“He who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation; for a man who wishes to act entirely up to his professions of virtue soon meets with what destroys him among so much that is evil. Hence it is necessary for a prince wishing to hold his own to know how to do wrong, and to make use of it or not according to necessity.” — Nicolò Machiavelli.
How can a virtuous politician prevail over her enemies who will not hesitate to use every means at their disposal to effect her utter destruction? How can goodness triumph when it is so easily overcome by so much evil?
The answer has often been to use their own weapons against them. Weapons are tools, and tools are morally neutral. Guns don’t kill; people do.
So we argue, and so Khalid Ibrahim justifies his use of the official instruments of the state government to fight a party-political campaign in a by-election. So also does the Parti Keadilan government justify handing out electoral goodies-that-are-not-goodies: they are benefits the government intended long ago to distribute, and the timing is thus merely fortuitous.
I have never had a problem with Machiavelli’s views, but I condone the employment of morally ambivalent political consequentialism—of ends justifying means—only when the damnation of the individual that uses it, and the price of its use, is abundantly clear. Kill a child to save a thousand more. Assassinate a saint to save a million. Shoot a family to force a terrorist to give up the location of a target. None of these things is morally praiseworthy. All of these things are utterly damnable, but they are often an acceptable, and sometimes inescapable, price that we must pay for the security and greater good of the state when all other solutions fail.
Is this the same as what Parti Keadilan now chooses to do?
Ask yourself whether we so very certain of Pakatan Rakyat’s objectives for government that we are prepared to jettison the moral obligations of that coalition for the sake of a minor political victory against the deplorable Barisan Nasional. This is perfectly acceptable if we understand exactly what it is that we are doing, and are prepared to accept the consequences of a terrible sacrifice of principle for the sake of achieving a commensurate victory.
But is victory in Hulu Selangor equal to what is being asked of us? For more than 20 years we have rightly condemned the political practices of the Barisan Nasional as repugnant—as the prostitution of democratic imperatives for the sake of power and its preservation. Now we are asked to accept those same practices as our own, without thinking that their use will undoubtedly make us no better than those we seek to oppose.
That the Barisan continues to use these tools is not sufficient reason for degrading ourselves especially when we have sought, very hard, to establish a new legitimacy in moral opposition to the barbarous kleptocracy of the old. And it is more than a betrayal of the mandate for change—it is the perpetuation of the same self-serving tyranny of the Barisan under the guise of freedom and liberty. It is less than a lie.
It is a vain attempt to mask the stench of our own filth with the manufactured odour of false sanctity. It presents the Malaysian public with a ridiculous simulacrum that disguises not the truth, but the entire absence of truth: that there is no truth to the Pakatan Rakyat, if it persists in this, just as there is none in the Barisan Nasional. That there is, and always has been, only power in our empty bank. That our attempt to change the world has miscarried. Again.
He who fights monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.