By R.M.B Senanayake –
The Opposition has leveled various allegations of corruption and financial irregularities against the President, The President has not responded to them but instead at the recent Momentum Forum argued that he should be judged only by results- the results of the development activity he engaged in. He also added that corruption was a necessary part of the process of development. Do we accept this view?
Should the individual be sacrificed for the good of the society?
This view holds that for the good of the society the individual’s happiness must be sacrificed. But this is the view of the Fascists and the Communists who believed that the interests of the State are above that of the individuals who compose it. This is the collectivist myth. The State is only the instrument of the people to protect the individual from any violence or depredations imposed by other individuals. The State is required only to maintain order and peace between the individuals in a society; since the alternative is to allow all individuals to use force to settle their disputes which would lead to chaos. The establishment of the State by giving it the monopoly of the use of force, is man’s prudent innovation to maintain peace and order among human beings. The State did not exist before the individuals that comprise it. So there can be no interests of the State except the interests of the individuals that compose it. The same applies to society. We could say that the interests of the society are the interests of the individuals who form it. There is of course an issue when the interests of individuals differ and minority versus majority emerge.
What about economic development? Should the State be excused for corruption and waste of resources in the name of development. Economic development is an exercise in using scarce resources for maximum benefit whether such exercise is by the State or the private sector. In the case of corruption and misuse by the private sector such enterprise will fail in the face of competition.
Are all Moral Values Relative?
The second issue is with regard to the morality of corruption. Some would say all moral values are relative. But there is a core of moral values essential for any society to function. This core of fundamental moral values are set out in the Ten Commandments and the Dhammapada. This core doesn’t change and is needed for the very existence of society. Are these moral values absolute? Leave that to philosophers to debate.
The collectivist myth assumes that the end justifies the means. It has caused great death and destruction in the world and still does. The civilized world does not agree that the end justifies the means. The individual cannot be sacrificed for the good of society and honesty is a sine qua non for a society.
Economic development must maximize the use of resources. Corruption militates against it. The end cannot justify the means however noble it may be. Hitler, Stalin and Mao Tse Tung did so. They murdered millions to achieve the good of society. Ultimately the Communists failed as did the Nazis. There is no good of society apart from the good of the individuals’ and no human being can be sacrificed for an assumed greater good. In the words of Ayn Rand “man is a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute”. –
“Man, every man, is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life”.
The philosophy of ‘the end justifies the means’ is derived from the political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli glorifies the instrumentality of state building. Violence may be necessary, says Niccolo, for the successful stabilization of power and introduction of new legal institutions. Force and military might may be used to eliminate political rivals, to coerce resistant populations, and to purge the community of other men strong enough of character to rule, who will inevitably attempt to replace the ruler?” President MR is invoking this Machiavellian principle. But it is not acceptable to any civilized being.
The Defence Secretary once justified the wanton killing of known criminals ignoring the due process of the law, because they were a social evil. Many ordinary people justified it because a social evil was being eliminated for the good of society. But if the government becomes a law breaker, it breeds contempt for the law: it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means is to declare that the government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal” Louis D Brandeis’
“The end cannot justify the means for the simple and obvious reason that the means employed determine the nature of the ends produced” Aldous Huxley. Changing human nature via the MEANS of force assuming that Might makes Right will eventually lead to total destruction of our civilization and probably the civilization of the entire plane.”
Reforming the world
Many socialists are people of goodwill who are appalled by the poverty of the poor and the wasteful extravagance of the few who are rich. They are upset by humiliating working conditions, and resent the greed and the lack of cooperative spirit among people. Socialists want to eliminate these evils. But how could this be done? Not by force surely? The great religious teachers did not think so. The goals however noble do not justify killing the rich. So many humanists, who are not socialists while agreeing with the socialists that there are serious social evils in the market economy, cannot subscribe to the use of violence against the capitalists advocated by Marxists in order to eliminate these social evils. Different groups of people may have different values but the civilized people who subscribed to the UN Declarations of Human Rights and the International Covenants do not accept this doctrine of the end justifying the means not even in wartime. So the President and some Army officers are accused of killing civilians and murdering the enemy who came to surrender bearing white flags. Necessity does not justify it, if it was true.
But those with a dictatorial frame of mind routinely defend such political measures on the sole basis that they will bring about some good consequence that supposedly outweighs any costs from their perspective. In all these cases, those who set the government policy seem to think that all they need do is identify a consequence be it economic development , as the “greater good” and the discussion is over. The end justifies the means.
But there are always costs to—and therefore victims of—any government action. Corruption is not a victimless crime. Its costs are borne by the people and borne for a long time- be it a white elephant like the Mattala airport or the high cost expressways. These costs have to be recovered from the people by way of tolls and when the costs are excessive the tolls have to be higher than necessary. Further, apart from the capital cost there are regular maintenance costs which also go up and have to be recovered to maintain their economic life. So all the costs have to be unnecessarily high because of the excessive costs due to corruption or inefficiency. “All those who are forced to bear the costs are treated by the government and the special-interest groups it empowers as mere means to other people’s ends—that is, they are treated as less than human for whose benefit- for those in power who are responsible for the corruption and inefficiency. When I am in a queue somebody pushes me aside and takes my place. Is it justified? No, although it satisfies his needs which may even be more pressing than mine. The proponents of such measures never tell us why the benefits they aim for are more important than the benefits other people must do without. But of course they couldn’t tell us. The alleged benefits are incommensurable.
Many who oppose the principle would sympathize with the notion that, sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the greater good. But they duty seek to persuade the people to accept the need of the situation as when Churchill persuaded the British people to undergo much sacrifices to win the war. But to sacrifice one set of people for the good of the rest is not acceptable, as Hitler used to justify the killing of 6 million Jews. Similarly Stalin killed millions of Russians because they opposed the collectivization of their farms. There are norms to be followed. Would you torture a terrorist suspect if he could reveal enough information to prevent a ticking time bomb from exploding in a big city? Last week the use of torture by the CIA was revealed . Can it be justified? What if the man was innocent and did not really know anything to be extracted during a torture session. No torture, no corruption can be justified on the ground of necessity or for the greater good.