DO THE ENDS JUSTIFY THE MEANS?
A more difficult question than you might think.
© 2004 by G. Edward Griffin -- Created 2004 October 31
We are all familiar with the axiom: The end justifies the means. In other words, if we believe that the objective of our action is noble, it makes no difference how we achieve it, even if the methods are deplorable. That is the mantra of collectivism. Advancing the best interests of the group is said to be the ultimate good. Therefore, there is no atrocity that is off limits provided only that leaders claim it is for the greater good of the greater number. That also is the ethic of war in which the only immoral act is to loose.
We also have heard the opposing point of view, best expressed by the well known pacifist, Aldous Huxley: Ends can never justify the means, because the means employed determine the nature of the ends produced. In Huxley’s view, war itself is immoral, and the outcome of war, even if it is victory, can never be a virtuous achievement.
There is a third view that is more realistic than either of these. It is: Not any ends justify any means, but some ends justify some means under some circumstances. Many people do not want to consider this, because it requires them to think rather than fall back on a pat answer. It forces us to consider the relative values on both sides of the equation plus collateral issues as well. It allows for a middle ground, which is the path we must trod in the real world most of the time.
For an example at the low end of the emotional scale, let us agree that it is wrong to lie. But if John’s wife asks him if he likes her new dress, and if he thinks it makes her look like a clown, he should not be harshly judged if he refrains from telling the truth. His desire for domestic tranquility (the end) justifies the telling of a lie (the means) under conditions where no one is harmed (the circumstances). This end justifies this means under these circumstances. However, let us make a few changes and see what happens.
Suppose John’s wife tells him that she likes a certain dress she saw in the store and then describes it in great detail, obviously as a hint for a birthday present. When John locates the dress, he stuffs it into a shopping bag and leaves the store without paying for it. When he gives the present to his wife, she thanks him profusely for buying the dress, and he tells her that she is worth every penny of it. Now we have the same objective (domestic tranquility) and the same means employed (telling a lie), but it is joined by another means (theft). The owners of the store have been robbed, and we must conclude that this end does not justify these means under these circumstances.
At the higher end of the emotional scale, it becomes more difficult to make an objective evaluation. In time of war, for example, there are usually multiple ends, means, and circumstances interacting with each other producing a cacophony of moral arguments. If the goal of the war is to defend life, liberty, and property against an aggressive enemy, there is no doubt in most people’s minds that any means including lethal force is justified. But does that include torture?
Our first impulse is to say that torture is never justified. But what if we know that biological-warfare bombs have been planted somewhere in every major city in the nation and are set to detonate in four hours. Now let’s imagine that an enemy agent has been captured who knows where the bombs are and how to disable them, yet he refuses to tell us. You are in charge of the defense, and you now have a choice between inflicting torture on one man who is our declared enemy in hopes of saving ten million of our citizens or refraining to do so because torture is uncivilized and against the Geneva Convention. What would you do? Would these means (torture) be justified by these objectives (saving ten million lives) under these circumstances (wartime)?
To put the matter into even sharper focus, let us reduce the number of lives to be saved from ten million to just one. What if we could save the life of just one person, perhaps a child, by torturing a declared enemy or a convicted murderer who has knowledge we need to prevent it? Do numbers really make a difference?
If you were the parent of a hostage held by terrorists who announce they are going to saw off your son’s head in the morning and send you a videotape of it, and if one of those assassins falls into your hands, would you be justified in using torture to obtain information needed to prevent the killing? Under the circumstances, would it make any difference to you if your country were at war or not?
These are hard questions, and it would be presumptuous to say what the correct answer should be. Each person must make his own evaluation of the ends, the means, and the circumstances. Pat answers do not work in the real world.
Now let’s apply this to Freedom Force.
Q: Do members of Freedom Force consider that we are in a war for our lives, liberty, and property?
A: Yes they do.
Q: Do they mean war in an allegorical sense or a literal sense?
A: A literal sense.
Q: Does that mean they advocate the use of any and all means to win that war, that the end justifies the means?
A: No. As stated previously, not any ends justify any means, but some ends justify some means under some circumstances. At the present stage of this war (the circumstances), we still have peaceful and Constitutional avenues open to us to bring about reform. As long as that is true, it would be wrong ethically and tactically to use any other means. We reject the use of lies, blackmail, bribery, physical violence, or any other means that would be offensive to moral values or civilized law. However, if the time should come when the hand of totalitarianism closes these options, then the rules must change to fit the new circumstances. At that point, revolution would be the only road back to freedom. We fervently hope that day will never arrive, and we are doing everything possible to avert it. Collectivist governments have incredibly powerful weapons, and the chance of a disarmed citizenry overcoming that power is extremely small. However, under those circumstances, members (and everyone else, too) would have to decide for themselves what means are appropriate in defense of their lives, liberty, and property.
Freedom Force is not designed for revolution. It is designed to restore freedom entirely by Constitutional means. The only way to avoid violence in the streets is to bring about peaceful reform. That will take great effort and sacrifice on the part of our members, but it’s a much better option than throwing stones at tanks. Time is running out on this option. If you are not already with us, we need your help now.