When Politicians Cooperate with Evil

U.S. Appeals Court Judge William Pryor (11th Circuit), a devout Catholic, wrote an interesting, short reflection last week about a judge’s duty to avoid “material cooperation” with evil. I apologize in advance for applying his explanation to a subject he was not addressing, but I do so because the subject is not just timely but perhaps urgent.

Judge Pryor’s insights should, I argue, be considered by those in positions of public trust who consider endorsing someone who is running to be our president and thus leader of the free world.

“Material cooperation occurs when the cooperator assists the actor by performing an act that is not necessarily evil,” wrote Pryor. Later: “The Catechism explains that ‘[a]nyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged.’ The Catechism also states that ‘[s]candal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion.’ For judges and lawyers [and – this is Quin speaking – for public officials, too] there is a special danger of scandal, because ‘[s]candal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others.’”

In that light, an endorsement, which in itself is not an evil, becomes unacceptable “material cooperation” if it is used to teach, educate, or encourage others to do that which is not just arguably mistaken but borders on intrinsic evil.

Let’s avoid names here (although the references will be obvious), because the point is not the politics of this but the underlying, theological considerations.

It at least borders on intrinsic evil for a man to incite crowds, repeatedly, to violence – to repeatedly suggest that the crowd punch or “knock the cr**” out of,” and send out “on stretchers,” protesters; and to pledge, as a speaker, to provide financial means to pay the legal costs of those who might throw the punches. It borders on intrinsic evil, once punches have been thrown even against those who have not thrown punches themselves, to say that such behavior is “what we need a little bit more of.”

It likewise at least borders on intrinsic evil to liken an opponent to a child molester, to lie repeatedly and extravagantly in public forums, to refuse to back down from an old statement that the Chinese government “almost blew it” by not immediately responding forcefully enough to students in Tiananmen Square who were asking for more freedom (before being crushed by Chinese tanks).

It likewise borders on intrinsic evil to repeatedly – repeatedly — send out to tens of thousands of followers (via “retweets”) messages sent by open, self-identified white supremacists, and then to repeatedly refuse (before finally, seemingly grudgingly, to agree) to renounce support from the Ku Klux Klan.

And it is indisputably an intrinsic evil to pledge to deliberately target and kill wives and children of terrorists – not just to accept as “collateral damage,” but to specifically target them – in order to teach terrorists a lesson.

If somebody does not just one of those things, but all of them, then it is more likely than not that the most objective and learned of moral philosophers would pronounce it an intrinsic evil for such a man to be leader of the free world.

And for a public official or a prominent political and moral leader to endorse such a man for the presidency almost surely would amount to a material cooperation with evil.