Why the Road to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions
Are you a good person if you have good intentions? Many seem to think so, but there are a lot of problems with this belief. In fact, it’s the source of much of the evil in the world. Dennis Prager explains.
Have you heard the expression, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”?
Well, it’s true—and it helps explain why there is so much evil in the world.
Take the 20th century, the bloodiest century on record, in which about a hundred million people—all noncombatants—were murdered by despotic regimes, nearly all of them communist. Many of the people who supported communism—both outside and inside communist countries—thought they were doing good. They were sure they had good intentions. Many of them were nice people—doting parents, considerate neighbors, courteous to strangers.
The Soviet Communist Party killed 20 to 40 million people; the Cambodian communist government massacred about a quarter of the Cambodian population; the Chinese communist regime killed more than 60 million of its own people—the roads to all these hells were paved by many people who had (or believed they had) good intentions.
Were it not for well-intentioned people who believed in communism, the truly evil people who implemented these genocides might not have come to power. To cite but one example, it was American and British men and women, many with good intentions, who delivered to the Soviet mass murderer, Josef Stalin, the secrets to making an atom bomb. They, too, were probably nice people.
Of course, there is no large-scale genocidal movement today in America. But the road to lesser hells in this country is also paved by many nice people who believe they have good intentions.
Many of the teachers who bring up topics that rob young children of their sexual innocence are motivated by good intentions. Most of the Americans who vote for politicians who seek to defund the police—a guaranteed recipe for increased murder, rape, and other violent acts—think they have good intentions. So, too, those who seek the elimination of “hate speech” have good intentions, even though, in reality, they constitute the first serious threat to free speech in American history.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions because most people who support bad causes, and even many who commit evil, believe they are motivated by good intentions.
Their thinking goes like this: I mean well, therefore I do good. Therefore I am good. And if you oppose me, you do not mean well, and cannot be good.
So, given that good intentions are so often morally worthless, what are we to do if we wish to increase goodness in society? Or, to pose the question another way, if good intentions pave the road to a terrible world, with what should we pave the road to a beautiful world?
The answer is wisdom, understanding as much about life as possible, especially the consequences of any position you hold. Wisdom is asking what does good, not what is well intentioned.
Good intentions—and even being a nice person—without wisdom leads to evil.
The reason to worry about the future of America and Western civilization is not that our elites are composed of people with bad intentions; it is that our elites are largely composed of people lacking wisdom.
The word for those who lack wisdom is “foolish.” Most college presidents, professors, and, increasingly, most teachers in high schools and elementary schools; most editors and other journalists; most of the businesspeople who run big companies; and most so-called "experts" are foolish.
Why are they foolish? Why are these often very successful men and women devoid of wisdom?
Because they have not pursued wisdom. You have to study wisdom to know how to do good just as you have to study physics to know how to be a physicist. If you are taught wisdom, there's a good chance you will become wise. If you aren’t, there's a good chance you will be a fool. And foolish people do a great deal of harm.
But, tragically, wisdom is no longer taught by most parents or in most schools.
Until the early decades of the 20th century, American students were expected to know the greatest sources of wisdom such as ancient Greek and Roman writers, Shakespeare, and, most importantly, the Bible.
But then, America started paving the road to hell. It stopped teaching wisdom. It stopped teaching the ancient Greek and Roman writers, Shakespeare, and the Bible.
The road to a good world is paved with wisdom. It’s not enough to be nice, and it’s not enough to have good intentions.
I’m Dennis Prager.