An argument for looking at evil as a social action.
[Editor’s Note and footnote 1] This essay was written before the atrocities committed in Kosovo and the subsequent NATO war against Yugoslavia. As such, I have not dealt with that case at length, although the general model articulated here could be applied to interpret that case. This paper has benefited from remarks by John Kekes, John Rodden, and William Cain.]
There is an apocalyptic quality to much writing on Bosnia, a certain awestruck “homage to the extreme” as Michael Bernstein calls it, which presumes that the answers to the question “why did this evil happen?” lie outside the ken of normal human knowledge.22xMichael Bernstein, “Homage to the Extreme: The Shoah and the Rhetoric of Catastrophe,” The Times Literary Supplement (6 March 1996): 6. Rather than assume that events in Bosnia reveal some greater metaphysical truth about evil or about some presumed stage of regression or apocalypse in Western culture, I suggest that there might be a way to offer at least some answer to the question of why those events occurred and that such an answer lies in the analysis of the discrete actions and interactions of specific agents within the contours of the social time and space in which such agents exist. In this essay, I would like to render the rhetorical question “why did it happen?” into a sociological one: “what brought individual agents to do such things and how were their acts facilitated by their social and cultural environments?” The answer to this question requires a sociology of evil that does not really exist, or if it does, only exists inchoately in a few explicitly sociological works that attempt to present the logic of evil and cruelty. My central purpose here is to work toward the provision of such a theory. There are, to be sure, prob- lems that immediately arise in such a task.