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Before Committing to a Reform Movement, Ask These Questions

Written by Gary North on June 27, 2015

In every society, there are always great evils. Wherever there are great evils, we had better hope that there are individuals, organizations, and coalition movements.

There had better be people who are willing to commit their lives to the eradication of the evil.

Nevertheless, the old political rule always holds: You can’t beat something with nothing. It is not enough to eradicate the evil. The reformer must also have an agenda for replacing whatever it was that called forth the evil. It is not good enough to remove the evil. There must be healing. This program of healing must precede the surgical removal. If a movement has no funding for a positive alternative today, it should not be trusted. The supreme test of a negative agenda is the positive agenda. First, follow the rhetoric. Then follow the money.

Evil always has a market. It has an agenda. It has a clientele. There is demand for it. That is why you must deal with the fundamental root cause of the evil. This requires a reform program that is both positive and negative.


Within any society, there are also gradations of a particular evil. Some people are really committed to the pursuit of a particular evil. They devote their entire lives to it. There are not many of these people. Then there are those who immediately profit from the extension of whatever the program of evil is. They are self-interested supporters of this particular evil. They may be in it for the money. They may be in it for political connections. They are not so much ideologically committed to it as they are financially or emotionally committed to it. Then, all the way down a kind of pyramid of commitment are supporters of the evil.

What I have said here about the sources of evil also applies to the sources of the opposition to evil. There are true believers at the top, and all the way down the pyramid of commitment there are less and less committed people.

Most people don’t care one way or the other, but for convenience’s sake, will pick a position. They are about equally ready to defend the evil as to oppose it. They want to be left alone. They are these people:

And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word (I Kings 18:21).

Any reform movement that is not based on an understanding of this gradation of commitment on both sides of the issue is a utopian movement. That is to say, it is in the middle of nowhere. It is going nowhere. It is operating outside of any kind of social or psychological context. If it is not trying to enlist people all down the pyramid of commitment, it is a fringe movement. Movements on the fringe are dangerous to join.

A serious reform movement has to deal with all kinds of potential supporters, and it also has to recognize the difference in the levels of commitment among the proponents of the evil.


There are always fanatics who call for immediate abolition of some evil. There are not many of them. Here is the problem: they do not establish the extreme end of the movement. The extreme end of the movement are the ones who call for private violence against those who practice some evil. One of them may implement this vision. He may amplify his rhetoric by attacking people who are not committed to the movement.

Consider the American abolitionist movement after the slave revolts in the early 1830’s. The South’s resistance to abolition became comprehensive. The abolitionist movement in the North began to match the South’s harder line. The most extreme member of the movement was John Brown. He was a murderer. He was a true fanatic. In the history of the United States of America, he is probably the ultimate fanatic. He wanted to use violence. He killed innocent people. He adopted the rhetoric of abolitionism in order to support his personal murderous tendencies. He justified his murderers by means of abolitionist rhetoric. And, more than anybody else, he was responsible for the coming of the Civil War.

(For the rest of my article, click the link.)

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