At first glance,
the Jacobins, Marxists, Nazis, rapacious industrial and financial
oligarchs, and modern jihadists have little in common. Weren’t the
Jacobin revolutionaries democracy’s standard bearers? Weren’t they
guided by reason and Enlightenment principles? Aren’t Marxists, past and
present, social scientists opposed to oppression by the aristocracy and
capitalist robber barons, striving to end class conflict? Weren’t the
Nazis an inevitable product of oppressive WWI unconditional surrender
terms? Aren’t industrial and financial oligarchs entrepreneurs and
community builders? Aren’t modern jihadists seeking retributive justice
for historically oppressed Muslims?
“An attractive end justifies messy means.”
end? A brave new world, requiring destruction for re-construction,
requiring the elimination of an ethos of self-donation, self-sacrifice,
and self-identification with the Jesus of the Gospels, all so that man
J.R.R. Tolkien depicts angels who are
fair-seeming, compelling in speech, and reasonable, so much so that many
men are lured into their orbit, and eventually enslaved. Sauron and
Saruman weren’t created to be the tyrants they later become.
Nonetheless, angels they were and angels they remain, though fallen.
Lord of The Rings” is just a story isn’t it: adventure, fantasy,
fiction, mythology? Actually, The Lord of The Rings, along with C.S.
Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters describes how man is tempted, and
sometimes corrupted, by fallen angels…devils.
history. Think about attractive ideals that are twisted and rendered
ugly. Think about glorious movements that end in the subjugation,
de-humanization of millions, and even mass murder. Think about people
within the Church herself who have succumbed to temptation and
The pitch isn’t all that complicated, and the pitch is infinitely adaptable: “An attractive end justifies messy means.”
means? This brave new world trumps individual rights and human dignity;
societies can be molded by all necessary means. How many of us have
succumbed to the lure of this diabolical lie at work, in our schools,
even in our homes? There is no right behavior, only “attractive ends” to
be pursued. Contrast this with Tolkien’s faithful angel, Gandalf, for
whom the means are the essential thing: mercy toward Gollum when it
would be useful to eliminate the creature, sacrificing himself when
conventional wisdom suggests his companions are more expendable, seeking
the Ring’s destruction instead of using it to combat Sauron. Or the
human target, “The Patient”, in The Screwtape Letters who, as the
chronicle progresses, and with the help of Divine agents, begins to see
past the superficiality and banality that come from pursuing “attractive
ends” at the expense of virtue. It can be said that Pope Benedict XVI
employed prayer and utter reliance on the Holy Spirit as the holy means
to relinquish the papacy, an absurdity to some, but preparing the way
for Pope Francis and his plea to the modern world.
As I was working on this article, I read a Wall Street Journal article
by Joseph Epstein, reminding me that not everyone who succumbs to the
“messy means-attractive ends” ideology has nefarious intentions. For
many, as Epstein says, it is what Saul Bellow and others have referred
to as the attraction of The Good Intentions Paving Co., derived from the
proverb “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Many of us,
in big or small matters, are attracted by one Good Intentions Paving Co.
project or another.
As for the dirty little secret many of these
brave new world proponents would prefer we not know: those obsessed with
power for power’s sake use these messy means to grab power and
privilege: Robespierre, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Castro, the North Korean
Kims, Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, millionaires and billionaires who choose
to forge their commercial empires at the expense of human dignity.…the
list is long.
How can these brave new worlders be defeated? In a
worldly sense, they can’t. Even the destruction of an arch-villain like
Hitler did not usher in an era of grace. One can even argue that the
Nazi’s splattered the rest of the world with the residue of their evil,
helping to produce the excesses and moral pathologies of the 1950s and
60s. Soviet communism fell and, after a brief period of jubilation, the
pitch was re-constituted and the lure was renewed. If Chinese communism
falls, or the Kim regime, Screwtape’s disciples will rush to fill those
Forget about conservatism, liberalism, libertarianism,
and socialism. Voices on TV, the Internet, radio, and in print deluge us
every day with the reasons why one of these political persuasions is
superior to the rest, and why all the others are infantile, or vile.
Gospel is the only remedy. Martyrs, bloody and bloodless, are what’s
necessary. Jesus reigned from the Cross. We either reign with Jesus from
our crosses, as witnesses to generosity, compassion, and faith, or we
fail. This is the paradoxical sword that batters the “messy
means-attractive ends” shield: “Unless a grain of wheat fails to the
ground and dies, it shall not bear fruit.” Our fallen human nature
resists, objects, and pleads for comfort, but we must not give in.
Stein, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and many like them, did more to liberate
humanity than General Eisenhower and all the Western armies; the same
holds true today. Screwtape, Wormwood, Sauron, Saruman, and their
disciples are busy in the world, promising us rings of power, accolades,
wealth, influence, sexual gratification. We have a choice, and this
choice makes all the difference.