The Moral World Of Lisbeth Salander

Copyright © by T. Patrick Hill, Ph.D., 7/18/12


  What is to be said of the morality of Lisbeth Salander?[i] In an already unjust world, she certainly endured more injustice than most of us could ever imagine:  a sadistic father, a sadistic public guardian, and illegal institutional confinement by the state.

  Does anyone of these injustices, not to mention their combination, inflicted on one so young and defenseless, justify the actions she took in her own defense? Since those who should have protected her, not only did not but actively sought to violate her very humanity, had she not acted in her own defense she would have been destroyed psychologically, if not physically.

  So the question is whether, in the face of relentless evil from which there was no reasonably available protection, she was justified in doing what she did. For example, in retaliation against an abusive father, she set him on fire, horribly disfiguring him. In retaliation against her guardian who raped and tortured her and demanded sexual favors for fulfilling his responsibilities to her, she incapacitated him with a taser and tattooed his torso with language describing him as a rapist and a pig. In retaliation against the state, she transferred millions of dollars from the account of a corrupt businessman to her account.

  To answer the question, the relevant ethical principle would be self-defense.  If I am attacked physically by someone else to the point that my life is endangered, I am justified in taking the life of my attacker on the grounds that, as a matter of self-defense, it is proportionate to the harm that could result from the unjustified assault.

  Lisbeth Salander, the child, could have done nothing to deserve the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father.  And she could have done nothing to deserve the treatment at the hands of the state, sacrificing her fundamental human interests to the purported political interests of the state. Similarly, she could have done nothing to deserve the sexual abuse suffered at the hands of her public guardian. She was and remained innocent in the face of the unfathomable evil of those who should have been her guardian.  If all around her not only abdicated their responsibility for her physical and psychological well being, but exploited her defenselessness simply because they can, is she justified in taking the extreme measures she does to protect herself?

  If nothing can justify their assault, can anything ethically justify her assault on them? I would say yes on the grounds that nothing Salander did was disproportionate to the gratuitous assaults she endured. She was the object of a state engineered conspiracy so invasive of her personal world that she had no recourse beyond herself. What she took in self defense from her father by setting him on fire was proportionate to what he took gratuitously from her by his habitual abuse. What she took from the state by appropriating those millions of dollars was proportionate to what the state took from her by institutionalizing her unjustifiably. And what she took in self-defense from her guardian was again proportionate to what he took from her when he raped her. In the absolute absence of any defense outside herself, Salander, I would argue, was justified, given the extremity of her circumstances, in the measures she chose to protect herself.

Some may say that this is an argument for evil against evil.  But since, presumably, we would not say this of an act of classical self-defense, not even of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, why would we say it of Salanderís actions taken in self-defense? After all, she took none of these actions until provoked. In one instance, after Martin Vanger, responsible for the sadistic murder of countless women, crashed his car, Salander, who had been in pursuit, approached him, a gun in her hand. Trapped and unable to extricate himself from the wreckage, he was an easy target. As easy a target as she was to become later when her father shot her several times as he deliberately tried to kill her.  But unlike her father, Lisbeth Salander did not shoot Martin Vanger, not even to wound him. The simple truth is that when not assaulted by others, others are not assaulted by Lisbeth Salander. Responding in self-defense to extreme provocation, her actions were not only understandable, they were ethically justified.


[i] Stieg Larssonís anti-heroine in his Millennium Trilogy.


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