August 5, 2009


Fujimori (Theodore Dalrymple, August 2009, New English Review)

[C]onstituted governments do a lot of evil, but they are not the only ones to do evil. In this case, the government was the lesser evil, and by far.

But it was very weak. The egregious Alan Garcia was the president, and when it came to corruption, and no doubt many other failings, he could have taught Fujimori a thing or two. At the end of his mandate, he sailed away like a Spanish viceroy of old, to enjoy ill-gotten millions.

It was under Fujimori’s presidency that Sendero was defeated. The odious and murderous Guzman was captured, and made to look ridiculous as well as hypocritical. This seemed to me an immense achievement, an uncommon victory over evil.

But, of course, some of the methods used to achieve that victory were not up to the standards of Scandinavian democracy. Years later, after Fujimori had shown an uncomfortable attachment to power, and the memory of the situation he inherited had faded somewhat, he was charged with having ordered kidnappings and murder, as well as other offences. And indeed, he was guilty of these things.

How does one assess his moral, as against his legal, guilt? Is it permissible to commit a lesser evil to avoid a greater one? I am not a utilitarian, but it seems to me unrealistic to say that we should never depart from the ideal in order to prevent a much greater departure from the ideal; that, like Kant, we should tell a murderer where his victim is simply so that we do not commit the moral fault of telling a lie. On the other hand, the doctrine that the end justifies the means has been responsible for many horrors, large-scale and small.

I confess to never having understood the means/end argument. After all, if the end is to not get our hands dirty -- against the USSR, Nazis, Japanese, PRC, Sandinistas, North Korea, Saddam or whomever -- then the means is to allow them to murder tens of millions. As the more profound question asks: If the ends don't justify the means, what does?

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 5, 2009 1:11 PM
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