A “Necessary Evil” is Still Evil

Taxes, many Americans believe, are a “necessary evil.” They are the price we must pay to have a civilized society. As an example, one commentator, Bishop Michael Goings, states:

I would like to make a bold and perhaps un-American declaration. I hate paying taxes! Now I know that I have just expressed the conviction of arguably the vast majority of every red-blooded American about this constitutional responsibility; this dreaded thing that we all must do to some degree in various segments of our culture. Paying taxes is, in my estimation, a necessary evil and just as much of the rich history and heritage of America as baseball, apple pie, hot dog or Chevrolet.

The writer goes on to say, “A ‘necessary evil’ can be defined as an act perpetrating an act or practice that causes harm or great injury to oneself or others to preserve life or promote the greater good.”

To declare something a “necessary evil” is to say that we must accept–and even embrace–evil. Calling it necessary doesn’t change the fact that it is evil. According to Goings, engaging in evil is the only way to “preserve life or promote the greater good.” Perpetrating evil is neither civilized nor necessary.

Goings later states that both self-defense and war are also “necessary evils.” In other words, killing an intruder in one’s home is the moral equivalent of the intruder’s threat to one’s life. America’s actions in World War II were morally no better than the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. Goings makes no distinction between self-defense and homicide. Certain actions, he believes, are intrinsically evil, regardless of context.

The Oxford dictionary defines evil as “profoundly immoral and wicked.”As moral guidance, Goings tells us that we must engage in an immoral action. This is the dead end of any attempt to construct a moral code while rejecting reason.

Those who advocate an ethics of duty believe that certain actions are necessary. When those actions prove to be harmful, they refuse to question their moral premises. Instead, they declare those actions to be a “necessary evil.” It is only “necessary” because they reject reason as the means to identify a proper moral code. And that is their greatest evil.

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