...and then it seeks to silence good." Archbishop Chaput, University of Toronto, 2009.
This quote from Chaput has recent and perennial significance.
In the Catholic tradition, evil does not enjoy existence per se, but is rather a lack of "what should be," or "what truly exists." So for example, even the devil himself who is called evil is not pure evil because he was created by God to exist, and insofar as he exists he is good. But through his will to oppose God evil can be ascribed to him - a lack of what should be in the world.
The same is true with us in our personal lives. When we choose to oppose nature and thus also God, we prevent from coming into being what should be: instead of a lie, there should be truth, and instead of theft, property should remain with its owner. When we sin, we oppose God's order and introduce disorder into the world.
The same principle, dare I say, applies at the political level. God wills the happiness and flourishing of all men according to his plan. Many know the basics of his plan and others do not. Legislation at the political level is often far less obviously opposed to or in support of God's plan than individual actions in our personal lives. For example, its not so easy to determine whether a law prescribing that renters who do refuse to pay rent must be evicted after 3, 6, or 9 months. But other laws, like those that use taxpayer dollars for to provide for the murder of unborn children in abortion, are obviously opposed to the good of life which should be in the world, since murder of the innocent is never allowable.
With that background, let's return to Chaput's statement, which is a bit of a metaphor. Since evil is a lack of what should be, evil has a better chance of winning when introduced gradually rather than all at once. Evil doesn't actually preach; it doesn't exist. For example, in a society which generally outlaws and believes that abortion is immoral, for legislators (who too be clear here I am not claiming to everything in view of an intentional long term plan) to ask for taxpayer dollars to fund public programs procuring abortion would be too much. This would appear as an obvious lack of good that should be in society. But if that door is ever to be opened, instead of directly seeking its acceptance wholesale, it would first claim that evil is the choice of someone else, and not harmful to the community. In other words, we evil first "claims" we should tolerate evil even if we ourselves don't participate because it is someone else doing it.
After some time preaching toleration and living alongside it even if we ourselves don't participate, it becomes more common, and possibly accepted. Only then can evil ask for the next step and become dominant, forcing everyone to participate through, for example, the use of taxpayer dollars to fund abortion.
This perennial principle was pointed out by Plato in Book VIII of the Republic, when democracy descends into tyranny:
Pope Francis' recent motu proprio on the Extraordinary Form (EF) many in the Church (including myself) believe to be an example of such a contrast. The EF, liberalised by Pope Benedict in 2007 (for the Church to maintain continuity with its past rather than apparent rupture) was allowed to be freely expressed alongside 23 other rites within the Church living "under one roof." Legitimate diversity of expression even within the ordinary form of the new rite is tolerated and rarely discouraged. Here we find tolerance, a tolerance seemingly endorsed by Pope Francis at the beginning of his pontificate. With this new motu proprio however, the EF, which used to be the expression of the same Church's heart for centuries is not tolerated, or at least constrained, as if it were an evil or deficient expression, while all other forms are allowed to live alongside each other. Here it seems that evil is returning to dominance.
Perhaps these two examples do not resonate with you. As a last consideration, note how the Nazi Party, Stalin, and others first came to power. They are not open about their plans to kill millions. They preached their plan under the appearance of the good, in the name of tolerance, or more generously, they were confused about what is actually good, what actually should be. Deception is critical to the success of evil in the short term, and tolerance is one such vehicle.
This is not to say that these patterns are never reversed. We are not all on a perpetual path towards evil because evil, which has no existence or inclination to remain in existence, always consumes itself in the face of what was ruptured: the eternal, permanent and the holy like God. In the end, Good wins the war, and often good wins the battles as well, but we must beware of giving any authority to evil to prevent being distracted or derailed as an individual or society.
As Chaput put it:
“We need to remember that tolerance is not a Christian virtue. Charity, justice, mercy, prudence, honesty — these are Christian virtues. And obviously, in a diverse community, tolerance is an important working principle. But it’s never an end itself. In fact, tolerating grave evil within a society is itself a form of serious evil. Likewise, democratic pluralism does not mean that Catholics should be quiet in public about serious moral issues because of some misguided sense of good manners. A healthy democracy requires vigorous moral debate to survive. Real pluralism demands that people of strong beliefs will advance their convictions in the public square — peacefully, legally and respectfully, but energetically and without embarrassment. Anything less is bad citizenship and a form of theft from the public conversation.”