The more I think about my friend Ron Radosh’s puff piece on Nicholas Von Hoffman’s new biography of Saul Alinsky, which appeared in of all places National Review, the more uneasy I feel. As I pointed out in my previous blog, von Hoffman’s book begins with an Alinsky epigraph:
“If the ends don’t justify the means, what else does?”
Those who have read Alinsky’s book, which is now the bible of the Left, will know that the entire text is an extended argument for the principle that the ends justify the means and there is no “morality” — or, as Alinsky would put it, all moral judgements of means are corrupt. Because in Alinsky’s view, all means are justified by the appropriate end.
The consequences of adopting the view that the ends justify the means is that any means however criminal and depraved is justified if the end it is seeking to achieve is politically correct. Thus the Nation leftists (who published von Hoffman’s book) can make excuses for a criminal and depraved organization like Hamas, and support a crusade to cleanse the Middle East of its Jews because the noble end — “liberation” — justifies it.
However, in order to make this moral calculus work, you have to have the view that there is a hierarchy of ends which can be known and agreed on. This is the totalitarian view. For as Isaiah Berlin long ago observed there is no such hierarchy of ends or unity of human purpose. And as the one-time Marxist Leszek Kolakowski pointed out the attempts to achieve unity and equality (which are the socialist ends) inevitably produce the totalitarian state. In the real world, ends conflict with each other, and there is no unforced unity among human beings about which is the most important. Hence the crucial importance of viewing means as ends. Democracy, for example, is an end in itself since otherwise communities with different beliefs and therefore different ends would be at each others’ throats.