the least of all possible evils

Film still from Sylvain George’s documentary on North African and Middle Eastern refugees’ attempt to reach the U.K.. Here, one of the characters shows his obliterated fingertips—a strategy to evade identification through fingerprinting. May they rest in revolt (Figures of wars I), 2011. Copyright: Independencia.

The preemptive logic of the “lesser evil” is often invoked to justify the use of a lesser violence to prevent a supposedly greater, projected one. The argument produces a cold calculus of differentials in the absence of ethical absolutes, forming the very shape of a weak negativity that characterizes the withdrawal of any viable or coherent leftist, humanist mission. Eyal Weizman’s most recent book The Least of All Possible Evils looks specifically at the structure of this argument and its redeployment as a means of providing a convenient bogeyman for justifying almost any atrocity committed in the name of even more heinous hypothetical consequences, even to the extent that the humanitarian band-aid is drafted in as a second wave of military aggression. This article is composed of excerpted passages from The Least of All Possible Evils, drawing mainly from its first three chapters—on the historical origins of the lesser evil argument, on its contemporary deployment as humanitarian aid, and on the use and abuse of the elasticity of the law to render violent acts perfectly legal.


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