At the risk of invoking Godwin’s law, we will risk the following. Hitler believed his persecution of the Jewish people was right – morally justified. That he believed he was doing good does nothing to make the Holocaust less evil. Ditto Stalin and the Kulaks, Mao and the Rightists.
Now imagine a vaccine producer – to take a topical example – who is driven entirely by greed. His motive does nothing to lessen his product’s effectiveness. It doesn’t lop even a single life off the list of those saved.
By the way, it’s unlikely that he would be driven entirely by anything. Most of us aren’t. We’re powered by a mass of motives, the mix of which we can’t identify: greed, altruism, fear, compassion, anger, lust, shame, love – and perhaps, above all, by the elemental urge to “keep going”, as the sergeant yells at the shell-shocked First World War soldier in Ted Hughes’ radio play The Wound.
To be clear: greed isn’t good in itself, but its by-products can be. Generosity, by contrast, is good in itself, but it’s by-products may not be. What good comes of generously giving the addict money for the fix that will kill him?
Whatever you may say about Boris Johnson, he never fails to give us all something new to talk about – in this case, his half-remark about those vaccine firms yesterday, quickly made and just as quickly withdrawn. As he sometimes does, he was offending the spirit of the age.
Which crowns virtue signalling as the ultimate virtue. What matters isn’t what you do, but what you say – the signal you send. It shows that you have the right motive, and everything else follows. Except, as we’ve seen, that it doesn’t.
If you want societies that seek to impose virtue by force, leave the rest of us to muddled old Britain, and try Jim Jones’ Jonestown, with its murders and mass suicides, or Mao, Stalin, Hitler – and so on. Compared to the lot of them, a greedy capitalist is a study of morality.