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This springs from the many comments which over the years I have heard from adolescent students that appear to reflect the views of their supposedly upright and moralist parents--people who in spite of their religious affiliations nonetheless believe that since the triumph of corruption is inevitable, it is just as well to join the corrupted and profit by it.

I think most rational people would consider any "entity that stops at nothing to succeed" an inherently evil process, a type of thinking that has justified some of the worst atrocities seen in the last 2000 years

"The ends justify the means"

attributed variously to Machiaveli, Neycheavov, etc. helps explain it, but is not an answer.

Pragmatic does not work for obvious reasons.

The expression should describe the philosophy that allows for this type of practice. It is a darkly pessimistic attitude that assumes Evil will always triumph: like a juggernaut, the overwhelming power of corruption will always defeat the upright and moral.

Please no evangelistic religion-based answers.

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  • 1
    'Fatalism' carries at least a strong connotation of the inevitable being bad. CD has 'the belief that people cannot change the way events will happen and that events, especially bad ones, cannot be avoided'; I'll give this as an answer if you like, but it seems rather simplistic. // The whole notion is of course predicated on the belief that an all-powerful and all-good being/Being doesn't exist, so is not based on reality in many people's eyes. May 26 '21 at 18:43
  • @EdwinAshworth My wife suggested that maybe Nietzsche had some hand in this, but I cannot think of a suitable citation...
    – Cascabel
    May 26 '21 at 19:09
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    @EdwinAshworth Fatalism is resignation, people given to corruption do not adopt that behaviour out of resignation; more realistic is the point of view that such an attitude as would-be resignation in the way of justifying their wrong doing is nothing but a despicable pretence.
    – LPH
    May 26 '21 at 19:24
  • A brujo once told me: "Evil exists". That's a profound statement if you think about it.
    – Cascabel
    May 26 '21 at 20:39
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    Very close if not a duplicate: Is there a saying or proverb for a situation where the weakest party will always lose? (the house always wins / no good deed goes unpunished / might is right / ...). There's also Josh Billings's 'Thrice is he armed that hath his quarrel just; And four times he who gets his fist in fust'. May 28 '21 at 13:17
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How about a converse sentiment described by the aphorism Nice guys finish last.

People who are decent, friendly, and agreeable tend to be unsuccessful because they are outmaneuvered or overwhelmed by others who are not so decent, friendly, or agreeable.

[Wikitionary]

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  • You can say that again. :)
    – Lambie
    May 26 '21 at 22:14
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A word that fits the description is "opportunism".

(OALD) opportunism The practice of using situations unfairly to gain advantage for yourself without thinking about how your actions will affect other people
♦ political opportunism

(SOED) 1 The adaptation of (political) policy, actions, or judgement to circumstances or opportunity, esp. regardless of principle; gen. the seizing of opportunities when they occur. Late 19th century.

(Merriam-Webster) Definition of opportunism:
the art, policy, or practice of taking advantage of opportunities or circumstances often with little regard for principles or consequences

It is the part "esp. regardless of principle" that allows to characterize this attitude in life as one of not being held back by the perspective of the evil there might be in a given action.

The following gives the impression that people indulge in opportunism because they have the feeling that it works.

(Wikipedia)

Some people regard an opportunist stance positively as a legitimate choice. Thus, the British Conservative statesman Stanley Baldwin is supposed to have quipped:

"I would rather be an opportunist and float than go to the bottom with my principles around my neck" – Stanley Baldwin

In opportunism, life is viewed as presenting "an endless series of opportunities", where the pattern of one's responses defines their identity. It can also be viewed as striving to realize or express certain principles. However, the moral dilemma implied by opportunism concerns the conflict of self-interest with the interests of others, or with following a principle: either to do what one wants or to do "what is the right thing to do". Thus, substantively, opportunism refers to the acting on opportunities in a self-interested, biased or one-sided manner that conflicts or contrasts in some way with one or more general rule, law, norm, or principle.

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  • +1 and thx for your answer, but Where is the concept of Evil (capital E) here?
    – Cascabel
    May 26 '21 at 19:53
  • @Cascabel There is, for instance, a discrepancy between the avowed goals of theoretical anarchism and what real events imputed to anarchism represent; that is why theoreticians of anarchism are found in universities and the activists of it often in jails. I know that recently in the USA there has been a notorious proponent of the legalization of rape, but even in this extreme case of evil-mindedness the recognized foundation that this sort of criminal mind will put forward is not Evil, not crime. As for all criminal activity it is for the victim to claim (1/3)
    – LPH
    May 26 '21 at 22:43
  • @Cascabel that Evil is involved, and at that they can't pretend that the claimed basis for this legitimization of crime is "embraced" Evil. As opportunism, which results in more or less criminal activity, is reckoned with as nothing else than crime in the end, there does not exist a special basis either for the explanation of it. That is why, when people such as the students you refer to, go to the extremes you relate, the social order immediately represses their ideas, put them out, literally, because they are unacceptable; as a result there is no such widely (2/3)
    – LPH
    May 26 '21 at 22:44
  • @Cascabel recognized state of affairs. This sort of current of thinking does not go further than legends and fiction that foster such rituals as black masses, no further than rare real sects of very limited impact, it remains a phenomenon of the underground culture, and impinges upon the culture only as highly localized events that are soon dismissed as unacceptable. The Evil in the opportunistic mind exists, but implies nothing more than the very meagre price (?) of a bad conscience that one has to pay; it can play no new part in defining the term. (3/3)
    – LPH
    May 26 '21 at 22:45
  • @Cascabel It is true that sometimes people will speak of the necessary evil of capitalism, but are they ready for the necessary evil of opportunism?
    – LPH
    May 26 '21 at 22:52
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You can actually use the word "Machiavellian", as Wordnik defines it:

Attempting to achieve their goals by cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous methods.

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If you're not cheating, you're not trying (various attributions, including here). If the goal is to win, not to be good, those who are willing to do unethical things will be more likely to win.

History is written by the victors (various attributions, interesting review here) Worry about winning first - when you win, you can always justify your actions after the fact. Thus, having to do unethical things should not deter you from winning.

There is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to use it - Lord Voldemort. Anything that deters you from winning, any hesitation, is a weakness - including thinking in terms of good and evil.

And, as answered by neo-logophile, Nice guys finish last - because winning requires ruthlessness.

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The fairly well-known aphorism might makes/is right fits the bill.

Those who are powerful can do what they wish unchallenged, even if their action is in fact unjustified.

He believed that might was right and woe betide anyone who stood in his way.

[Lexico]

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