We’ve all heard the term “evil genius,” maybe even used it a few times. This moniker is generally used to refer to infamous political figures in history who were able to amass great personal power, acquire or expand empires, or fundamentally alter the course of history while callously and cynically disregarding the incalculable pain, suffering, dislocation, economic destruction, and myriad forms of devastation left in the wake of their pursuit of glory or some utopian dream. Adolph Hitler is the person most often characterized as an evil genius, with Josef Stalin a distant second. There are still German and Russian old-timers who wax nostalgic over them; there are tenured professors and widely respected western academics who still regard them “visionaries of a New World Order.”
Evil genius is also used to describe criminal masterminds like Al Capone or John Gotti who managed far-flung organized crime syndicates while ruthlessly eliminating those who stood in their way or threatened to expose their “genius.” Sadly, they, too, were worshipped as folk heroes on their home turf.
There is no such thing as an evil genius. It is, in fact, a contradiction in terms, a metaphysical impossibility. The “evil” part is accurate, but geniuses they’re not. But, as the result of intellectual laziness, the failure to think clearly, it has become a thoughtlessly used colloquialism and part of the American lexicon. The term confuses intelligence and wisdom with cunning, craftiness, and treachery. Its underlying philosophical justification is “the ends justify the means.” It dovetails perfectly with the Age of the Antihero we now live in. If a half-wit socialist politician outfoxes his cowardly political opposition to the detriment of the country, he is considered a person of monumental intellect.
Nonsense. Genius pre-supposes virtue. You can’t be a genius if you don’t know the difference between right and wrong.