Monday, July 11, 2022

The greatest possible good

Nathan Schlueter asks "Is Compromise Evil?" Using positions on abolitionism before the Civil War, he argues we should avoid some approaches to compromise but that there is a correct, but difficult, kind of compromise (below I've bolded or italicised sometimes where the author did not):
...[A]lthough compromise is not likely to inspire our most heroic impulses, it is integral to political life. Like other basic human needs, it is low but necessary, and it will have its revenge on those who abuse it or treat it with contempt and refuse its humble office. That office is to achieve the greatest possible good in circumstances that are less than ideal, without sacrificing truth or integrity. The lowness of this office makes compromise an easy target for demagogues who seek to leverage their own status by sacrificing achievable goods with the intoxicating promise of impossible perfections. ....

We might distinguish three attitudes toward compromise. Call them Purism, Pragmatism, and Prudence. .... The Purist regards all compromise as immoral. He therefore makes the perfect the enemy of the good. In practice this often has the worst results, but for the Purist good intentions are more important than good results. ....

If Purists overestimate evil, Pragmatists underestimate it. Pragmatists are completely transactional about the good. They are willing to compromise everything in order to diffuse conflict. ....

Prudence shares Purism’s commitment to objective principles, but it always seeks ways to promote and protect those principles in imperfect circumstances. It seeks to be as shrewd as a serpent while remaining as innocent as a dove (Matt. 10:16). Prudence depends on a crucial distinction acknowledged by both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas between permitting evil and committing evil. The Pauline Principle (Rom. 3:8) states that we may never do evil to achieve good. God sometimes permits evil for the sake of greater goods, but He never commits evil. Human beings should do the same. The effort to achieve the greatest possible good without committing evil does not make one a consequentialist. It makes one prudent. .... (more)
Nathan Schlueter, "Is Compromise Evil?," National Review, July 10, 2022.

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