Evil Be Thou My Evil

We recently told you (below) that Dalrymple named Mao’s Secret Famine by Frank Dikotter as his favorite book of the year. Now, in New English Review, he examines two different scales of evil, referencing Dikotter’s book and also Nathan Yates’s Beyond Evil, about Ian Huntley’s murder of two young girls.


The question I asked myself as I read the two books, switching from one to another, is ‘How and on what scale do you compare the evil of the two men, Mao Tse-tung and Ian Huntley?’ It hardly seems satisfactory to say that Mao was 22.5 million times worse than Huntley because he was responsible for that many more deaths than he. And yet to utter the two names in the same breath seems almost to indulge in bathos.

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It is clear that the evil of these two men cannot be compared using a linear scale, and the same goes for the suffering of their victims….Huntley and Mao did what evil they could within their own spheres. Mao’s sphere, alas, was the largest population in the world, while Huntley was confined to a small village in England. Only one of them – Mao – got away with it. But both conscientiously did the worst they could.

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