FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Ends, and means
“The ends justify the means” is one of the most poisonous ideas of the modern era. I limit this assessment to the modern era because prior to that, means tended to justify themselves. The advent of democracy obliged Ruling Class types across the Western world to do a bit better than “because I said so” to secure obedience from their subjects. The end result is, if anything, proving to even more unpleasantly mercurial than old-school monarchy, because crusades for the “greater good” last longer and reach further than building imperial fortunes on the backs of the peasantry.
The problem with agreeing the ends justify the means – or, to put it another way, the fierce urgency of implementing some compulsive program right now, sweeping aside inconvenient laws – is that we place ourselves at the mercy of those who define the ends. I always cringe when I hear tirades against legislative “gridlock,” because the only truly effective way to eliminate it involves getting rid of the legislature. When you see the Democrat minority in the House handing King Barack a list of executive orders they would like him to impose, what they’re effectively doing is demanding the nullification of the last few elections. They are confident that they can instantly reverse the movement toward benevolent dictatorship as soon as the dictator lacks a “D” after his name, and at the moment I generally agree with them: you’ll be astonished how quickly the entire media-political culture falls back in love with the separation of powers, the rights of the minority, filibusters, and other checks on executive power when a Republican enters the Oval Office.
But sooner or later, the damage to our system will pass beyond the ability of partisan duct tape to repair. At the moment, I’m confident America can recover most of the Constitutional restraints on executive power by simply electing a Republican chief executive, but that could stop being true by 2020.
In a lawful Republic, the means define the ends. That’s tough bread for fiery revolutionaries to chew, but it’s the essence of the Constitutional system. If some brilliant plan involves discarding vital protections in the Bill of Rights, it should be a non-starter. The difficult process for amending the Constitution can be used to expand the means available to the State, but of course radicals don’t have patience for all of that, nor do they have confidence in their ability to attract enough popular support to get it done.
Some variation of “ends justify the means” impatience animates every current conflict between the Ruling Class and dissenting citizens. Frankly, in a republic of free men and women, there aren’t many ends the central government can feasibly accomplish. Its ability to compel obedience is sharply limited. Conversely, you can be sure that an inescapable central State with a long list of ends it wants to achieve will not be terribly picky about the means. There comes a point where the agenda of the Ruling Class is completely incompatible with the rule of law, and we know darn well which of them will give way.
One reason the rule of law is such a downer for eager radicals with a red-hot agenda is that it requires equal treatment for everyone. That’s a massive buzzkill when you’re looking to transform an unwilling populace. Inconsistency is the fountain of power, because it grants the Ruling Class control without reciprocal obligations. As we have seen many times, our rulers only pass some of their more boneheaded laws because they’re confident they will never be forced to live with the results.
When the public is willing to believe that noble ends justify cutting corners and ignoring laws, all that remains is to keep them in a high state of frenzy over the desired ends of the Ruling Class. Everything becomes a crisis, the moral equivalent of war, or just like the civil rights crusade of the Sixties. The latter imagery is now routinely appropriated to support anything and everything liberals want to do, which really ought to bother actual civil-rights crusaders and their sincere admirers more than it seems to.
For example, here’s a little image the Democrats are circulating in their campaign to browbeat Arizona Governor Jan Brewer into vetoing the religious conscience law passed by her state legislature:
Whatever you think of the law in question, it is not in any way comparable to lunch counter racism. This bit of propaganda an insult to the people in the picture, as much as the Arizona Republicans it’s ostensibly directed at. (Of course, the true audience is people who hate Arizona Republicans. And which party was behind those segregation laws, again?) The folks sitting at that lunch counter faced far greater challenges than having to call three bakers before they found someone willing to make them a custom wedding cake, or go with their backup choice of photographer for the ceremony.
If the case for compulsory participation in same-sex wedding ceremonies was so strong, you would think this kind of hyperbole unnecessary to push it. But every media-disfavored law is Jim Crow these days. It’s a state of constant hysteria designed to promote acceptance of that toxic idea, the ends justify the means. Whatever you’re supposed to be upset about these days is such a soul-rending outrage that we can’t leave free people alone to sort things out for themselves. We cannot display the patience necessary for persuasion instead of compulsion. Sixty percent have spoken; the other forty percent must obey. Consensus becomes an argument for the exercise of power… and that’s just about the opposite of the way our system was supposed to work.
As noted above, power is expressed through inconsistency, so it may not surprise you to learn of a bona fide example of lunch-counter discrimination: a bar owner in California who openly states he will deny service to legislators who vote for bills he thinks are anti-gay. When the ends justify the means, it follows that different ends allow for different means. It all comes down to subjective judgment, and once compulsive force is involved, the judgment of the subjects becomes irrelevant.