An excerpt from the last chapter of my new book, Planning for Everything.
I dream of a world guided by stories rooted in the revelations of science and framed with an indigenous worldview.
– Robin Wall Kimmerer
Niccolò Machiavelli never wrote “the ends justify the means,” but that’s one way to interpret The Prince. Some see it as satire or a trick to undo tyranny. The author’s intent is unknown, so we can’t know if the plan worked. We do know he put a dent in the universe. Five centuries later we still debate his words, and we tend to construe history as a battle of means and ends.
Consider, for illustration, the tale of Joan of Arc. In 1412 when Joan was born, France seemed destined to control by England. At the age of thirteen, this peasant girl began to receive visions from God, often in the form of divinely specific instructions.
I have been commanded to do two things on the part of the King of Heaven: one, to raise the siege of Orleans; the other, to conduct the King to Rheims for his sacrament and his coronation.
Miraculously, at seventeen, Joan was put in charge of the army of France, achieved both her stated goals, and turned the tide of the Hundred Years’ War. A year later, captured by England, she was burned at the stake for the heresy of cross-dressing. That she wore armor in battle to be safe and pants in prison to deter rape was no matter. Joan’s trial was a means to an end.
Later, the Pope ordered a retrial, and Joan was canonized as a Roman Catholic Saint. Ultimately, even the English fell in love with the French heroine. Wordsworth named her “a perfect woman, nobly plann’d, to warn, to comfort, and command,” and Churchill wrote “she finds no equal in a thousand years.”
Mark Twain said “She was perhaps the only entirely unselfish person whose name has a place in profane history” and wrote his best book on the story of her life. Oddly, his infatuation, in part, was due to his belief Joan uniquely embodied free will.
For Twain the one person documented in the record of history whose actions were genuinely free, innocent, and devoid of selfishness was Joan of Arc. In no way, he believed, could her actions have been predicted or even now completely understood by applying with objectivity the norms of historical determinism.
Joan inspired France and terrified England because her belief, “I have done nothing but by God’s command,” was shared by the people. It’s odd Twain saw her as an angel of means and ends, yet ignored a planning hero who lived so close to home.
John Brown is best known for a failed raid on a federal armory at Harpers Ferry, but it’s wrong to frame him as a bad planner. He endured terrible setbacks in life, yet embodied and advised resolve, “I wish you to have some definite plan. Many seem to have none; others never stick to any that they do form.” He led men into war, but asked his children for input, “I want to plan with you a little; and I want you all to express your minds.”
His plan to end slavery in the United States had been forming and changing in shape from 1828 when he proposed to start a Negro school in Hudson until 1859 when he finally decided on Harpers Ferry. John worked with abolitionist leaders and the Underground Railroad, but grew convinced that violence was necessary. The armory was the first step in his plan to free and arm slaves, and engage in guerilla warfare. But he was undone by bad luck. Harriet Tubman helped plan the raid but fell sick and couldn’t participate. And one of John’s men let him down by not delivering a wagon of arms at a critical juncture. John was captured by Robert E. Lee, tried for treason, and hanged.
John lived the Golden Rule, realized “the price of repression is greater than the cost of liberty,” and had no desire to escape the consequences of his act. In fact, he was cheerful to the end, as he saw he may yet achieve his full intent, noting “I think I cannot now better serve the cause I love so much than to die for it; and in my death I may do more than in my life.”
Two decades later, Frederick Douglass said “if John Brown did not end the war that ended slavery, he did, at least, begin the war that ended slavery.” And fifty years after his violent act of transgression, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote “Only in time is truth revealed. Today at last we know: John Brown was right.”
For contrast, let’s reflect for a moment on the life of Gandhi, who led India to independence with a means of nonviolent civil disobedience named satyagraha or insistence on truth. He never said “be the change you wish to see,” but he believed it.
Your belief that there is no connection between the means and the end is a great mistake…there is just the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as between the seed and the tree.
Gandhi refused to compromise his principles for any goal. He is celebrated as a hero but died feeling he’d failed. In the midst of several fasts unto death to stop religious violence, Gandhi was shot by a Hindu who thought him too kind to Muslims.
Mandela believed in “the right of every man to plan his own future,” and although he held nonviolence as a core principle at first, he later saw force as the only means to end apartheid.
Nonviolent passive resistance is effective as long as your opposition adheres to the same rules as you do. But if peaceful protest is met with violence, its efficacy is at an end.
As chairman of MK or “spear of the nation” Nelson Mandela built and led the armed wing of the African National Congress.
In planning the direction and form that MK would take, we considered four types of violent activities: sabotage, guerilla warfare, terrorism, and open revolution…it made sense to start with…sabotage…because it did not involve loss of life, it offered the best hope for reconciliation among the races afterward.
Eventually, Mandela was arrested for sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government, and condemned to life imprisonment. After 27 years in prison, Mandela was released. He went on to end apartheid, and after being elected President of South Africa, created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to deliver restorative justice, because Mandela never lost hope.
I always knew that deep down in every heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
There is no one right way to be a hero. Each of these freedom fighters chose a singular means to an end, except for Joan who was led by God. All were highly principled and willing to die for a cause, but they had differing plans, beliefs, and values.
In particular, faith in the bond of means and ends sets Gandhi apart. This belief traces back to the Bhagavad Gita, the ancient Hindu scripture that defines yoga as a union of path and goal.
Self-possessed, resolute, act
without any thought of results,
Open to success or failure.
This equanimity is yoga.
While meditation bears understanding, the yoga of action is a direct path to serenity and wisdom. Gandhi explains “He who gives up action, falls. He who gives up only the reward, rises. But renunciation of fruit in no way means indifference to the result.” Yoga is deep, difficult to realise, yet vital to our future.
by Peter Morville