Statue of Moses in Venezuela.

Truth, Lies, and Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, seeking scapegoats for his country's economic collapse, has vowed to prosecute the author. This raises an important question: Can evil be fought by exposing the lies on which it is based and condemning those who propagate falsehood?

CAMBRIDGE – Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has a problem with me again. The government-controlled national television station recently broadcast an illegally taped private phone conversation in which I proposed a study to explore how to rescue the Venezuelan economy by leveraging the support of the international community. The government unsuccessfully edited the recording to make what was said sound nefarious, lied about the conversation’s meaning and about me, and plans to prosecute me.

This got me thinking about the eternal problem of evil. Is it entirely relative, or are there objective grounds to characterize a behavior or act as evil? Do all confrontations occur between legitimate parties – with, say, one person’s terrorist being another’s freedom fighter – or can we say that some fights really are between good and evil?

As the son of Holocaust survivors, I have always had an intuitive aversion to moral relativism. But what objective grounds are there to say that the Nazis were evil? As Hannah Arendt famously pointed out, people like Adolf Eichmann were plentiful and “neither perverted nor sadistic”; rather, “they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.” A similar normality emerges from Thomas Harding’s portrait of Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, a man proud of having excelled at his assigned task.

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