Have you ever wondered who the evilest people to ever walk this earth are? Adolf Hitler always seems to be the go-to reference in such conversations. It is a difficult thing to quantify. Do we do it statistically — that is, according to who killed the most people — or should it be based on their evil influence on history? My list relies on both. Of course, it’s totally subjective, but those making the Top Ten might surprise you. So, starting in reverse order, I give you a list of people who will make you feel better about yourself:
- (tie) The Kims: Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong-un
This is quite possibly history’s worst political dynasty. In addition to starting the Korean War that killed 3 million people and their refusal to officially end that conflict, this grandfather-son-grandson trio has created one of the most repressive regimes in the world.
Without the protection of a meaningful constitution and the Rule of Law, citizens are frequently starved, beaten, imprisoned, murdered, indoctrinated, and forced to worship the Supreme Leader. At least North Korea serves as a nice answer for millennials who ask, “Dad, what was the Soviet Union like?”
- Ivan Grozny
Grozny is typically rendered in English as “terrible,” but it’s a terrible translation. Even so, the translation works for the man in question. “Ivan the Terrible” was certainly one of the worst human beings to ever live. The first of three Russians on this list — we could populate the list exclusively with Russians — Ivan appears to have enjoyed killing.
In 1570, he surrounded the Russian city of Novgorod with his Oprichniki (Russia’s first political police force), and in a six-week-long orgy of violence, he all but wiped the city out. Ivan himself participated in the bloodshed, using axes and anything else that might be readily available to hunt and kill his subjects.
We are confident that if Ivan had access to more efficient means of killing people — guillotines, guns, bombs, or gas chambers — he would statistically rank with the most murderous people of all-time.
An interesting bit of trivia concerning Ivan: he proposed to Queen Elizabeth I of England. She politely declined. Elizabeth made a good call there.
- Vladimir Lenin
A godless madman, Lenin is the father of communist Russia. In this, he should not be confused with George Washington. Lenin seized power in a coup d’état, had the royal family murdered, launched a civil war that killed 8 million people, consolidated power, created a police state, and murdered millions more.
Lenin made Stalin, who was even more bloodthirsty, possible. Like most on our list, his infamy has not yet eclipsed his fan base. Lenin remains popular in many parts of the world. His body is currently preserved under glass and on display in a mausoleum dedicated to him in Red Square, Moscow. Russian schoolchildren, old communists, and tourists will line-up to see him. Too bad there isn’t someone there to stand next to the dead maniac and say to each and every one of them: “This is the man who destroyed your country… This is the man who destroyed your country… This is the man…”
Historian Andrew Hussey says that Islam resembles “a ruthlessly efficient war-machine rather than a religion.” This description fits. The religion’s founder, Muhammad, was a misogynist, liar, raider, and pillager of the worst sort: murdering, stealing, raping, enslaving — he did all of it. This aspect of Islam has never faded.
Today, Islam is the world’s second largest religion — Christianity is first — and its converts are often made at the point of a sword. While many Muslims practice the religion peacefully, those who most closely follow Muhammad’s teachings also follow his life’s example. Where Jesus modeled peace and love, Muhammad did nothing of the sort. As a consequence, we may thank him for not only Islamic wars of conquest, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS, but also the terror of 9/11, the 7/7 subway bombing, the Madrid train bombings, Charlie Hebdo, the November 2015 Paris attacks, the Bastille Day attack in Nice, and countless other terrorist attacks.
Some Muslim reader will now, as if to prove my point, send me death threats. Come to think of it, Muhammad may deserve a less favorable ranking on our list.
- Adolf Hitler
Had Hitler never acquired the power of state, it is likely that he would have lived out his life in obscurity as a civil servant or as a sketch artist. Unfortunately for humanity, he seized power and initiated a global war that saw the deaths of no less than 50 million people. Hitler’s screed, Mein Kampf, remains a playbook for fascists and his anti-Semitism has been greatly admired and modeled in the Arab World—and elsewhere.
- Josef Stalin
Statistics alone get Stalin a high ranking on our list. Stalin was evil. He started his life hating, it seems, everyone: his parents, God, his teachers, and even his own wife and children. He started his bloody career as a punk thief, crime and power being his primary addictions. Brutal, petty, jealous, paranoid, and utterly without conscience, he killed — numbers vary wildly — no less than 30 million people through purges, collectivization, state-induced famines, and bureaucratic incompetence. Simply put, Stalin had no regard for human life whatsoever. Remarkably, if you visit Russia today, you will discover that there is a nostalgia for the iron-fisted days of “Koba.”
- Mao Zedong
A few years ago, I attended a lecture given by a Chinese economist at the University of Beijing. I was pleasantly surprised when he was somewhat critical of the policies of Chairman Mao. This was, I thought, an indication that we were speaking freely, honestly, about the past.
As the lecture continued, he said something like:
“Critics of Mao’s reforms point out that his measures for implementation were excessive.”
This irritated me. Genocide is more than an “excessive measure.” I couldn’t let this go.
“‘Excessive?’” I said, so that the full room of students and business executives could hear me. “I’ll say! Let’s be clear, Mao killed between forty and seventy million of his own people.”
Silence. Total silence.
I felt like Ann Coulter at Berkeley. One Chinese student sitting next to me, a fellow who had been quite friendly only moments before, literally backed away from me. The economist paused, looked around the room and at the doors, and then continued nervously. No one argued the point. It was as if I had said nothing. They were afraid.
This is what societies with a history of violence and repression look like even after they have liberalized a bit. The lingering cultural memories of Chairman Mao, the Cultural Revolution, and Tiananmen Square are not just things of the past. They shape the present — unless, of course, you want to read about them on the heavily censored Chinese internet. In that case, they simply never happened.
This incident probably explains why the Chinese government denied me an entry visa a few years ago.
- Margaret Sanger
The founder of Planned Parenthood, an organization as evil as the Einsatzgruppen, Sanger championed abortion and eugenics. More than 61 million children have been aborted in the United States alone since Roe v. Wade in 1973. Of these, Planned Parenthood is responsible for no less than 8 million abortion deaths. Statistically, Sanger has earned her spot on this list. These days abortionists don’t just kill children, they celebrate it as a moral good. That this is heinous should (but doesn’t) go without saying. And this brings me to a question: with assaults on statues being in fashion, how has Sanger’s statue in the Smithsonian survived?
- Karl Marx
To our knowledge, Karl Marx never personally killed anyone. But Marx is the author of one of the greatest evils to be set loose on humanity.
An admirer of Charles Darwin — he sent an inscribed copy of Das Kapital to the British scientist — Marx saw history and economics much the same way that Darwin saw biology: as driven by godless, impersonal forces. His theories gave rise to secular socialist utopian regimes that would kill more than 100 million people in the 20th century alone. That’s more than all religious wars in all previous centuries combined.
This is to say nothing of the material, intellectual, and spiritual assassination of entire generations. Such governments have a very a low view of man, seeing him as mere brick and mortar for the building of the perfect socialist state. As Stalin said, “You can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs.” Socialists have cracked millions of eggs but have yet to make any omelets.
Standing at Marx’s graveside in London recently, I tried to unite a few of the world’s workers to topple his statue. Unfortunately, their union didn’t allow manual labor.
- Charles Darwin
Surprised? You’re not alone.
When the original version of this article was published in The American Spectator, the editor asked me to remove the naturalist since he was, by all accounts, a nice chap.
It is true that in Darwin, like Marx, we have no record of him pillaging, murdering, raping, or stealing from anyone. He was a taciturn scientist and no doubt you could drink tea and eat a scone with him and leave the scene having suffered no bodily harm. But since the publication of his seminal work The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859, Darwin’s influence has been pervasive and pernicious. All the more so because it is championed by just about every institution of higher learning you care to name.
In his 1998 Darwin Day keynote address, the late William Provine, a professor of biological sciences at Cornell University, called the theory of evolution “the greatest engine of atheism ever invented.” And while Darwin did not invent the theory, he popularized it and gave it his own “natural selection” twist. This led to a general abandonment of the idea that man is an object of special creation and that he stands to be judged in the next life for his actions in this one.
Darwin, in effect, made atheism a credible philosophical position and thus contributed to the rise of the twin secular ideologies of fascism and socialism, ideologies adopted by regimes that carried out the industrial scale genocides of the twentieth century.
I recall making this point to a Harvard philosophy professor who flatly refused to accept the causal philosophical link that runs from Darwin through Nietzsche and straight on to the Nazis. A similar causal link attaches to Marxism. Indeed, there is a reason Marx wanted to dedicate Das Kapital to Darwin. (The latter wisely refused the dubious honor.)
Others, smarter, accept the obvious link, but excuse Darwin on the basis that he wouldn’t have approved and/or that Marx and Hitler misapplied his theories. It’s a moot point. Surely Darwin, who wasn’t an idiot, could see the central ramification of his theories: meaninglessness. As for the misapplication of his ideas, there is some truth in this. But succeeding generations understood very well the upshot of Darwin’s theories: there is no God, there is no right and wrong, and human life has no more value than that of a field mouse.
Darwin’s ideas are behind the crimes of nine of those making our list. One might argue that they would have committed their crimes with or without Darwin. Perhaps. We cannot know. What is known is that they leaned heavily on Darwin for intellectual justification for mass murder.
Evil is innate to us all. Theologically speaking, “None is righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10) We are all capable of any of the atrocities listed above. But lest we get hung-up on the “big sins” and feel better about ourselves than we ought, Proverbs 6:16-19 offers us another list. It is the Lord’s list of (mostly) subtle sins:
16 There are six things that the Lord hates,
Seven that are an abomination to Him:
17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
19 a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.
Other than shedding innocent blood and feet that make haste to run to evil, this list of things that God “hates” deals with settled dispositions of the heart rather than actions. In other words, things one might do while still maintaining the veneer of righteousness and respectability. Of these, Matthew Henry wrote, “These things which God hates, we must hate in ourselves; it is nothing to hate them in others.” Let us examine our hearts, purge them of evil that lurks there in our hateful, damaging words and attitudes toward God and our fellow men, and hasten to the foot of the Cross. There we will find His grace and mercy. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:24, 25: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Larry Alex Taunton is a freelance columnist contributing to The Daily Wire, USA Today, Fox News, First Things, The Atlantic, The New York Post, CNN, Daily Caller, and The American Spectator. He is also the author of The Gospel Coalition Book of the Year The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, The Grace Effect, and Around the World in (More Than) 80 Days: Discovering What Makes America Great and Why We Must Fight to Save It. You can subscribe to his podcast at larryalextaunton.com and find him on Twitter @larrytaunton.
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