Ends, Means and the Arbitrary Execution of Power

My sister used to like to, as a sort of coup-fourré of any argument, snap “So, you’re saying the end justifies the means.”

It stumped me for a while, because everyone knows the ends don’t justify the means. But then I realized she had reframed the argument in the wrong way, and began to retort, “The means don’t require justification!” What I had realized was that she didn’t like the ends, and was attacking the means rather than just coming right out and saying she didn’t like the ends. (Sometimes she also didn’t like the means, because she really didn’t much like it when I did anything.)
I thought of this while I was driving and, as many of us do, wondering about whether I might be pulled over. I wasn’t doing anything wrong I don’t think. I wasn’t speeding, hadn’t done any reckless lane changes. I was driving the Bumblebee, which may not be compliant with all the laws. (I recently had to outfit it with a new catalytic converter to pass a smog test.)
And it reminded me of something Althouse said a while ago that appalled me: She said that universally applying the law would be horrible. I think she even used traffic laws as an example.
I, on the other hand, tend to view universal application to be a necessary requirement for justice and reasonable governance. Speed limit laws? If they were universally applied, they’d quickly be (mostly) repealed. And so it is with, I think, most of the laws—particularly “regulations”, which are of course just laws that have been passed in violation of the way the Constitution allows—would go away were they all enforced.
What this means is that the government gets to pick-and-choose who to prosecute, allowing for the arbitrary exercise of power. This is often done for political reasons, but it’s also just done because it can be.
This is particularly relevant in light of the recent James O’Keefe case, where he was prosecuted for doing what has been standard practice in journalism for as long as I can remember. Burying the lede about Senator Landrieu’s lying, the old media completely unselfconsciously is labeling O’Keefe a “criminal” and an “activist” for doing what they’ve been doing since I was born.
It’s such a dog-bites-man story these days that it’s barely worth noticing, much like the old media itself. “It’s only okay when we do it,” they’re telling us.
But this itself made me reflect on the phrase “the end justifies the means”, and how the thinking of that is meant to be the very epitome of evil.
But when you think about it, the intended end is the only thing that can rationalize any means. I mean, think about it: You suffer many injustices in your day-to-day life, don’t you? (I know I do. Well, maybe not many, but enough.) But you don’t (e.g.) fly a plane into the nearest Federal building because they ripped you off on your taxes.
OK, some people do, but we call them crazy, even if we agree they were poorly treated.
People always end up talking about Nazis when this ends/means thing comes up. But the Nazis had no trouble with the means—the means were, in fact, the point. The end was what was hazy. “We’ll kill all the Jews and life will be great!” Hitler sure didn’t believe that. He thought actually achieving that end would be awful and require him to make up a new target.
Stalin and Mao killed tens of millions. In their cases, the means actually were the ends. Yeah, I know all the blather about justice and immanetizing the eschaton and what-not, but the point of communism (and socialism and environmentalism and fascism) is raw, naked power which is what any dictator ends up with. Power and the ability to continue to exercise it.
(Sort of tangentially related, Matt & Ezra’s Excellent Adventure continues unspoiled. One of them is bound to win the Walter Duranty Award for Oustandingly Naive Journalism.)
Nothing really revelational here, I just always find it interesting when I end up analyzing something I’ve assumed for years and found it not to be all that true.

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