What follows is one of the most interesting, and important, explanations of the nature of evil I have ever encountered; as exemplified by Tolkien's legendarium and as understood by Tolkien.
It makes understandable the difference between the primary evil of Morgoth (Lucifer), and the secondary and derivative evils (such as Sauron, and Saruman) as seen in later ages.
My comments and reflections on this appear on my Miscellany blog:
Sauron was ‘greater’, effectively, in the Second Age than Morgoth at the end of the First. Why? Because, though he was far smaller by natural stature, he had not yet fallen so low.
Thus, as ‘Morgoth’, when Melkor was confronted by the existence of other inhabitants of Arda, with other wills and intelligences, he was enraged by the mere fact of their existence, and his only notion of dealing with them was by physical force, or the fear of it. His sole ultimate object was their destruction.
Melkor could do nothing with Arda, which was not from his own mind and was interwoven with the work and thoughts of others: even left alone he could only have gone raging on till all was leveled again into a formless chaos. And yet even so he would have been defeated, because it would still have ‘existed’, independent of his own mind, and a world in potential.
(It was the apparent will and power of Melkor to effect his designs quickly and masterfully that had first attracted Sauron to him.)
Sauron had, in fact, been very like Saruman, and so still understood him quickly and could guess what he would be likely to think and do, even without the aid of the palantíri or of spies; whereas Gandalf eluded and puzzled him.
But like all minds of this cast, Sauron’s love (originally) or (later) mere understanding of other individual intelligences was correspondingly weaker; and thought the only real good in, or rational motive for, all this ordering and planning and organization was the good of all the inhabitants of Arda (even admitting Sauron’s right to be their supreme lord), his ‘plans’, the idea coming from his own isolated mind, became the sole object of his will, and an end, the End, in itself.
Morgoth had no ‘plan’: unless destruction and reduction to nil of a world in which he had only a share can be called a ‘plan’.
Sauron could not, of course, be a ‘sincere’ atheist. Though one of the minor spirits created before the world, he knew Eru, according to his measure. He probably deluded himself with the notion that the Valar (including Melkor) having failed, Eru had simply abandoned Ea, or at any rate Arda, and would not concern himself with it any more.
It would appear that he interpreted the ‘change of the world’ at the Downfall of Numenor, when Aman was removed from the physical world, in this sense: Valar (and Elves) were removed from effective control, and Men under God’s curse and wrath.
Sauron was not a ‘sincere’ atheist, but he preached atheism, because it weakened resistance to himself (and he had ceased to fear God’s action in Arda). As was seen in the case of Ar-Pharazon.
But it may be doubted whether even such a shadow of good was still sincerely operative in Sauron by that time.
His cunning motive is probably best expressed thus. To wean one of the God-fearing from their allegiance it is best to propound another unseen object of allegiance and another hope of benefits; propound to him a Lord who will sanction what he desires and not forbid it. Sauron, apparently a defeated rival for world-power, now a mere hostage, can hardly propound himself; but as the former servant and disciple of Melkor, the worship of Melkor will raise him from hostage to high priest.
Note - Melkor could not, of course, ‘annihilate’ anything of matter, he could only ruin or destroy or corrupt the forms given to matter by other minds in their subcreative activities.
incarnated himself(as Morgoth) permanently. He did this so as to control the hroa, the
fleshor physical matter, of Arda. He attempted to identify himself with it. A vaster, and more perilous, procedure, though of similar sort to the operation of Sauron with the Rings.
Thus, outside the Blessed Realm, all
matterwas likely to have a
Melkor ingredient, and those who had bodies, nourished by the hora of Arda, had as it were a tendency, small or great, towards Melkor: they were none of them wholly free of him in their incarnate form, and their bodies had an effect upon their spirits.
angelicpowers, of mind and spirit, while gaining a terrible grip upon the physical world. For this reason he had to be fought, mainly by physical force, and enormous material ruin was a probable consequence of any direct combat with him, victorious or otherwise.
This is the chief explanation of the constant reluctance of the Valar to come into open battle against Morgoth. Manwë's task and problem was much more difficult than Gandalf's.
Middle-earthwas Morgoth's Ring, though temporarily his attention was mainly upon the North-west. Unless swiftly successful, War against him might well end in reducing all Middle-earth to chaos, possibly even all Arda.
It is easy to say:
It was the task and function of the Elder King to govern Arda and make it possible for the Children of Eru to live in it unmolested.But the dilemma of the Valar was this: Arda could only be liberated by a physical battle; but a probable result of such a battle was the irretrievable ruin of Arda. Moreover, the final eradication of Sauron (as a power directing evil) was achievable by the destruction of the Ring. No such eradication of Morgoth was possible, since this required the complete disintegration of the
Morgoth though locally triumphant had neglected most of Middle-earth during the war; and by it he had in fact been weakened: in power and prestige (he had lost and failed to recover one of the Silmarils), and above all in mind.
He had become absorbed in
kingship, and though a tyrant of ogre-size and monstrous power, this was a vast fall even from his former wickedness of hate, and his terrible nihilism.
He had fallen to like being a tyrant-king with conquered slaves, and vast obedient armies.