The so-called Boromir Option raises the question as to whether it is ever permissible to use evil means in pursuit of a good end…
In a recent essay for the Imaginative Conservative I wrote about what I called the Mercutio Option, based on the character in Romeo & Juliet who cursed both the warring factions in Verona, the Capulets and the Montagues, suggesting that, like Shakespeare’s character, we should refuse to choose between the twin evils of radical Islam and radical relativism. The essay elicited a response from some people suggesting that we had to choose sides, and that we needed to choose the anti-Islamic side, even suggesting that we should condone, or at least not condemn, acts of terrorism if they are carried out against Muslims. This set me thinking about another option that we are being tempted to take, and that is the Boromir option.
Anyone who has read The Lord of the Rings or has seen the movies will know Boromir but, for those who haven’t, I will explain very briefly who he was, his role in the story, and how his choice is applicable to the situation we find ourselves in today.
Boromir, more than any other character in the story, can be said to be an Everyman figure. He is the character who represents us, both literally and figuratively. He is the only man in the Fellowship of the Ring, which consists of four hobbits, a king, a wizard, a dwarf, an elf, and one solitary man. He is selected to represent the race of men, as Legolas represents the elves and Gimli the dwarfs. He is our representative, flying the flag of humanity, so to speak, in the war against the Enemy. This is significant because it is Boromir who betrays the Fellowship when he tries to take the Ring from Frodo. Boromir is the miserable loser, signifying a weakness in him but also, by extension, a weakness in humanity as a whole; a weakness in us. This weakness, which seems to go to the very heart of who we are as human beings, is the temptation and the tendency to use evil means in pursuit of a good cause.
And let’s not forget that Boromir’s cause is indeed a noble one. He seeks to take the Ring from Frodo so that he can use its power to defend his country and people from being overthrown by the Dark Lord, Sauron, who is a demon, and his army of devilish orcs. For Boromir, the Ring is not something evil that needs to be destroyed but something powerful that needs to be used against the enemy. It is not a curse but a gift. It would be foolish not to use it.
Isn’t this a reasonable enough position to hold? If our own country was threatened by an army of orcs led by a demon, wouldn’t we be tempted to use every weapon at our disposal to defend our homes, our families and our people? Is Boromir the wise one, and Gandalf and the rest merely dumb?
The problem is that the willingness to use evil means in pursuit of a good end will lead to the corruption of the will of those using the evil means. If Boromir had succeeded in taking the Ring by force from Frodo (theft), thereby betraying the Fellowship (treachery), and had used the evil power of the Ring to defeat Sauron, would his “success” really be a success? Wouldn’t the Ring, the power of evil, have won? If the civilization of Gondor had defeated evil with evil would it not itself be under the power of the Ring? Would it not become evil? If Gondor triumphs over Mordor and becomes an evil empire in doing so, has Gondor really won – or has it lost? If the good civilization for which Boromir fights becomes a corrupt power-wielding empire, the good civilization has ceased to be. It has been destroyed. Indeed, it has been destroyed as surely as if Sauron and his hordes had won. It would have been better for Minas Tirith to fall in a blaze of heroic glory, with its soldiers laying down their lives for their friends and families, fighting against the devil, than to have laid down all such thoughts of heroism in service to the devil himself, accepting the devil’s bargain and the corruption it brings. The wise know this. And indeed Boromir knows it himself, once the madness has passed, laying down his life for this friends and confessing his sins to Aragorn moments before his death.
The alternative to the Boromir Option is the Faramir Option. It is Boromir’s brother, Faramir, who proclaims that he would not pick up the Ring if he saw it lying at the side of the road, and it is Faramir who says that he would not snare even an orc with a falsehood. Faramir would not use evil means to defeat the darkest of enemies. The option he chooses is the path of sanctity, knowing that sanctity and sanity are synonymous, whereas the Boromir Option leads only to the badness that leads to madness. The Faramir Option leads to heaven – and makes the world a better place at the same time.
No, I will not be supporting hedonistic heathens, who have no god, when they drive trucks into Muslims, who have a false god, any more than I will support Muslims when they drive trucks into hedonistic heathens. I hope, like the Good Samaritan, I will have the grace to help my hedonistic neighbor if I find him injured at the side of the road, the victim of an assault, perhaps, by his Muslim enemy; I hope, like that same Samaritan, I will be virtuous enough to help my Muslim neighbor if I find him injured at the side of the road, the victim, perhaps, of an assault by my hedonistic neighbor. As for the Ring, if I ever see that lying at the side of the road, I hope, by the grace of God, that I will always take the Faramir Option and leave it in the gutter where it belongs.
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