The phrase is Latin for “Let there be justice, though the world perish.” I first encountered this phrase during my highly influential Theories of International Relations course. The concept entails that justice should transcend and take precedence over our very existence – if destroying a civilization or society is imperative to the pursuit of justice, then so be it. It implies that a world without justice should not exist. There must be justice, even f the human race must be extinguished to achieve it. In a morbid and perhaps twisted way, eliminating humanity would indeed by extension eliminate injustice: after all, injustice is a creation of man, as no such concept as justice or injustice exists in nature. Only when you eliminate humanity does injustice and evil cease to exist (on the other hand, if humans didn’t exist, neither would numerous other, more favorable, concepts, such as reason, self-awareness, morality, and so on).
It’s easy to argue that we live in a corrupt and miserable world, and sometimes this fact honestly saddens me. Despite my general optimism and contentment in life, I am well aware of this fact, and find myself contending with internal struggles concerning my view of humanity and the world around me. In fact, a major contribution to my bouts of depression and melancholy is the nihilistic perception that the world I live in is ultimately meaningless. Evil, sadness, misery, and injustice is endless and ubiquitous throughout every human institution, endeavor, and society. Even as I write, numerous horrific things are happening to people all over the world, things I’ve had the fortune of studying as opposed to enduring.
What is most difficult to accept is that such negative characteristics of reality will always exist by some significant measure. As the Latin phrase I quoted strongly suggests, humanity’s existence will always be burdened by evil. Poverty, crime, terrorism, war, genocide and other social and moral evils will always confound, destroy, and bedevil us for as long as we live.
The chaos and senselessness of this world can be mind-blowing. Sadness, suffering, and death can often befall any of us at random; we’re all equally susceptible. There can be little innocence in a world where no one is safe, whatever their good deeds or intentions: children, good and well-meaning people, bystanders, civilians – these are often victims of the terrible tragedies I read about on a daily basis.
On the flip side, we see murderers escape justice, dictators subject their people to misery until old-age, and evil persevere unabated in numerous places where the rule of law has either broken down or been co-opted. . Liars and cheats get what they want and keep it. People live undeserved lives of luxury and gluttony for nothing, while those that struggle and try to earn an honest living die from disease or starvation.
Once again, where is the justice and order? Where is the reason? It is no wonder that religious people argue for the existence of an afterlife and a just and good God – how could they comprehend that such terrible things could happen without any justice or reason? I don’t blame them. What if none of this mattered, since chaos and injustice are the norm? It is argued that God has a plan for all of us, and such a claim is no doubt made to make sense of this all. But does that plan include millions dying without a chance? It is no wonder that my faith has eroded; though many other reasons contributed to my lack of belief, it was the incompatibility of an omni-benevolent being with a world rampant with evil that added to my doubts.
Many people often ask me – as I ask myself – how I can remain happy and optimistic hen the world around me is filled with so much hypocrisy, corruption, and immorality? How could I ever be happy if this is the nature of reality that I must accept for as long as I live? I am forced to endure the fact that I am powerless to stop the many evils and injustices that seem to taunt me, and equally powerless to prevent them from befalling me and my loved ones. Unsurprisingly, others that contend with depression cite this reality as a key reason for their melancholy. Notice how many philosophers, artists and intellectuals—those most attuned, informed, and analytical of the world around them—are generally the most cynical, melancholy, or despairing? There is a correlation between how much we know about this world and how much we are saddened. The notion of ignorance being bliss has held true for this long for a reason.
We are defined by this struggle. Like all living things we exist only to survive and continue our existence. This, in addition to all my previous observations, is what often leaves me struggling with my own innate optimism. I’ve always been pleased with myself for being able to know of these terrible things so intimately, and yet at the same time maintain that ultimately the world is a beautiful place and worth saving, even if cannot be. I feel there is enough justice, good-will, and goodness in our reality to make up for all the darker aspects. In such a jaded and cynical society, especially as of late, society needs its optimists and hopefuls, even if they are deemed as fools. Maybe I’m romanticizing it too much, but the way I see it, me and my ilk are just fulfilling the natural balance of things.
As much as humanity is mired by great evils and terrors it too must be blessed with progression and morality. If our race is truly as crooked and evil as many would believe, it would’ve destroyed itself long ago. Constant chaos and injustice cannot sustain itself – it takes reason, good-will, and creativity to transcend our awful proclivities. History has shown that if societies fail to develop and grow beyond their primal or selfish natures, they collapse into themselves. We have so far reach a point of mixed results, with much of the having come a long way to establish societies that are freer and more progressive than before, while an even bigger proportion struggle to overcome the usual obstacles of our existence.
The world is currently at a cusp: it comes precariously close, as recent events have shown, to destruction, while bearing great potential to fix our planet, solve our social ills, and improve our societies. I feel we have the potential and means to persevere, as we’re apt do in such circumstances, but need the creativity and will. I think the injustices of the world, rather than inhibit my faith in it, should do what all obstacles must: give me motivation. I can’t let myself be dogged and tied down by these negativities. I can’t just sit there and lament the erosion of the value of life. If the nihilists were true in their belief that human existence lacks any inherent value, why do they themselves continue to live? Obviously they, like most of us, see something worth living for, even if it is cynicism and materialism.
My struggle with these nihilistic and misanthropic pondering is just a test of my will. I see it as something to keep me going and prevent me from ever doubting the beauty of this existence. I embrace any challenge as just that: an examination of my will to fulfill my dreams. The world need not perish in the name of justice, for if it did, than so would the beauty of art, reason, logic, morality, and justice. I would rather live in an unjust world, with some shinning light, than no such world—and thus no such light—at all. I know that’s easy to resign myself to from the comfort of my home, but I figure I might as well make the most of my fortunate life. I hope I can remember that for as long as I live.