Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Parallel Cases of Unintended Consequences

Sometimes unanticipated consequences are beneficial, as in the case of the medieval policy of setting up large hunting reserves for the nobility, preserving green space, often as parks, throughout England and other places in Europe. Sometimes unforeseen consequences are harmful, such as the Islamic policy of exiling numerous philosophers, writers, and thinkers during the Middle Ages, which led to a decline in scientific and technological advancement in the Middle East regions. A third class of unexpected consequences create the very opposite of the hoped-for effect: policies of the Czarist government of Russia in the late 1800's were designed to prevent any type of rebellion or revolution against the Tsar, but the harshness of these policies in fact fueled the desire for such an uprising.

History is full of unintended consequences; two parallel cases involve efforts to reform an organization which led to the unintended founding of new and different organizations.

In 1517, Martin Luther did not intend to create a new church; rather, his intent was to reform the existing church - to correct some of its errors and problems. The resistance of the existing church led to the formation of what would become the Lutheran church.

Likewise, in 1775, the Founding Fathers of the United States did not begin with the intent to form a new nation; rather, they (George Washington, Ben Franklin, Samuel Adams, etc.) intended merely to procure their legal rights as Englishmen, and obtain their lawful representatives in Parliament and the rights granted to them by the Magna Carta. It was the resistance of the English government which ultimately caused the Americans to for a separate nation.

The events for which Martin Luther and George Washington became famous were, therefore, unintended consequences!