In December last year, I started GW,
that abbreviates Golden Words in English (some - not many - are Dutch).
Since I am physically not well and had promised someone two fine
Hazlitt, here they are, the second in this Nederlog, the other one in
the previous one.
But this is not wickedness, but despondency and
want of strength of mind. I only attribute wickedness to those who
carry their wills in their hands, and who wantonly and deliberately
suffer them to tyrannise over conscience, reason and humanity, and
who even draw an additional triumph from this degrading conquest.
The wars, persecutions, and bloodshed occasioned by religion, have
generally turned on the most trifling differences in forms and
ceremonies; which shews that it was not the vital interests of the
questions that were at stake, but that these were made a handle and
a pretext to exercise cruelty and tyranny on the score of the most
trivial and doubtful points of faith. There seems to be a love of
absurdity and falsehood as well as mischief in the human mind, and
the most ridiculous as well as the most barbarous superstitions have
on this account been the most acceptable to it. A lie is welcome to
it, for it is, as it were, its own offspring; and it likes to
believe, as well as act, whatever it pleases, and in the pure spirit
of contradiction. The old idolatry took vast hold of the earliest
ages; for to believe that a piece of painted stone or wood was a God
(in the teeth of the fact) was a fine exercise of the imagination;
and modern fanaticism thrives in proportion to the quantity of
contradictions and nonsense it pours down the throats of the gaping
multitude, and the jargon of mysticism it offers to their wonder and
credulity. Credo quia impossibile est, is the standing motto
of bigotry and superstition; that is, I believe, because to do so is
a favourite act of the will, and to do so in defiance of common
sense and reason enhances the pleasure the pleasure and merit
(ten-fold) of this indulgence of blind faith and headstrong
-- William Hazlitt: The
Plain Speaker: (*)
On Depth and superficiality, p.
A lot of what is called wickedness - badness,
evil, what one
strongly disapproves of, immorality, sin - is not due to the intent to
be wicked, but to personal
intelligence, or lack of
What is properly called wickedness is malicious intent,
aforethought, and it consists in the wanton destruction of life,
happiness, chances, health or property of others.
It is a myth most men mean well most of the time, for if
the myth were true, human
history would not
present its tenthousands of wars, a point that is doubly made by the many
wars of religions, between followers of one infinitely good, powerful and
loving God and the
followers of another God, possibly and often just like the first one,
except for some differences of theological detail or stress.
It is also a myth most men desire to think rationally
most of the time, even if to do so would be much in their own and others'
interests: Much rather than reason rationally and behave reasonably, they
wishful thinking, by
fallacy, and by
they act by
malevolence to whoever seems not of their kind, interests, creed,
colour, or club.
What most men desire to believe and hold moral to believe
is the cant,
currently fashionable ideas and values of their time and
most men desire others to do is to
their norms of what is
good and true,
or else be conformed to it or punished by it for being immoral.
And that is why
"History is little else but the
register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind"
"Stupidity and greed are the roots of evil"
"Malice is pleasure derived from another's evil which brings no
advantage to oneself.
"[W]e commonly pervert our
adversary’s conduct, by imputing malice or injustice to him, in order
to give vent to those passions, which arise from self-love and private
"We never hurt each other but by
error or by malice."
Robert Chambers, possibly inspired by Dr. Johnson)
There is no evil
and no malice
that cannot be represented as well-intended, noble, for the best of
reasons, or the interest of mankind, or our own nation,
church, club or race, and many of the noblest ideals of mankind have
been perverted and abused as tools to harm others for one's own
benefit, real or imaginary.
Most of the evil that men do is done out of
and cowardice, and is done with pride, indifference, or out of
cruelty, always for the best of purported reasons and for the highest
of human ideals, but in fact for private gain or malice, or for the
benefit of one's own
church or club.