The New Face of Evil

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Here
in Alabama, the capture of Eric Robert Rudolph is big news. Rudolph
is alleged to have bombed an abortion clinic in Birmingham in 1998,
killing an off-duty police officer and permanently injuring a nurse.
Since that time, he mocked federal officials who spent millions
of dollars scouring the hills of western North Carolina searching
for him. Tired of living on the lam, Rudolph himself chose the time
and place of his capture.

The
news coverage is intense. By contemporary PC standards, Rudolph
has become this year’s Face of Evil, replacing Saddam from last
year, Osama from the year before, and McVeigh from the year before
that.  The story dominates the press. Even the insufferable
Paul Finebaum – a local sports columnist – conducted an interview with
the widow of the slain police officer on his sports talk show, replete
with the obligatory crocodile tears and saccharine. (Listen to the
interview here.)

If
guilty, Rudolph should pay for his actions. (He pleaded not guilty
in initial court hearings earlier this week.) He violated a precept
long enshrined in common law later codified by positive law. This
precept states that one cannot commit evil in order to achieve what
one considers to be the greater good. Abortion is a practice that
should be of concern to all libertarians because it represents another
legal attack on the human person – pre-born babies, in this
case. However, efforts to stop this bloody practice are not legitimate
when they violate others' property rights or when they inflict violence
on third parties.

That
one cannot do evil to achieve good is a principle central to Western
civilization. Its roots go back at least as far as Aristotle and
are a central theme of the Gospels (cf. Matthew 26:51–54).
It underlies much of the Christian just-war theory as explained
by Aquinas, and it buttressed much of the intellectual opposition
to the recent war in Iraq by libertarian thinkers.

It
is also a precept that is routinely violated by the state when it
conducts any activity, including the imposition of taxes, the enforcement
of regulations, or the dropping of bombs. Each activity involves
the infliction of violence on others in order to achieve what the
state considers to be the greater good. The results of Rudolph's
alleged actions are no different from that of the state's, except
that the destruction resulting from the state's actions occurs on
a vastly larger scale. Indeed, the loss of innocent human life in
Iraq makes the "collateral damage" that occurred in Birmingham
pale in comparison. Both actions violate the precept that one cannot
do evil to bring about good. The difference is one of degree, not
one of kind.

It
should be obvious that such results would never be tolerated in
the private sector, where property rights are respected and where
activities based on voluntary exchange create the interdependencies
that form the basis for civilization itself. Why is the state routinely
exempted from the standards demanded of market participants?

Rudolph
is today's Face of Evil not because he violated this precept, because
it is violated regularly. His biggest infraction was violating the
state's monopoly power over its violation. For that he must pay,
if only to be made an example of, because of the bad precedent it
sets.

June
5, 2003

Chris
Westley
[send him mail] teaches
economics at Jacksonville State University, Alabama.

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