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Is a lawful evil society realistic?


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.

If someone had suggested that. He would have a point. Nobody suggested that. Or did I miss it?


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?"


This entire argument relies on a certain definition of what evil means, that no one has suggested. You are really being unfair to the OP's question and all the earlier answers.

You arbitrarily select one evil and then assume that the society will allow your choice of evil.

It is quite easy to build an "evil" society where murder is illegal.

Some people could argue that modern western society fits that definition right now. And murder is illegal here.
Russ, suggesting various things to be considered is not automatically an indication of an argument against points that have been made.

When I engage in discussions on broad topics, presented in general and/or vague terms, I often approach those topics by presenting my own frame of reference. I introduce considerations that I think are important or interesting. This method often springs from a desire to offer these considerations ... for consideration. I do not approach the topic as a lawyer might, always seeing some interlocutor as an opponent needing to be defeated; nor, as if considerations on the subject matter need to be entirely wiped from the proceedings.

I view Mythic Scribes as being a place where these considerations can be made, presented. Should I refrain from honestly presenting my own frame of reference, my understanding of various topics, whenever a general question is asked? Do you have an outline you'd prefer I follow, rather than following my own free association with whatever topic arises?

Is your method of addressing topics to find whatever I say and broad-brush them out of existence? Really? If so, I can't say that further interaction between us will be useful to anyone else who visits this thread, and there is no need to continue this back-and-forth.


I don't really know much about lawful vs chaotic so I could be way off base here but it seems to me that a society such as a country can only be lawful or it will fall apart at the seams. Whether you call them laws or rules or whatever, there have to be social or legal norms that keep the country working.

As to whether they can be actively evil (or as TVTropes calls it, For The Evulz) I will point to a xuanhuan web novel which I actually don't recommend to anyone called Warlock of the Magus World. It has a territorial split between light "good" or at least neutral magi and dark evil magi in one of the regions. The dark magi encourage doing evil, and seem to even be addicted to it to a certain point as they get antsy if they don't engage in evil acts for some time. And it's not like they think that they're doing good by engaging in them. They are aware that it's evil, but they can't help themselves. Also they think the light magi are weak for letting something insignificant like a moral code stand in the way of personal gain.

TL;DR I think it's perfectly plausible.


toujours gai, archie
I ask FifthView and Russ to take their personal conversation to private messaging. That's what it's for. I remind folks yet again that ad hominem arguments are not allowed.

A useful guideline: if the message strays into "you" and "I" without addressing anything beyond what the other fellow said, then that's a private conversation. Those are perfectly fine, but in a forum they are not at all fine. They are comparable to having a pleasant party interrupted by an argument between two folks in the middle of the room.

I make this point publicly in the hope that it may prove instructive to others beyond the two principals here named. Ad hominem is one of those things that is easy to define in the abstract and even easier to fall into by accident.
Perhaps it all depends on how each person defines 'lawful' and 'evil'. The definition likely varies from person to person, so no need to get antsy when someone else's viewpoint is different. To be honest, the term 'evil' is so...I don't know. It seems like some people get so caught up in the nearly world-wide view of duality [good and evil, right and wrong, this and that, I/me/us/we vs you/them] and separation [viewing yourself as utterly disconnected from everything else] that it is so hard to see any other way of looking at the world.

La Volpe

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.

When I think of an evil society, I tend to think of a place where the general societal rules are considered evil by someone outside of the society. This could be national laws or a kind of a unspoken rule (e.g. you must waterboard your son at least twice a week). So it doesn't mean that all (or even most) of the people are evil. Just that the society is governed by rules that are perceived to be evil.

But as I mentioned, to get the 'evil' label, there would have to be someone outside of this society doing the labeling, as I find it doubtful that a society would call itself evil.

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."

I guess it depends on your definitions, but in general, there is a difference between illegal and immoral, and I think that's what the whole lawful evil thing is working with.

E.g. it is illegal (at least over here) to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, but I highly doubt anyone would find that to be immoral. A more apt example might be hunting. One group of people might see hunting as an immoral act. But in most cases, it is legal. So from the viewpoint of this particular group, hunters might be seen as evil, but they still follow the law.

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.

This raises the question of how one determines what is evil (or not). You mention the 'I know it when I see it' bit, but that is exactly my point. Everyone calls evil as they see it. And not everyone is going to agree, so how do we determine an objective evil?


Queen of Titania
Throughout history, there have been various cultures that engaged into terrifying and pretty evil things.

The Assyrians are the first that come to my mind, but there have been many others. It can be argued that they would be evil from our modern point of view but not from theirs, and yet those other cultures that suffered so many deaths, devastation and terror under the rule of empires like the Assyrians would agree that they were evil.

At the same time they had their own society and laws and everything, so yeah I think that it's a realistic concept.

In Fantasy, I have something like that: One of my ideas for a Science Fantasy story (not developed yet) is about an interstellar culture called the Cryllians. There are many other cultures with similar starships and travel capabilities, but it so happens that the Cryllians one day discovered how to make a type of extremely powerful explosive known as Shadow Bombs.

The other civilizations had no idea how to replicate that, and so the Cryllians decided to equip their space armada with these weapons. They started to invade and destroy other worlds just for the sake of growing as an empire, and at the same time have fun, because they enjoy being cruel. I view them as very evil, and yet they are a lawful society in their own planets.

If you like the concept and have something like this, then go for it! It has great potential for good stories.


Perhaps it all depends on how each person defines 'lawful' and 'evil'. The definition likely varies from person to person, so no need to get antsy when someone else's viewpoint is different. To be honest, the term 'evil' is so...I don't know. It seems like some people get so caught up in the nearly world-wide view of duality [good and evil, right and wrong, this and that, I/me/us/we vs you/them] and separation [viewing yourself as utterly disconnected from everything else] that it is so hard to see any other way of looking at the world.

I agree, TheChrystallineEntity. Evil is subjective and relative.

I would never call my Antagonist 'Evil'. His reality and truth are his own, and are valid and justifiable to him. He does nothing for the sake of cruelty, yet he is cruel, and his people are cruel. They do not see their cruelty, they see their lifestyle as it has been for millennia, and it has a purpose and structure which works for them.

It is good to decide where the 'Evil' originates. Are the people evil for evil's sake. Do they take pleasure in harming others? Do they enjoy torture and abuse? Are they apathetic to acts of violence? Or do they behave in a way which can be defined as 'evil' because of conditioning, social norms or government structure?

It's all great and challenging to work out. Have fun, OP. :)


Myth Weaver
This raises the question of how one determines what is evil (or not). You mention the 'I know it when I see it' bit, but that is exactly my point. Everyone calls evil as they see it. And not everyone is going to agree.

As a point of contention, failure to successfully determine what may be evil does not mean it cannot still be evil. And it was actually someone else who mentioned knowing it when they see it, I just said I would accept that. That everyone does not agree may or may not make any difference at all.

so how do we determine an objective evil?

You are your own free moral agent. Use your best judgment, and be open to the idea that your judgment may need to be questioned.

By saying 'objective' evil, I suspect there are a number of things that we could win almost universal agreement that it would be evil (with a small 'e' and not a capital one). So by an objective standard, the agreement of many would seem to provide definition.

The question of 'is there evil?' would seem to be beyond the scope of the OP's question. And I doubt we will get much agreement on that subject. However, I will not say concepts of evil are purely subjective, I think the jury is still out on that one. It could be that Evil is subjective (and for which, I would say it is really non-existent), or it could be powers greater than us make things evil by their very nature.

These might be great questions for those interested, but for purposes of a fantasy story, Evil can be just because the Author says so. No reason we cannot have a Lawful Evil Society in a fantasy story. Think it up and execute it well.

I'd look at this question slightly differently. I don't think a truly evil society could exist - it'd tear itself apart. But I think it is possible for a lawful society to exist and even thrive with some level of evil in it. The greater that degree of evil of course, the stronger the laws would have to be to contain it.

So lets take a society that values greed - say followers of Pluto for example (or the Ferengi). In this society people value greed as a good. It is right and proper to amass wealth at the expense of others provide its done within the laws of the land (rules of acquisition). Everybody does it and everybody expects everybody else to do it. But obviously if you take this approach your society breaks down into a wealthocracy(?) with one guy at the top, a few supporters, some enforcers to stop everyone else from taking back what was taken from them, and the vast mass of the downtrodden who can barely steal enough to survive. Now suddenly you've got the conditions for a revolution and chaos and the end of your society. So obviously if you want to keep your society you now have to use several strategies. First enforce the rule of law - ie more enforcers, harsher penalties etc. But on its own this is not enough. Next you have to justify your moral imperitive of greed in some way so that everyone agrees with it - ie obtain buy in. But still not enough. People who are starving don't really care about the morality of why they're hungry. It may be morally right for them to starve but dammit - they just want to eat! The third strategy is of course to limit your greed with laws that make the life of those who are less successful in their greedy endeavours acceptable. And suddenly you've gone from Ayn Rand and Neo-liberalism to the welfare state!

Now say you want your society to embrace two evil values - greed and hatred. Things start to get harder in order to keep your society functioning.

And of course you've got all those lovely questions about who decides what the laws should be and on what basis they should be made and how they should be enforced. A line from Star Trek DS9 comes to mind about the Ferengi - "The Nagus' greed has to be a higher form of greed. His greed must be the people's greed!" Or something like that.

Cheers, Greg.
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Insolent Lad

If we're going Star Trek, the 'alternate' Federation (you know, the one where Spock has the beard) is more consciously 'evil' with rule by terror and advancement by assassination. But still, as Spock argued, it supposedly served a greater good of a stable interstellar community.

There have been other such terror-and-assassination style governments in speculative literature. The Wieroo of Edgar Rice Burroughs's 'Out of Time's Abyss' who were rewarded for the number of murders of their fellows they committed, for example (which was ERB's typical tongue in cheek social commentary), or perhaps the Granbretan of Michael Moorcock.

You mean the "Through a Looking Glass Darkly" epps from Enterprise? Because in that as I recall after fairly much the entire bridge crew had been killed off by assassinations along with nearly all the "alien" crew members who had been enslaved, the comms officer went off in the Enterprise C to make herself empress!

Most of that stuff wasn't really to explain how an empire like the Terran Empire could have arisen, it was to show how all the characters in the same positions they held in the show, would behave in a morally warped universe where everyone wanted to rule. And it wasn't good - thus demonstrating for the OP quite handsomely, how unstable that society was and inadvertantly proving it could never have arisen as it did.

But I did love the evil Doctor!!!

Cheers, Greg.

Insolent Lad


You mean the "Through a Looking Glass Darkly" epps from Enterprise?

Actually, I was thinking of the first encounter with that universe in the original series, the 'Mirror, Mirror' episode. Never saw much of the Enterprise series so I don't now where its writers went with the idea.
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?
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.

So based on your two comments, I think your more specific question involves a society in which the members of that society not only have a concept of evil but are conscious of the fact that they idealize or glorify this evil, wishing to spread it.

Your mention of Nazis leads me to believe this is your conception of the populace. A lot of comments, including from me, have taken a different route, suggested that an evil society might exist but those living within it might not know that what they do is evil, or that most of the population might not be evil. This can work; but it's not really what you are asking?

Also, you've mentioned D&D's "lawful evil" alignment, so I wonder if that might help you in conceiving of such a society. From descriptions I've found of that alignment, it seems very fit as a guide for designing a functioning society. Here's one description from the Lawful Evil entry on TV Tropes:

A Lawful Evil character is an evil character who either tries to impose or uphold a lawful system on others without regard for their wishes, and/or adheres to a particular code. They believe in order, but mostly because they believe it is the best way of realizing their evil wishes. They will obey the letter of the law, but not the spirit, and are usually very careful about giving their word.​

That page also distinguishes the lawful evil type from neutral evil and chaotic evil types, finding the difference not in levels of evil but rather in how the character goes about achieving evil goals, particularly by looking at how the character views order and chaos.

From the sounds of it, "lawful evil" actually enjoys order, believes in order, and will maintain that order—because he views it as being the best way to accomplish his own goals. This suggests that a society of lawful evil people would probably have very little trouble maintaining a society.

Now, one could conceive of good characters also having faith in order. So what would distinguish them would be...something about what they want to achieve, i.e. evil goals. Above, you mentioned that, "I don't mean societies that do things we consider evil," and I realize you meant that you weren't thinking of a society that did things we would consider evil while not believing they were evil themselves. But ultimately, we would need to see those goals and activities as being evil: that's how you convey to the reader that this society is evil.

If you want those people themselves to recognize that same evil—they are self-conscious of this about themselves and indeed consciously seek to spread the Evil—then all that's left is for you to come up with a definition of evil in your world and associate behaviors or goals with that evil.

But I do think that whatever you choose would need to have both, a particular concept of evil and a set of behaviors or goals springing from that evil. The former would help you to accomplish what seems to be your desire, a society that is self-conscious of evil, believes in Evil as a thing that it wants to spread. The latter would help you to display that evil to the reader by showing this society and the members of it engaging in evil or working toward evil ends, i.e. really being evil.

All of that could be worked out in whatever way you like. Probably the society would need to have an authoritarian set of rules, i.e. a rigid order, that the people living in it would not only respect but see as a necessity for achieving their goals.
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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.

So "Like D&D lawful evil types" is our working definition, and this has a well-established meaning. Lisselle posted the definition of a community with a lawful evil government. This definition can easily be found on the internet by doing a search.

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."
- The Alignment System - Lawful Evil

Lisselle also posted the definition of lawful evil individuals, taken from the same source.

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.

The question for me now becomes, are we talking about a community with a lawful evil government, or a society consisting solely (or at least primarily) of individuals who meet the definition of lawful evil, or both? I don't think one necessarily implies the other.