminating some empirically identifiable entity must fail given the truth of (1), and must lead to greater evil since genocide, forced collectivization, jihad, suicide bombing of innocents, etc. violate moral laws. Nazis, Commies and Islamists become ever more evil in their attempt to locate and eradicate evil.
3. There is a root of all moral evil, namely, the human misuse of free will. Not free will itself, of course; the misuse thereof. We misuse our free will when we fail to subordinate its use to transcendent standards.
4. Free will, grounded as it is in our spiritual being, is not empirically identifiable: it cannot show up as an object among objects. This is why materialists deny it. And this is why (3) does not contradict (1).
5. Free will is not subject to our freedom. I am not free to become unfree. I cannot freely decide to become a deterministic system, though there are times when I would definitely like to! I am ‘condemned to be free’ to use a Sartrean phrase. Being part of our nature, free will cannot be eradicated without eradicating us. Thus the root of all moral evil – the human misuse of free will – cannot be uprooted. Not even God can uproot it. For if God eliminated the human misuse of free will, He would thereby eliminate human free will itself, and us with it.
6. The upshot is that we must learn to live with evil and not try to eliminate it. Of course, we must do what we can to limit the spread of evil in the world. We do well to start with ourselves by opposing our own evil thoughts and desires, words and actions. After we have made some headway with this, we can then worry about others and ‘society.’ What we cannot do, and must not try to do, is to locate evil outside ourselves so as to eradicate it. Homo homini lupus is never so true as when man tries to redeem himself. There is either no redeemer or the redeemer is divine. Nietzsche’s “Will is the great redeemer” is nonsense. But that’s a topic for another occasion.
7. Tendentious coda: A conservative is one who understands the foregoing points; a leftist is one who does not.