A Discussion of Simona Forti’s “New Demons: Rethinking Power and Evil Today”
How do we conduct scholarly inquiry on events that lie so far beyond the ordinary that we lack the language with which to discuss them adequately? This issue confronts scholars analyzing events such as the Holocaust or wars in which the human suffering and barbarism lie so far outside the realm of everyday morality that the very concept of moral choices seems to exist on a different plane, one long relinquished by civilized human beings. Such is the task addressed by Simona Forti in New Demons: Rethinking Power and Evil Today. In responding to this challenge, Forti tackles an even greater challenge, however: attempting to explain evil as it relates to power today and illuminate it within the context of post-modern continental philosophy.
Forti’s post-modern perspective is one in which absolute values and general laws of social science give way to a historicist perspective. This intellectual framework exposes Forti to immediate problems. What guideposts can we use to direct ethical behavior in a world in which judgment no longer makes sense? Forti’s concern is human suffering and her goal in New Demonsis “to examine the relationship between evil and power, focusing on the political repercussions of … different philosophical presuppositions” (p 3). Forti’s consideration of evil in modern political theory begins with Kant and moves quickly through Schelling and Heidegger to Nietzsche. Forti briefly visits Levinas, Freud and Lacan before settling on what she refers to as the Dostoevsky paradigm (Chapter 1). This paradigm posits a dualistic vision of helpless victims at the mercy of an omnipotent power, often the State. Forti finds this dualistic Dostoevskyian paradigm useful in revealing insights on evil not found in the Kantian approach. Indeed, Forti criticizes the Kantians for producing a paradigm insufficient for understanding evil today, when the structures of power have been transformed, leaving us instead to deal with evil that results from the passive attitude toward rule-following, a desire for obedience and the search for normalcy…
Perspectives on Politics / Volume 14 / Issue 02 / June 2016, pp 515-517 / Copyright © American Political Science Association 2016