For Learning Seminar 2 the India cohort had a debate between myself and another fellow. The debate topic was “The ends justify the means.” I ended up losing. My opponent is a wonderful debater and should go into politics. These are my opening and closing statements that were written before the debate.
Fifty five years ago, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, stood in front of the United Nations General Assembly on the Eleventh of December 1964, and delivered a speech regarding a recently shot down American airplane that had invaded Cuban airspace. Guevara called for the potential for nuclear disarmament and emphatically denounced the United States of America as one of the world’s most oppressive imperial aggressors. He proclaimed the most ‘burning issue’ facing the General Assembly was the call for “peaceful-coexistence.”
Widely considered one of the greatest speeches of all time, Guevara discussed the injustice he had seen imperialist powers impose on oppressed countries by any means necessary which included acts such as; genocide, and government funded coup d’etats. Countries, such as the United States of America, use democracy as a cover for oppressive regimes to “liberate” those countries whose resources they wished to exploit for themselves. “Western Civilization,” he stated, “…disguised behind its shadowy facade, a picture of hyenas and jackals.” While Che Guevara was a brutal figure himself as the leader of Cuban’s Revolutionary firing squads, we cannot remain blind to the importance of the message behind his speech that still resonates with many people today.
Given Guevara’s assertions, can it be said that the phrase, “The means to an end”, are justifiable, if and only if, the sins of the means outweigh the goodness of the end result? Is oppression and degradation of a people that are being oppressed by the morally corrupt in the pursuit of material and/or political gain legitimate? Or is the real question, “does morality matter at all in world affairs?”
Niccolò Machiavelli is widely attributed to popularize the phrase, “The outcome justifies the deeds”, in his book, “The Prince”. If you are not familiar with the book, “The Prince”, it was written by Machiavelli while imprisoned for his unsuccessful attempt at raising a militia against the Medici family. The Medici family had been politically ruling in Florence, Italy for generations, and would continue to spread and gain their political power and influence for years to come. Machiavelli wrote “The Prince” in an attempt to regain the favor of the family. “The Prince” is meant to be an appeal to a family in a multi-generational position of oppressive power over a country and a continent, not a humanitarian guide on how to be morally virtuous.
“The Prince”, is also known for the quote, “It is better to be feared than loved”, which illustrates Machiavelli’s adaptation to what he believed to be the Medici’s ruling philosophy. If the man who wrote a book around the quote believes that one can only rule through fear, through oppression, and through trepidation, then it stands to reason that, “the outcome justifies the deeds”, is the belief of an oppressor and a tyrant; someone who is not an impartial judge on the fact of their own wrongdoing.
This branch of political philosophy is referred to as rule-consequentialism. Throughout history, “The ends justify the means”, has provided a justification for the unjustifiable. The saying was applauded by Machiavelli in favor of political tyranny, for a family of political tyrants, and written so he himself may gain favor and release from incarceration. Machiavelli’s means have never justified the end.
It is now a job of moral philosophers to update and stress limitations on the modern philosophy of consequentialism because dictators, tyrannical political leaders, and authoritarian regimes have all been caught abusing the philosophy and adapting it to their own ideas of what is ethically right and wrong. For example, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin used consequentialism to justify their murderous political acts.
To fully defend and believe the ends justify the means, concludes that you accept and support the violations of human rights for the sake of material gain. It means countries can be crippled for the political gain of another, and it means that harm to your fellow man is acceptable, if not considered virtuous, as long as those in power are the ones committing the atrocity. No man deserves to have their fundamental human rights forsaken and no one should have them forsaken for people who, for lack of a better term, are meant to be public servants.
For me, the ends do not justify the means, if those means come from a place of moral and ethical corruption. The phrase itself was born of tyrants and spoken to justify tyranny throughout its complex history of usage. The inner moral compass that humanity depends on and writes laws in favor for, is not one of greed. We cannot, as a global community, become hyenas and jackals. Understand that humanity as a collective will not benefit if we put the wants of the few above the needs of the many. So therefore, saying the ends justify the means is inherently flawed: fundamentally, as well as morally, wrong.
If we do not understand that humanity and humanness is of a higher importance than a collection of material and political power, than we as a people, with connections and relationships to our fellow men, have failed. To say that the ends justify the means is to say that oppression and fear and hate win. The ends justify the means, falsely justifies that hate, oppression and fear leaves us enveloped in corrupt desolation. The phrase itself was born of tyrants and spoken to justify tyranny throughout history. Exploitation is the expectation for those of us whose only crime is circumstance. For the good of your humanness, let your fellow man live without oppression and do not live by a philosophy that creates so much damage and ruin.