A response to a letter (scroll up at preceding link for letter) in the London Review of Books–ya wha’?
Glen Newey writes: Of course one can say that the enormity of acts like those of the Khmers or Saddam overwhelms any attempt to make sense of them. In line with that claim, talk about the mindset of evildoers, as I suggested, seems to require double vision about whether or not they belong to the moral community. If so, it is forlorn to try to pin down a specific psychology of evil, such as the nihilistic one that Terry Eagleton highlights in On Evil [Mr Newey's review of the book, first listing at this link, is the basis of this, er, discussion]. Some, like sadists, want to seize value rather than annihilate it. Appropriators and annihilators share the psychic basis of envy, the sense that the self is threatened because value lies outside it, and must therefore be introjected or destroyed. But if attitudes to evil are double-minded, and so literally incoherent, talk about its ‘psychology’ can only be taken metaphorically. My suggestion that it be seen as intolerance of kitsch was meant not as a joke but as a metaphorical account of it. Kitsch objects shut out viewers from value, reducing them to voyeurs. That provokes the urge to reassert the self by reappropriating or destroying value. Sadists, again, try to solve the problem of envy by depriving the other of value, and reclaim value for themselves in so doing. However, if evil-doing is nobody’s state of mind, such descriptions cannot be literally true. Doubtless that is frustrating for moralists, but the philosophical problem goes as far back as Plato.