1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Is a lawful evil society realistic?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Sharad9, Apr 14, 2017.

  1. Sharad9

    Sharad9 Scribe

    I don't mean people like the nazis, but empires who worship evil for the sake of being evil. An ordered society with laws, ideals, and goals, but that holds evil as a virtue. That holds villainy and it's spread as a sacred tradition. Does anyone have examples of this?
    pmmg and Russ like this.
  2. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

    Um. Like the Nazis... A very orderly society, laws, ideals & goals. Yet (at least the Party folks) held evil as a virtue. They may not have come out and said "yeah, we hold evil as a virtue", but actions speak louder than words anyway!

    North Korea's Juche philosophy might also qualify --- but, who knows how that system might actually work if the guy at the top were not a seventy-seventh degree nut-job!

    I don't see any reason why such a thing could not come into being. You'd need a culture underlying the empire as its foundation; you'd need education to reinforce the evil ideals. Turning a "good" empire into a an "evil" one doesn't happen overnight and may not even be entirely possible. Even the Nazis didn't have a 100% evil empire! But given time, who knows!
  3. Vaporo

    Vaporo Inkling

    One definition of evil I've heard is "doing whatever you want with no regard for anyone else." Maybe it could work if there was some kind of powerful demon overlord keeping everything in line, but otherwise I don't know how a society like this could function. Otherwise, I could never see it progressing into anything more than a loose collection of ever-warring tribes bound only by the fear that their various leaders will kill them if they disobey. Is a mass murderer a respected individual in such a society? Is not stealing and murdering frowned upon? The closest thing I can think of is Tolkien's Orcs and their various permutations in other works.
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I have to say no. It is a commonplace that the villain never thinks he is evil. This would be even more true of an entire society. Would the children think they were evil? Would doing wrong against a fellow citizen be therefore good? It just doesn't make any sense.
  5. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

    I think that readers would accept it, but is it realistic? It's a no from me too for much the same reasons Skip.knox said.

    I can only see it working if they define themselves by rebellion against someone else. If country A views themselves as good, then people B, viewing them as a bunch of hypocritical holier-than-thou types might decide to embrace evil to rebel against them and split off.
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  6. Sharad9

    Sharad9 Scribe

    When I said evil, I don't mean societies that do things we consider evil. The nazis were not committing evil in their eyes, they saw their actions as justified.
    I'm talking about an empire that considers spreading evil as a goal in itself. Like D&D lawful evil types.
  7. Russ

    Russ Istar

    This is a complex and interesting question. Thanks for getting me thinking about it.

    I would immediately agree with the above posters that virtually nobody thinks they are doing evil, unless they are very disturbed and I don't think you could build a society based on enough really deviant people that works well.

    On another level though, you might have something to work with. Different cultures value different things, so while the poor monks who were getting ransacked by the Vikings may have thought that the Vikings were evil, the Vikings didn't think they were evil.

    You can kind of play with the readers concept of evil. Your readers might think what your fictional society is evil but the members of that society might not.

    In fact, one could argue that from many perspectives capitalist western society is lawful evil with its emphasis on "greed" as a virtue.

    I think your question would be easier to deal with if it had more meat on the bones, but you might have something you can work with there.
  8. Lisselle

    Lisselle Minstrel

    I think evil can be defined as a situation where the majority of people are aware of the inherent wrongness of a situation/ lifestyle/ socially acceptable occurrence, yet are apathetic to it, or adhere to it through fear. (for example: Good people accepting slavery, or Nazi-ism and racism.)

    People can be raised to accept anything as a norm. And what is good for one culture can be looked upon as abhorrent by another.

    In writing, the idea of 'good society vs evil society' can be fun to approach, and to make it believable is a terrific challenge.

    "Lawful Evil and Society

    A lawful evil being...

    Respects the authority figures in his family and obeys their mandates.

    Values lifelong commitment to a romantic partner.

    Obeys all personal contracts.

    Respects the laws and authority figures of the community and nation.

    Considers public service in a leadership role an honor.

    Supports the legal procedures of the nation, without regard to their own discomfort.

    Seeks secure employment, believing hard work will pay off in the end.

    Will betray law-breaking family members for personal gain. Will not betray family if loyal.

    Will betray law-breaking friends if profitable. Will not betray loyal friends.

    Will seek to undermine his community and nation, if profitable and legal.

    Is not trusted by the community and may have enemies.

    Will kill others to get ahead.

    Uses any legal means necessary to evade justice.

    Will use wealth to destroy others.

    A community with a lawful evil government usually has a codified set of laws, which most people obey out of fear of harsh punishment. The government is marked by its severe laws, involving harsh punishments regardless of guilt or innocence. Laws are not intended to preserve justice so much as to maintain the status quo. Social class is crucial. Bribery and corruption are often ways of life. Adventurers, since they are outsiders who may be foreign agents, are viewed with great suspicion. Lawful evil kingdoms often find themselves quashing rebellions of oppressed peasants clamoring for humane treatment."
    - easydamus.com/lawfulevil
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2017
  9. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

    I do sometimes wonder if evil people are aware that they are evil. Was Saddam Hussien aware, or Kim Jong Un? I think some of them are aware, maybe not these in particular, but some people must know. Heck, I think we live in a culture today that glorifies evil. How many times have you heard people say what do you think of my villain? But do they ask about their heroes?

    Everyone has good and bad qualities, so it could be some just think they are doing the good stuff very well, and the evil stuff if just a necessary evil. Even Hitler made the trains run on time.

    In the real world, I am not sure that terms like Lawful Evil really apply. People are not exactly stuck in those types of quadrants. Though I do think they may be in something similar. I kind of think of people like thermostats, which means they have a setting of a type and they may drift from set point, even quite a bit at times, but they tend to drift back. Though, I suspect there are a lot more sliding scales involved than just law/chaos and Good/Evil.

    Could such a society exist? Sure. I suspect we have had a few in my lifetime, and more than a few over the course of history. I am pretty sure Stalin was on the evil side, and it seems there is some universal agreement on Hitler (though, being Christian, I do reserve such final judgments for God to sort out.)

    But we are writing fantasy. Fantasy is kind of unique in that it can take on the great extremes and use them to illustrate things the real world does not so cleanly offer. Are all Orcs evil? or do they love their children too? Did Sauron care? Wasn't Orwells 1986 society evil?

    Can I not have a society of Devils, and imagine how they might organize themselves? Was not the Empire in Star Wars lawful evil?

    The beauty of being a fantasy author is I do get to take the extremes. I get to have Dark Lords and farm boy heroes, Paladins, and Anti-Paladins, Assassins and pure of heart champions, and Devils and Angels and call them real and write all the fun stuff I can imagine with them.

    So, yes, by all means. Write a lawful evil society.

    Harder, though, for me to imagine would a chaotic evil society. Could imagine a Chaotic Evil shop keeper? 'So, you want to return that wand of fire do you? Well, here let me show you that it is not defective…"

    One thing I might ask though, is what is the fate of all evil creatures? It is to die alone. Cause an evil dark lord cannot trust his minions, his minions are all wanting to be the evil dark lord, and will cut his throat and take his place if they could. So there is no love for such a creature, only fear and paranoia. Such a reality makes for a lot of ruthlessness and cruelty. I think one who rules with evil, would have to make that evil known quite often.
  10. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

    One other thing I feel I ought to add, is evil has attraction. There is a lot to be gained by being evil. Chicks dig it, and wealth and notoriety seem to follow. Nice guys finish last, and bad boys get a lot of attention. So, its not hard to imagine evil types getting ahead and having success in a public setting. I am sure you have heard people say they would rather be with sinners than the saints, so yeah, I am sure evil societies can rise, and do so with the awareness of a larger society. Just, once in place, it wont seem so cool.
  11. La Volpe

    La Volpe Sage

    The biggest problem is that evil is completely subjective. A few people have mentioned Hitler as being a kind of universal evil, but even that's not the case. At this moment in time, I think it's safe to say that most people think Hitler was evil. But who knows, in a couple of thousand years, he might be a symbol of good.

    But I guess we can assume evil in this case to be activities/attitudes which are considered intensely immoral when judged by today's moral standards.

    As for an lawful evil society, the thing that comes into my mind is a place where there are tight rules and generally well-structured systems in place, but where morals (compared to the rest of the world or the reader's world) are thrown out the window on a national scale.

    So you might see stuff like the Purge (from the movie of the same name) where people are given certain off days where they're allowed to murder each other. I'd also expect to see torture and killing of family members as punishments for breaking the rules. Maybe the nation would come together at certain times in the year and set out to murder children and baby seals in the neighbouring country.

    But as the others have mentioned, there would have to be some kind of group loyalty (whether done by patriotism or force) to make this a society. Otherwise it'd just be a bunch of individuals. So they'd maybe all agree that torture is an okay punishment for your kid breaking a vase. Or that if a guy steals your wallet, you're allowed to kill him and/or his family. But you can't just murder someone because you feel like it. If you do, you're setting yourself up to be publicly tortured and/or killed in the town square or something.

    Maybe you can go even further and just say that everything is legal, per se, but any retribution for your actions is legal as well. So it's a kind of an anarchy, except that there's something providing incentives to work together. E.g. an oppressive neighbouring nation which would assimilate these people and force them to abide by their so-called 'rules' of 'peace and happiness'. Etc. etc.
  12. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    My instinctive reaction to the question, Is a lawful evil society realistic?, is that it's a nonsensical question.

    Evil doesn't exist, so no depiction of it can be "realistic."

    But the idea of evil exists, the belief that evil exists...exists, and if you ever scanned all of my comments here and everywhere or listened to me drone on enough in various situations, you'd hear me talking about evil or labeling various people and actions as "evil." I might have a deep distrust of the notion of real evil, but at times I encounter examples of what might as well be called evil.

    My next reaction to the question is an irritation that arises because of the implied homogeneity: "society" and the individuals living in it are not the same thing. In a rich society, is everyone rich? In a homophobic society, is everyone in it homophobic? In a lawful society, does everyone follow the law? In an "evil society," is everyone evil? Instinctively, I say no.

    But we are talking about speculative fiction, and so questions like these can become incredibly distracting. The concept of evil is somewhat understood by most people–and within the fantasy genre, it's a staple! I knows it when I sees it.

    You can make it "realistic" enough without worrying over whether it conforms to our experienced lives or to the fabric of own reality. (Incidentally, we'd do well to consider whether the fabric of our own reality is something any one of us understands...)

    So another instinctive reaction I have is to consider Hell. Do you believe in a real Hell? Many do, and many who do not nonetheless have a firm impression of what is meant by "Hell." Isn't that Hell a good example of a "lawful, evil society?"

    I do think that the first step in depicting a persuasive lawful evil society–and that's all you need to do, make it persuasive; realism is beside the point, in my opinion–is to decide what is meant by the terms evil, lawful, and society.

    The poet Auden wrote a tiny postscript to one of his essays from The Dyer's Hand, "Postscript: Infernal Science," that I'd personally use for inspiration if I were to create such a society for a story. It's a rumination on general features of evil. Here's a blog post where someone posted an excerpt: counting - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis. But my best guess is that such a society could be designed in many ways and still be persuasive.
    TheCrystallineEntity and pmmg like this.
  13. Russ

    Russ Istar

    This kind of approach doesn't really get you anywhere, it is far too nihilistic to be useful except for the enthusiastic anarchist. One can certainly discuss groups of all sorts that display common characteristics while also knowing that not every member of the group does not precisely fit the definitions in question. If this radical approach was valid then we could simply discard all of medical, social and biological science.
  14. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    As a practical matter, I disagree.

    Determining the attributes of a society and determining the attributes of the people within that society are two different things.

    It would be too easy to assume that because a society is evil, then all the people within it would need to be evil. Or even, that large numbers of them, if not all, would be evil.

    I can imagine an evil society in which large numbers of the people are weak or cowed and acquiesce to the laws and basic functions of the society. Does this make each and every one of them fundamentally evil? Does this mean that the society is therefore not evil?
  15. Russ

    Russ Istar

    Nobody is disagreeing with any of that. But the question was about the society. It is perfectly acceptable to discuss societies as a whole or general characteristics of the society.

    I really have no idea why you found the OP's question irritating.
  16. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    For me, homogeneity was implied by the question's pairing of "lawful" with "evil." I interpreted the question as: Can evil people still follow the law? And so the presumed paradox of having a whole society of evil people who nonetheless follow the law thus creating a "lawful society."

    But I, myself, don't know why you have been irritated by my irritation. For me, irritation is merely a spur to thought. I am perturbed, irritated, find reason to quibble with this or that, perhaps to explore the source of irritation, like an itch.
  17. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

    I am reminded of the quote that all it takes for evil to prevail and for good men to do nothing.

    If it is true that Evil is subjective, then I would have to argue that there is no such thing as evil at all, and thereby all things are permissible. And if so, wouldn't it be er...evil...to attempt to control the behavior of others whether by being ruler or through institutions? I am not prepared to say that all Evil is subjective. I think it can certainly be true that some things are evil whether we agree that they are or not. And the reverse of that would be true as well. Somethings could be inherently good.

    It can also be that somethings are evil by virtue of just being evil, while other things could be subjectively evil, or it could be that there is nothing that is really evil as there is no such thing as such a thing. I am not sure it is for me to sort out, so I will accept the statement above of, 'I know it when I see it.'

    However, it is a fantasy story, and also fiction. I see no reason there cannot be such in a story. And I think it can be realistic in the concept of the story being told. Heck what would be the point for being a Devil in a society of Devils if I could not be evil just for the sake of it? I could think of a lot of things I might do if I gave in to just doing things for the sake of evil. (If I could throw off the yoke of my evil masters and do some subjugating of my, of course ;))

    Back to the idea of glorying evil, I notice that we have the forum labels of Dark Lord and Shadow lord, but I am not sure I have seen any that would be on the light side of things. Its harmless, I am sure, but it not its like that for no reason.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2017
  18. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

    And I do see Fifthview's points. In a real world sense, it is very unlikely an evil society would consist entirely of only evil people. I am sure the society itself and the individuals, would run the entire spectrum. There may be other reasons they allow it, but not all of them would be specifically evil. All is a big word.
  19. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    But...let's suppose the OP really did want a society in which all, or at least almost all, of the people truly are evil, worship evil, and hold evil as an ideal.

    A little metaphor. In our own world, you could have (and really do have) the notion of an Evil One. And you can have an individual who glorifies evil–these exist. Naturally, such an individual might well believe that one of the ways to be evil is to follow the ideals, rules/guidelines, etc. of that Evil One.

    In such a way, most of a populace could glorify evil: Following the laws of its ruling Evil One or Evil Council could be a method for being evil, themselves.

    In this way, you disentangle "lawful" from notions of "Goodness," capital "G."

    You'd still have to consider what constitutes "evil" to these people, how they treat each other and go about their daily lives.

    I mean, if committing murder is considered an evil, and they glorify evil, then what's to stop the society from entirely self-destructing by killing off one another?

    But what if the Evil One said, as one commandment, "Murder is holy. But allowing your brethren to live so that they may also murder, and thereby cause the deaths of many more, is holier?"

    Eh...hah, I don't know all the consequences. Who's left to be murdered? Outsiders, foreigners? But then you could have one individual murdering one of his brethren–it is holy, after all–and not shooting for the greater holiness. And you could have fanatics who arise to stop that lesser form of holiness: "Do you not see you are not following His Dark One's ideal as you should be?"

  20. Russ

    Russ Istar

    Your argument assumes that laws are "good" or at least cannot be evil. If the laws are "evil" then it is perfectly logical for evil people to be lawful.

    There is nothing paradoxical in evil people building a lawful society at all.

Share This Page