On the Denial of Evil

When Moral Relativism Becomes Nihilism

Back in 2007, Argentinian native Máxima Zorreguieta, who married Dutch crown-prince Willem-Alexander in 2002, angered many Dutch people by saying she ‘searched for the Dutch identity’ for several years but had not found it, and that ‘the Dutchman does not exist’.

This display of moral nihilism can be seen as an attempt to push so-called ‘progress’ past moral boundaries and cultural principles, to tease people into questioning the existence of their very identity. Today, 15 years after Máxima’s speech and not coincidentally, Western public debates often revolve around whether women exist.

By Steven Daluz: 

Moral relativism has become part of a wider, more dangerous trend: the general denial of evil. If the Dutch or women don’t exist, the concept of ‘evil’ versus ‘virtue’ may not exist either. This view has both covertly and openly been promoted by governments and corporations for decades, to the point where it has been highly normalized.

There is plenty of evidence that moral nihilism is risky business, especially in historical perspective. Moral nihilism implies that ‘virtue’ and ‘evil’ can never be defined because it always depends on perspectives and circumstances. Those in power tend to promote this worldview because it eliminates scepticism and scrutiny.

Especially in The Netherlands, there exists a socio-cultural predisposition of moral relativism tipping over into apathy and nihilism. Free trade and neutrality have long been well-known Dutch traditions, however, during the German occupation no other country in Europe lost so many Jewish people relative to its population. Much evidence exists that ‘evil’ was not only underestimated but that its very existence was often denied.

Today, after relativism, apathy and nihilism, many people rightfully feel that humans urgently need something to believe in and to stand for. This requires a return of a definition of evil and virtue. Politicians and corporations are using tools like propaganda and censorship to provide this: believe in the new battle for ‘climate’, and/or the new battle for ‘social justice’, and/or the ‘fight against Covid’ and/or the new fight for freedom and democracy through appointed enemies like Russia and Trump. Existential threats and crises are being thrown at the public in a desperate attempt to direct attention away from corrupt politicians and towards the causes they control and from which they profit.

At the end of every detour there is a crossroads. Increasing quality of life through ‘progress’ has become impossible without ‘conservative’ values. Do Western societies keep moving towards even more apathy and nihilism or will they rediscover the practical meaning of ethical values and principles, not those dictated by politicians and princesses but those found within the soul of each individual?

Footnote: Dutch writer Hans Stolp mentions in his book “Judas: the Way to Inner Unity” (2006, in Dutch only) that the denial of the existence of evil (not evil itself) is a dangerous trend in modern societies. I recommend his book to anyone who wants to read about different spiritual philosophies on ethics.