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January 11, 2017 / Congau

The Means to an Unknown End

”The end justifies the means”, that may perhaps be true, but as a slogan it is useless, terrifying and extremely dangerous. It is clear that sacrifices must be made on the way toward any destination, that cakes must be eaten and eggs broken, but if that golden omelette cannot be produced, and it cannot, there is no substitute for the irreparable debris.

That is the problem for those social reformers who turn their conviction into ruthless war. Whatever utopia it is they want to achieve, it will never be obtained, not only because perfection is impossible, but because human affairs are unpredictable.

When myriads of forces are involved, when legions are fighting for or against any number of contradictory goals, the outcome is bound to be very different from what anyone could envision. No matter what wonderful aim a Lenin or a Mao may have contemplated, the result would have to look very different.

Not only utopias are beyond reach, no political goal can be attained exactly according to plan. Maybe the end would have justified certain extreme measures if it could be reached, but it cannot. The damage done and the people killed, what has happened can never be undone and it all has to be accounted for when the end result is assessed.

The relationship between ends and means can only be seen in retrospect – when it is too late. Only then will we know if the means were justified, and they probably were not.

As a rule for action, the means can only be justified when the end is very simple and predictable.

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