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Means and Ends

A respondent objects to my articles about Dewey’s thoughts on violence and on the Soviet Union, and says of me:

« ... all I can say is that the selections he chooses to quote, the interpretations he puts on them, and the outrage he obviously feels  and expects us to share ... »

The selections I chose to quote?  I should choose others and these will go away?

What Dewey said doesn’t require interpreting.  Dewey might be difficult to understand at first only because he tries to appear to abhor violence (in setting up a socialist state) while really saying violence is perfectly all right.

Yes, I do think what Dewey says is an outrage and I do expect you to be outraged too.  And eventually I trust you to be outraged that this slippery eel is found in advertising for the Alexander Technique.

Someone who can read Dewey advocating the use of brute force in order to abolish private property at the behest of the mob, crushing any “recalcitrant minority” who protests, someone who can read that and then say Dewey advocates liberty, is blind to what liberty really means.

And calling something private property while giving use, control, and disposal of it to “society” is not liberty either.

« From the point of view of someone who hasn’t gone down [his] path, the quotations are primarily about the relationship of ends to means ... .»

The following is from Dewey’s essay “Means and Ends” which he submitted to the communist journal The New International  (subtitled: “A Monthly Organ of Revolutionary Marxism”) and which was published in vol. 4, Aug. 1938 page 232 (Later Works, vol. 13 page 349).  Dewey discusses an earlier essay in the same journal by Trotsky.

“Since Mr. Trotsky also indicates that the only alternative position to the idea that the end justifies the means is some form of absolutistic ethics based on ... some brand of eternal truths, I wish to say that I write from a standpoint that rejects all such doctrines as definitely as does Mr. Trotsky himself, and that I hold that the end in the sense of consequences provides the only basis for moral ideas and action, and therefore provides the only justification that can be found for means employed.” (Page 350.)

This justifies those means

“which really lead to the liberation of mankind.” (Dewey quoting Trotsky, page 351.)

Don’t be fooled by the word “liberation”  the meaning here is establishing a socialist government.  Dewey then makes a distinction between the final end called “end-in-view” and steps along the way called “consequences.”  (He doesn’t address the question by what standard you judge a “consequence.”  He cannot because there are no standards, no “eternal truths,” no human rights.)  After quoting Trotsky, Dewey agrees:

“One would expect, then, that with the idea of the liberation of mankind [i.e. setting up a socialist regime] as the end-in-view, there would be an examination of all means that are likely to attain this end without any fixed preconception as to what they must be, and that every suggested means would be weighed and judged on the express ground of the consequences it is likely to produce.” (Page 351.)

This intellectual gobbledygook could justify anything.  It is the Marxist revolutionaries’  “by any means necessary”  even as Dewey denies that he is saying this.

Dewey then goes on to disagree with Trotsky that “class struggle” from “historical necessity” is the only way to set up a socialist state.

From an intellectual who does understand human rights (Ayn Rand in The Anti-Industrial Revolution):

“The end does not justify the means.  No one’s rights can be secured by the violation of the rights of others.”

Getting back to my respondent:

« The horrors of Stalinism do not, except in [his] black and white world, »

That “black and white” troubles me.  There is black, there is white, and there is gray  a mixture of black and white.  In other words, you can analyze a complex situation into what is good about it and what is bad.  You don’t throw up your hands and say: don’t judge, everything is shades of gray.

« thereby vitiate democratic aspirations for a more equitable society. »

In other words, Stalin’s socialism was bad, but Dewey’s socialism might be good.

« Both may share elements of a conception of society which [he] rejects, but they are completely opposed over the means for attaining it. »

There is only one means to “distribute” someone’s property who wants to keep it.  Socialism is evil because of its “equitableness”  because of its leveling, because “society” (read the state) by force takes what is yours.  This by itself is enough to reject socialism.  And as long as people have self-respect enough to resist, Stalin-like oppression is the ultimate consequence.  This is not a shade of gray.

The respondent goes on to say I’m biased in my reading of Dewey.  We are to believe that Dewey advocates peace, and that his ideas in practice would not necessarily lead to violence.