Means vs. Ends

Means vs. Ends

From Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky comes these practical rules about means vs. ends.

One’s concern with the ethics of means vs. ends varies inversely with one’s personal interest in the issue.

The judgment of the ethics of means is dependent upon the political position of those sitting in judgment.

In war, the ends justify almost any means.

Judgment must be made in the context of the times the action occurred and not from any other vantage point.

Concern with ethics increases with the number of means available.

The less important the end, the more concern there is with means.

Success or failure is a mighty determinant of ethics. (There is no such thing as a successful traitor, for if he wins he becomes a founding father.)

The morality of a means depends on whether it is being employed at a time of imminent success or imminent defeat.

Any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical.

You do what you can with what you have and clothe it with moral garments.

A Palestinian whose home had just been bulldozed to rubble on five minutes notice by the Israeli Army may well have considerably different views on the use of violence to further political ends than someone sitting at home in a peaceful corner of the world.

For that matter, even calling it violence is a political judgment passed by someone depending on their viewpoint. Instruments of state power, armies, commit violence all the time, yet are seldom condemned for it. It’s only called “violence” when done by non-state actors with whom one disagrees.

And yes, of course an Israeli who was maimed in a suicide bombing will view things differently. That’s precisely what Alinsky is saying. And an organizer, to be effective, needs to view the world this way as it aids in understanding motivations and actions. This is the world as it is, not the world as we wish it to be.

The fear of soiling oneself by entering the context of history is not virtue but a way of escaping virtue, Jacques Maritain