“Only by renouncing all ideologies can we begin to see the world and man.” James Burnham

“Freedom, in the world as it is, is thus the product of conflict and difference, not of unity and harmony. In these terms, we see again the danger of idealism, utopianism, and demagogy. The idealist, utopians, and demagogues always tell us that justice and the good society will be achieved by the absolute triumph of their doctrine and their side. The facts show us that the absolute triumph of any side and any doctrine whatsoever can only mean tyranny.

Everyone cares about justice. At the least, we all want fairness for ourselves and those for whom we care. However, justice is an amorphous concept. Like the rest of our moral judgments, justice may well be tied to our sense of disgust. We grow indignant about one condition or the other because we find the condition abhorrent. It is subjective, lacking logical coherence and any objective foundation.

Often, we grow indignant about some injustice because we feel some kinship with the person in the situation. There is an element of self-interest in our sense of injustice, then. We damn some unjust action because we know that it could be meted upon us. Our protestations are a form of self-preservation.

Usually, people refuse to perceive that every question of justice is fundamentally an issue of power. The unjust often oppress because he can so act. He has some influence over his victim, one that he chooses to abuse. The oppressed lack the power to defend themselves or fail to leverage it. Every protestation of injustice is a statement about a power relation. The weak denounce the strong; they seek to protect themselves from the powerful’s capriciousness by appealing to the powerful tool of moral outrage.

However, mere protestations are useless. No moral project is possible without a means for imposing it. The weak cannot defeat the strong by complaining about the strong’s amorality. The weak must learn to be strong. They must learn to defend themselves. Further, they must develop an appreciation for the value of the offensive. Essentially, the weak must imbibe the art of war.

One should not let the weak’s formal language fool one, though. The weak’s protestations of injustice are often a red herring. The weak’s game, like everyone’s, is power. He hates his condition. He probably even envies his oppressor — he wishes to abandon his debased position and become the scourge himself. However, his inferior position has taught him well — one must hide one’s lust for power under the veneer of virtue.

Only the powerful can afford to be blatantly lustful for power. Once, they were the weak and hid their game by appealing to justice. However, they can bare their fangs without fear once their hands touch the sword. Thus, Robert Mugabe was a freedom fighter before he became a tyrant. Wherever you live, think of some erstwhile rights activist that became tyrannical once he or she gained political power. It is a fundamental rule of our world; the freedom fighter of yesterday will almost always become today’s tyrants. “Almost always,” because, like many rules, this one also has exceptions.

So, be wary of the rights activists among you. Be particularly cautious if they claim to care nothing for power. Justice is impossible without power. The rights activists who claim to not care for power are either disingenuous or ignorant; neither condition is admirable.

No moral order becomes dominant without force. Martyrdom is the exception to this rule. However, martyrdom is a fickle tool, as it rarely works. Moreover, when martyrdom works, it is often because of past gains won by force. Therefore, Jesus’ moral order was possible because Moses violently imposed Judaism. Martin Luther King’s martyrdom was based on the principles established by steel and blood in the American civil war. Nelson Rolihaha Mandela’s victory is inextricably tied to the decision to establish the armed uMkhonto we Sizwe. How people fight for “justice” depends on their conditions. Whether conducted through steel and blood or passive resistance, every fight for justice involves a power struggle.

So, is justice a useless concept? Of course not. It is helpful as a myth for the weak, for one. Moreover, enough people feeling disgusted by some action is a good gauge of its effects on the creation of stable conditions. “Justice” can help us know when an activity becomes destabilizing enough to stunt social progress. Seemingly unjust actions can be proper if they help maintain social stability. An action’s moral content is limited to how it impacts a society’s continued existence and vitality. Power relation is thus the grundnorm. Justice is a constantly shifting notion, dependent on each society’s culture and the evolution of its power relations.

The ideas expressed here are dangerous, I admit. However, much like Nietzche’s Zarathustra, I am not proferring a norm but merely describing our world. The fundamental order of our world is the struggle for social recognition and influence. The enlightened must learn to look beyond the language we use to deceive one another to diagnose human relations properly. Do not be quick to join social or political movements. Distrust the intentions of all who refuse to bear their lots in life and dedicate themselves to fighting perceived injustice. Know whether their motivations flow primarily from resentment against the winners or positive envy, making them confident that they can create a better system. More importantly, test whether these would-be rights activists are self-reflective enough to understand that their quest is primarily a power struggle. Guage whether they know themselves well enough to realize that every power struggle risks corruption. Never follow those who consider themselves saints. Saints get either you or themselves killed — usually you.

Moreover, most saints do not know that they are actually devils. Do not empower a saint who then becomes all that you risked your life to overturn. Avoid the saints; learn to work with the devils. Work with the devils who know their strengths and weaknesses and attempt only to create the lesser of all evils. Saints will promise you utopia only to damn you to the hottest of all hells.

JD Candidate at Harvard Law School.