Does the End Justify the Means?

The editors of the Washington Post muse on whether the end justifies the means in politics, focusing specifically on two cases of pandering to constituencies by the Biden Administration:

  • The delay on banning menthol cigarettes, the primary consumers of which are black
  • Stated opposition to the acquisition of U. S. Steel by Nippon Steel, a “straight-out sop to the United Steelworkers union”

Possibly predictably they come down on the side of the end justifying the means:

The FDA could revisit the ban after the election, and the ultimate decision on the U.S. Steel sale awaits input from regulators. On the other hand, a Trump victory could eliminate any chance of a good policy outcome in either case. So trim your principles, Democrats, and pander away. Just remember: The only thing worse than playing Machiavelli for a good cause is playing Machiavelli for a good cause and losing.

I do not believe that the end ever justifies the means when the means are immoral. That is a primary reason that I oppose Donald Trump. I think that those who support him thinking that the end justifies the means are going against the ancient wisdom. You cannot achieve good ends through bad means.

In the two cases the editors bring up they’re not accepting bad means just stupid ones. I would add that I think they err in ascribing any principles to elected officials whose only actual principles are the urge to wealth and power. IMO vanishingly few of our politicians have any principles, as I say, other than an urge to wealth and power and what produces that is the belief that the end justifies the means, cf. Mike Madigan.

11 comments… add one
  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    How does the Washington Post know a 2nd Trump administration won’t ban menthol cigarettes?

    I believe it was during Trump’s term that flavored e-cigarettes were banned.

    Summing it up, a lot of reasoning occurs backwards these days. The conclusion directs what facts one looks for.

  • steve Link

    Menthol bans in Canada and other places have lead to small decreases in overall smoking rates. It’s probably worthwhile, but not sure it hurts much to wait a few months.


  • Grey Shambler Link

    Menthol has a numbing effect in the throat which makes crack, paint thinner, and gasoline more comfortable to inhale.
    Biden administration says that this is tough on black people.
    IDK, I don’t want them uncomfortable either.

  • Zachriel Link

    If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. — Abraham Lincoln, in the leadup to the Emancipation Proclamation

    Here’s the calculus: In 1860, the North was burgeoning in economic and political power. It was only a matter of time before slavery would be ended through political means. Southern leaders were fully aware of this. So, when Lincoln was elected, the South took action to remove that possibility by seceding from the Union. Lincoln also knew the calculus, meaning he knew slavery could be finally ended once and for all only if the Union held. Hence, he ran for president saying he wouldn’t abolish slavery; and, during the war, he acted “freeing some and leaving others alone”.

  • Grey Shambler Link

    Was only a matter of time before slavery was ended for economic reasons too.
    Looking back, with 160 years of hindsight,
    do the means justify the end?
    If this were the end.
    What’s done is done, the dead are vilified and buried, by former slave’s ancestors, are not prosperous or even happy. By every economic measure eight decades have passed and not sufficed.
    Now they’re after the menthol…..

  • Zachriel Link

    Grey Shambler: Was only a matter of time before slavery was ended for economic reasons too.

    The South was willing to go to war to preserve the institution. Then, even after the huge blood-letting and destruction of the war, it was a century before the descendants of slaves finally won equal rights under the law.

    The problem is that the incentives of individuals do not always align with the good of the group. Someone with slaves is always incentivized to keep their slaves and can always find justification. It wasn’t until civil rights and the air conditioner that the South really began to develop a modern economy.

  • Grey Shambler Link

    Ending slavery was a feather in the cap for White Colonials, but eight decades later the freed slaves ancestors have little to show for it.
    Liberal White intellectuals privately believe that racial equality will never be achieved without complete integration of our DNA.
    That may be true, and the efforts of media to encourage such may or may not hurry such efforts along.
    We have in my lifetime, seen white births to single mothers approach that of black mothers.
    How many of these white mothers have children born to black fathers is not known, AFAIK, but the intermingling of the DNA continues and will likely lead to a population and culture that cannot sustain the Republic that the founding fathers created.
    Lincoln suspected this but he put his faith ahead of his common sense.

  • Drew Link

    IMHO progressives have adopted the ultimate ends justify position: lawfare. A pox on them and every Democrat who doesn’t rise up against it.

  • Grey Shambler Link

    Hadn’t realized that she was a motormouth.

  • steve Link

    The GOP could consider supporting candidates who dont commit so many crimes. (LOL) Stupid ones at that. I still find it bizarre that he didnt just give the documents back and then made it worse by lying about it.


  • Zachriel Link

    To return to our original point:

    Lincoln believed that everyone’s liberty was bound up with the Union, that if the Union splintered, then no one’s liberty was safe, whether free or slave. Was Lincoln wrong to compromise with slavery knowing that the end of slavery ultimately depended upon that compromise, knowing that everyone’s freedom was ultimately bound up with that compromise?

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