"The ends justify the means" ("TEJTM") is a platitude that has been used throughout history to rationalize the pursuit of both laudable and iniquitous goals, more often the latter than the former.
The events leading up to "national socialism" in Germany and communism in the Soviet Union, for example, illustrate how utopian visions can give rise to evil empires. An individual's quest to obtain and retain power can become an end in itself that leads to horrific consequences, as exemplified by such notables as Josef Stalin, Bashar al-Assad, and Mao Zedong. Even in religion-inspired campaigns, such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, and ISIS, original benevolent intentions can become obscured.
Sadly, we are seeing TEJTM appear all too frequently in today's America. With the presence of social media and a compliant mass media complex, things that may be praiseworthy goals are giving rise to proposed or actual policies that are far from benign or realistic in their application.
This country is being culturally riven from any plausible ideal of "social justice" because, too often, its implementation has become an ideological winners-versus-losers exercise.
A stark example is New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's crusade to balance racial and ethnic representation in the city's elite special high schools. He proposes to substitute social engineering for what is now a test-based, racially blind merit system. If disavowing merit is the cure, it is far worse than the disease, because America has achieved its preeminence based mainly on rewarding merit.
There are many other examples, which go far beyond New York, of supposed social justice trampling merit in school admissions, including at elite universities. And there are countless examples of the goal of social justice being perverted and used arbitrarily to advantage one group over others—for example, citizens being denied state benefits, or at least being carefully scrutinized, while illegal residents find doors open for them. Another example is proposed reparations that are to be paid to people with little or no connection to slavery by people with no responsibility for that sordid history.
Another egregious case of TEJTM is Senator Kamala Harris's (D-Calif.) proposal to close the purported pay gap between men and women by fining companies for disparities.
Most people probably agree with the concept of equality, but that is, in fact, already largely met when comparing truly identical or highly similar jobs and factoring in experience, skill-sets, continuity of employment, and other variables. (Research shows that the actual pay gap is between zero and 2 percent.) But the "means" side of the equation consists of essentially relegating corporate decisions about compensation to government bureaucrats. What could possibly go wrong?
Similarly, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) proposes to implement federal "corporate charters" that would insert politics into corporate governance. The goal of protecting employees, vendors, and customers may well have merit, but once again the means would politicize the private sector. Our response: "нет, спасибо." ("No, thank you," in Russian).
On a more personal level, the laudable goal of diminishing animosity and division in our society has produced solutions that evoke totalitarian and fascist movements throughout history. Our young people are being trained to stifle opposing views, sometimes by violent actions, rather than to consider, or at least to tolerate them. This "heckler's veto" empowers small groups of vocal extremists and can easily become a powder keg waiting for a spark. Especially at our institutions of higher learning, gone is adherence to the wise maxim of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, "If there be time to . . . avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence."
But perhaps the worst case of TEJTM is found in proposals like the Green New Deal, a dangerous extreme of social engineering. Although there is more uncertainty about the nature and magnitude of climate change than is usually acknowledged by the "woke" elite, including the liberal media, let us assume the effect is real and significant. It is the litany of prescriptions for dealing with it—the means—that are, to put it mildly, absurd.
In an in depth analysis, Mark Mills of the Manhattan Institute considers the impact of a zero hydrocarbon solution to climate change. He concludes that much of the Green New Deal is effectively impossible. For example:
So how many batteries would be needed to store, say, not two months' but two days' worth of the nation's electricity [produced by green technologies]? The $5 billion Tesla "Gigafactory" in Nevada is currently the world's biggest battery manufacturing facility. Its total annual production could store three minutes' worth of annual U.S. electricity demand. Thus, in order to fabricate a quantity of batteries to store two days' worth of U.S. electricity demand would require 1,000 years of Gigafactory production.
Considering that the GND is being pushed to avoid a "climate apocalypse" in 10, 13, or 20 years (depending on the particular brand of snake oil being peddled) and that the economic impact on the United States would be enormous (never mind that one country cannot save the planet by itself), this is a case of trying to achieve an end through means that can only victimize Americans. Perhaps this is not the sort of wanton slaughter wrought by the likes of Comrade Stalin, Chairman Mao, or Bashar Hafez al-Assad, but there would certainly be extensive suffering and a shortening of life spans, especially among the most vulnerable in our society. Misery tends to flow downhill.
There are many ways to cope with climate change that would be far less disruptive than a futile and virtually impossible effort to completely prevent or reverse it. Those are the "means" that should be receiving more thought and attention.
We believe people are tired of being told by the progressive elite that their views about immigration, climate change, and pay disparities are immoral, because "that's not who we are." Who made Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez the moral arbiters for their fellow Americans?
We believe that the real moral weakness is in those who hide behind platitudes like "the end justifies the means." As one presidential candidate after another announces some crazy scheme to differentiate himself or herself, we need to remember that unbridled idealism without realism is dangerous.
Andrew I. Fillat spent his career in technology venture capital and information technology companies. He is also the co-inventor of relational databases. Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, for 24 years was the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. They were undergraduates together at M.I.T.