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Scholar Addresses Issue of ‘Radical Evil’ in Post-Secular World


Radical evil of the variety that leads to genocide and other atrocities was the issue of the day on Tuesday, Oct. 9, when philosopher Martin Beck Matuštík (GSAS ’91), Ph.D., delivered the annual Gannon Lecture at Duane Library on the Rose Hill campus.

The Czech-born Matuštík, who is a professor of philosophy at Purdue University, outlined his notion of radical evil during an hourlong presentation in which he argued that what he called a “post-secular” world has left many inured to such depravity and cruelty.

Martin Beck Matuštík Photo by Ken Levinson

“We have lost the language to speak about the types of cruelty and wanton violence that  occurred in the 20th century, as well as in our own century,” Matuštík said. “And so the question is: Should we give up the notion of evil all together? What are we supposed to do in Kosovo, in Sarajevo, in Guatemala, in future Darfurs and in those villages where humans have raped women and killed their neighbors and the U.N. or the European Union tells the victims to move back to those villages and live with each other? We do not have the political means to legislate forgiveness. We do not have the language and political means to bring about answers to such questions.”

Matuštík also argued that in order to fully grasp radical evil, it must be understood as a religious phenomenon in that those who perpetrate such cruelty are imbued with a kind of inverse religiosity: instead of hope, despair, instead of love, hatred.  “Radical evil of this sort is oriented toward something more than physical destruction, it is orientation toward the destruction of the spirit,” he said.

A widely regarded scholar, Matuštík received his doctorate from Fordham University and is author ofDiscontents of Our Times: Essays About Radical Evil and Other Anxieties of Today (Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, 2006), Jürgen Habermas: A Philosophical-Political Profile (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2001) and Specters of Liberation: Great Refusals in the New World Order (SUNY Press, 1998). His address, “The Scarcity of Hope: Post-Secular Meditations on Radical Evil,” is based on a book he will publish in 2008 on the subject, Radical Evil and the Scarcity of Hope: Postsecular Meditations.

The Gannon Lecture, which began in the fall of 1980, brings distinguished individuals to Fordham, to deliver public lectures on topics of their expertise. Fordham alumni endowed the series in honor of Robert I. Gannon, S.J., president of Fordham from 1936-1949.


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