James Leroy Wilson's blog

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Good Men, Good Intentions

"The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing" is attributed to Edmund Burke, though he never wrote it.

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions" is attributed to Samuel Johnson, who actually just repeated an old proverb, the better "Hell is paved with good intentions."

Both are true, yet they seem to contradict each other. Either statement can rebut the other to advance either side in any political debate. Which means they are replacements for actual reasoned thought.

Yet, both are true. Context matters, and may be seen in acutal quotes from Burke like these:

"Our patience will achieve more than force."

and

"Manners are of more importance than laws... Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in."

A culture's "manners" is primarily how the men think and behave. Women, generally and to their credit, prefer life over death, preservation over destruction, fairness over first place, compromise and peace over abstractions and war. Men follow their gods, whatever they may be; women follow the men.

Manners, like culture or religious belief, can not be improved by force, and if the Germans and Japanese could peacefully rebuild under liberal political institutions, perhaps that's a reflection of the manners within their cultures. The Balkan and Middle East messes likewise are a reflection of manners which no laws or form of government can change.

Imposing good "laws" or politically systems can not instantenously improve good manners, but bad laws can quickly corrupt them. Keep in mind also that politicians and statesmen do not usually think of themselves, their motives, or their policies as evil. The dictator, and Isabel Patterson's "humanitarian with a guillotine" think of themselves as "good men" who are "doing something."

So how do "good men" know when their actions are resisting evil, and how do they know if their good intentions can lead to disaster?

Here are some things to consider about intentions:

1. Are you breaking the established rules of the system everyone's been living under?
2. Do you think changing the system is justified only if you do it because of your intentions, but would be dangerous if anyone else tried?
3. Is your heart full of hate of people who disagree with you?
4. Are you trying to rid the world of evil, or just controlling its effects?

And some things to consider about doing "nothing" when facing evil adverseries:

1. Are the evil forces breaking the established rules of the system everyone's been living under?
2. Do you see a bad precedent being set by these adverseries?
3. Is the threat growing, or is it checked?
4. Are your adersaries intolerant?

"Good intentions" try to change something, but when change is attempted through illigimate authority, the result is often corruption or destruction. Good men do not impose their "goodness" upon the rest of the world, instead they resist evil when it is imposed on them.

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