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Evil and the Means

A reader says, "I love Michael (Mik-el or whoever he is) in your books, and I wondered if you could talk a little bit about the scene in The General's Mistress where she channels him."

I'm glad you love him! I do too.

That's a key scene in a lot of ways. It's the beginning of a major change for Elza, but also Michael lays out one of the most important points of the entire book, of the entire series. Elza asks how she is supposed to know he's not a demon, lying to deceive her. He replies:

The same way you know if anyone else is evil or not. See what I do. Judge me by my actions and the results of those actions. Don't believe my words.

Elza lives, as we do, in the Age of Revolution. Lots and lots of people with competing ideologies are proclaiming that they have the answers, that they serve Truth and Justice and Liberty. Their party, their cabal, their club, are the ones who are good and brave and who can save society. Their friends are right.

And people are dying. Tens of thousands have died in the last ten years in the Terror and other coups, perhaps as many as eighty thousand. More are continuing to die each year in the war. Hundreds of thousands are displaced. All by people who are sure they're right, that they're serving Liberty.

So how is Elza to know who to trust? How can she find anything to believe in, when she stands amid competing politicians like Moreau and Barras who are all proclaiming that they are good and right, and that these deaths are necessary to serve the common good, that these evils are in the service of a higher ideal? Elza knows them all too well and doesn't believe that they actually serve anything but themselves. She doesn't believe Victor Moreau really cares about Justice or Truth. Nor did her husband. And yet all around her everyone proclaims loudly that they are the true heirs of Liberty!

Michael says, "The ends don't justify the means. Judge according to the means."

Everyone proclaims a noble end. But what do they actually do? What injustices are they willing to do in the name of Justice? Who are they willing to hurt "for their own good?" What atrocities does anger justify? For example, Joseph Fouche, who we'll meet in the next book, proclaimed that the Revolution must separate Church and state and end the power of the Catholic Church in France. Among other steps to this end he executed sixteen nuns in Lyon, beheading sixteen women, the youngest a young teenager. Yes, perhaps anger against the Church was justified, and yes, separation of Church and state is a good thing, but the means were pure evil.

How do you know who to trust? How do you know who is good? Elza's question is no less relevant today, when all parties proclaim that their ends are good and noble, and that anger justifies all action. But the ends don't justify the means. We must judge the means accordingly.