the study of mathematics, or too stupid to understand it.' He expressed regret more than once (for instance, to Beatrice Webb in 1936) that he had not been a scientist instead of a philosopher.
The key to understanding Russeli's philosophy is that it is essentially a by-product. To treat it as though it were an end in itself, though a natural enough mistake for philosophers to make, is liable to render it meaningless. But in fact there is a sense in which any worthwhile philosophy is a by-product. As Russell himself wrote, "A philosophy which is to have any value should be built upon a wide and firm foundation of knowledge that is not specifically philosophical."98
Russell's primary objects were to establish the truth of religion, the truths of mathematics, and the truth of science. He himself stated this explicitly in the case of religion and mathematics. "I hoped to find religious satisfaction in philosophy. . . ."' "...J came to philosophy through mathematics, or rather through the wish to find some reason to believe in the truth of mathematics." . RusselJ impressed one, in 1914, as cold-blooded, as a temporarily animated abstraction, a formula with legs. He tells us that he never saw a motion-picture till he read Bergson's cinematograhpic analogy for the intellect ; then he reconciled himself to one performance, merely as a task in philosophy. Bergson's vivid sense of time and motion, his feeling that all things were alive with a vital impetus, made no impression on Russell: it seemed to him a pretty poem and nothing more ; for his part he would have no other god than mathematics. He had no liking for the classics : he argued vigorously, like another Spencer, for more science in education. The world's woes, he felt, were largely due to mysticism, to culpable obscurity of thought; and the first law of morality should be, to think straight. "Better the world should perish than that I, or any other human being, should believe a lie ;. . . .that is the religion of thought, in whose scorching flames the dross of the world is being burnt away."99
2 For example, in Principles of Mathematics (Passion), Mysticism and Logic, p. 80, and Sceptical Essays, p. 72.
Philosophy of Bertrand Russell ('My MeDtal Development').
Mysticism and Logic (London, 1919), p. 241.
(ii) Philosophy Through Mathematics. Russell's passion for clarity drove him inevitably to mathematics ; he was almost thrilled at the calm precision of this aristocratic science. "Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth but supreme beauty a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only
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the greatest art can show."' He believes that the progress of mathematics was the finest feature of the nineteenth century ; specifically, "the solution of the difficulties which formerly surrounded the mathematical infinite is probably the greatest achievement of which our age can boast." In one century the old geometry which had held the fortress of mathematics for two thousand years was almost entirely destroyed ; and Euclid's text, the oldest schoolbook in the world, was at last superseded. "It is nothing less than a scandal that he should still be taught to boys in England."100 What draws Russell to mathematics is its rigid impersonality and objectivity ; here, and here alone, is eternal truth, and absolute knowledge ; these a priori theorems are the 'Ideas' of Plato, the 'eternal order' of Spinoza, the substance of the world. In an early article he described how, in the greatest mathematical works, "unity and inevitability are felt as in the unfolding of a drama. .. . The love of system, of interconnection. . . .is perhaps the inmost essence of the intellectual impulse." He was later forced to the conclusion that the love of system was the greatest barrier to honest thinking in philosophy ; just as he decided that "the demand for certainty is one which is natural to man, but is nevertheless vice."
He put his conclusions in their most extreme form when he wrote in 1931 :
"Academic philosophers, ever since the time of Parmenides, have believed that the world is a unity.. . .The most fundamental of my intellectual beliefs is that this is rubbish. I think the universe is all spots and jumps, without unity, without continuity, without coherence or orderliness or any of the other properties that governesses love. Indeed, there is little but prejudice and habit to be said for the view that there is a world at all.. . ."101
"The external world may be an illusion, but if it exists, it consists of events, short, small and haphazard. Order, unity, and continuity are human inventions, just as truly as are catalogues and encyclopaedias."102
According to Russell, the aim of philosophy should be to equal the perfection of mathematics by confining itself to statements similarly exact, and similarly true before all experience. To reduce all philosophy to a rigid mathematical form, to take all specific content out of it, to compress it into mathematics—this was the ambition of Russell.
"People have discovered how to make reasoning symbolic, as it is in algebra, so that deductions can be effected by mathematical
rules. . . .Pure mathematics consists entirely of assertions to the effect that if such and such a proposition is true of anything, then such and such a proposition is true of that thing. It is essential not to discuss whether the first proposition is really true, and not to mention what the anything is of which u is supposed to be true. . . .Thus mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true."103
His Agnosticism. From such a starting-point, Bertrand Russell was almost fated to pass into agnosticism. He found so much in Christianity that could not be phrased in mathematics, that he abandoned it all except its moral code. He is scornful of a civilization that persecutes men who deny Christianity and imprisons those who take it seriously." He can find no God in such a contradictory world. He follows Spencer in his vision of the end of the world, and rises to eloquence in describing the Stoic's resignation to the ultimate defeat of every individual and every species. We talk of evolution and progress; but progress is an egotistical phrase and evolution is but half of an unmoral cycle of events terminating in dissolution and death. "Organic life, we are told, has developed gradually from the protozoan to the philosopher ; and this development, we are assured, is indubitably an advance. Unfortunately, it is the philosopher, not the protozoan, who gives us this assurance."104 The 'free man' cannot comfort himself with childish hopes and anthropomorphic gods ; he has to keep his courage up even though he knows that in the end he too must die, that all things must die. Nevertheless, he will not surrender ; if he cannot win, he can at least enjoy the fight; and by the knowledge that foresees his own defect he stands superior to the blind forces that will destroy him. His worship will go not to these brute powers without, that by their aimless persistence conquer him, and tear down every home and every civilization that he builds, but to those creative powers within him that struggle on in the face of failure, and raise for at least some centuries the frail beauty of carved and pictured things, and the majestic ruins of the Parthenon.
This was the philosophy of Bertrand Russell before the war.
His Commitment to Communism
12 Mysticism and Logic, pp. 75-76.
And then came the Great Madness. Bertrand Russell, who had remained unknown to the world for many years, suddenly burst forth like a liberated flame, and the world was shocked to find that he was a man of great courage and a passionate lover of humanity. Out of the recesses of his formulae the scholar stepped forth, and poured out upon the most exalted statesmen of his country a flood of polemic
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that did not stop even when they ousted him from his chair at the University, and isolated him, like another Galileo, in a narrow quarter of London. Men who doubted bis wisdom admitted his sincerity; but they were so disconcerted by this amazing transformation that they slipped for a moment into a very un-British intolerance. Our embattled pacifist, despite his most respectable origins, was outlawed from society, and denounced as a traitor to the country which had nourished him and whose very existence seemed to be threatened by the maelstrom of the war. He was horrified by the war, and he tried to find out its causes. His conclusion was that private property was the cause, and communism was the only cure.
All property, he pointed out, in his genial way, had its origin in violence and theft; in the Kimberley diamond mines and the Rand gold mines the transition of robbery into property was going on under the nose of the world. "No good to the community of any sort or kind, results from the private ownership of land. If men were reasonable they would decree that it should cease tomorrow, with no compensation beyond a moderate life-income to the present holders.*'105
Since private property is protected by the state, and the robberies that make property are sanctioned by legislation and enforced by arms and war, the state is a great evil ; and it would be well, if most of its functions were taken over by co-operatives and producers' syndicates. Personality and individuality are crushed into a rote conformity by our societies ; only the greater safety and orderliness of modern life can reconcile us to the state.
Power be Hedged Round by Safeguards of Law and Custom
Russell, in his famous book Power (1938), stresses the psychological as distinct from the environmental forces in politics. He brings himself into general line with the Chicago School by asserting a 'power interpretation' of politics. He admits the need for coercive power against crime. But he concludes that the lust for power is natural in humanity and that it must be controlled. He writes in hs book Power:
"Most of the great abominations in human history are connected with naked power—not only those associated with war, but others equally terrible if less spectacular. Slavery and the slave trade, the exploitation of the Congo, the horrors of early industrialism, cruelty to children, judicial torture, the criminal law, prisons, work-houses, religious persecution, the atrocious treatment of the Jews, the merciless frivolities of despots, the unbelievable iniquity of the treatment of political opponents in Germany and Russia at the present day—all
these are examples of the use of naked power against defenceleo. victims."1*
There must be power, either that of governments, or that of anarchic adventurers. THre must even be naked power, as long as there are rebels against governments, or even ordinary criminals. But if human life is to be, for the mass of mankind, anything better than a dull misery punctuated with moments of sharp horror, there must be as little naked power as possible. Russell remarks that the exercise of power, if it is to be something better than the infliction of wanton torture, must be hedged round by safeguards of law and custom, permitted only after due deliberation, and entrusted to men who are closely supervised in the interests of those who are subjected to them.
It is useless to trust in the virtue of some individual or set of individuals. The philosopher king was dismissed long ago as an idle dream, but the philosopher party, though equally fallacious, is hailed as a great discovery. No real solution of the problem of power is to be found in irresponsible goveruiiient by a minority, or in any other short cut. The permanent political solution of the problem of power is co-operation, not domination ; the immediate individual duty is the unintimidated statement of permanent ethical values against fanaticism, Marxist or Fascist, and, if necessary, through pacifist nonviolent resistance.
Politics is the Study of Power
Politics is the study of power. Violence is the basic evil. It is the enemy of reason. Man is too sensitive to the allurements of power to be trusted, save with the utmost pragmatic caution to use violence to repel it. The use of force is permissible, according to Russell, sometimes where there is the minimum possibility of illusion ; crusading never, except we suppose some impartial judge, above particular interests and sectional ideologies. In fact, Russell was hostile to every kind of force, which is being used for the coercion of the individual or individuals. And the state which mostly bases its authority on force did not find favour with Russell. He was hostile to the state more than what Laski was. His attitude was essentially Tolstoyan.
Theory of Politics : Creative and Possessive Impulses
Russell approached a theory of politics from a psychological point of view. To him, impu ses, not conscious purpose, determine man's conduct. In the main, man holds those beliefs that accord with his impulses. The reasons which man offers are thus quasi-rational. Man's conduct is normally governed by attempts to satisfy his impulses. Man's acts are directed not to the results which his
14 Powtr (Unwin Books, 1960), pp. 70-71.
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innate tendencies involve but to the mere satisfaction of these tendencies themselves. According to Russell, there are two kinds of impulses: the creative and the possessive. The creative impulses are concerned with art and knowledge, of which there can be no exclusive ownership ; and the possessive, on the other hand, are concerned with the acquisition of exclusive ownership. Material goods alone can be exclusively possessed ; spiritual goods cannot. The possessive impulses involve taking things away from others ; the creative impulses involve adding new things for all. Impulses should not be crushed. It is the task of social institutions to direct them to healthy channels. Russell writes that "the supreme principles, both in politics and in private life, should be to promote all that is creative and so to distinguish the impulses and desires that centre round possession.106
The Individual and the State Authority
For the purpose of creative freedom, according to Bertrand Russell, the state is not at all suited. Its essence is power. Its basis is authority and tradition, and is thus unfit for the promotion of liberty. "The state and property are the great embodiments of possessiveness ; it is for this reason that they are against life, and that they issue in war." In external affairs the state uses its power for purposes of exploitation, and is limited only by fear of defeat in war. Its very efficiency as a power encourages international anarchy. In fact the state is primarily an organization for killing foreigners, that is its main purpose. There are, of course, other things they do. They do a certain amount of educating, but in the course of educating they try very hard to make the young think it is a grand thing to kill foreigners. Russell states : "I mean, take, for instance, that verse in the national anthem which they don't sing as often as they did when I was young, where it says, 'Confound their ravish tricks, frustrate their politics and make them fall.' We all used to sing that with great gusto about every fo^eigne^."1• A national state is based on tribal feeling, which is the root of patriotism. And patriotism is a false religion since h lacks universality. The state attempts to confine human obligation to one segment of humanity. Our love for our own nation must be supplemented by justice for all peoples. The power of the state here is limited by the fear of rebellion or by the organized opposition of a strong group. Men obey the state because they fear anarchy within and aggression from outside.
16 Bertrand Russell Speaks His Mind (Arthur Barker Ltd., London, second
ed., Jan. 1961), p. 100.
Freedom is the supreme good ; for without it personality is impossible. Life and knowledge are today so complex, that only by free discussion can we pick our way through errors and prejudices to
that total perspective which is truth. Let me, let even teachers, differ and debate ; out of such diverse opinions will come an intelligent relativity of belief which will not readily fly to arms ; hatred and war come largely of fixed ideas or dogmatic faith. Freedom of thought and speech would go like a cleansing draught through the neuroses and superstitions of the 'modern' mind.
Education : A Scientific Habit of Mind
For we are not so educated as we think ; we are but beginning the great experiment of Universal Schooling ; and it has not had time to affect profoundly our ways of thinking and our public life. We are building the equipment, but we are still primitive in methods and technique ; we think of education as the transmission of a certain body of settled knowledge, when it should be rather the development of a scientific habit of mind. The distinctive feature of the • unintelligent man is the hastiness and absoluteness of his opinions; the scientist is slow to believe, and never speaks without modification. The larger use of science, and of scientific method, in education, would give to us a measure of that intellectual conscience which believes only up to the evidence in hand, and is always ready to concede that it may be wrong. With such methods, education may prove the great solvent of our ills ; it may even make of our children's children the new mr. and women who must come before the new society can appear. "Th • instinctive part of our character is very malleable. It may be chanc ed by beliefs, by material circumstances, by social circunr^nces, ana by institutions." It is quite conceivable, for example, that education could mould opinion to admire art more than wealth, as in the days of the Renaissance, and could guide itself by the resolution "to promote all that is creative, and so to diminish the impulses and desires that centre round possession." This is the principle of growth, whose corollaries would be the two great commandments of a new and natural morality : first, the Principle of Reverence, that "the vitality of individuals and communities is to be promoted as far as possible"; and second, the Principle of Tolerance, that "the growth of one individual or one community is to be as little as possible at the expense of another."1'
17 Why Men Fight, pp. 101, 248, 256 : Mysticism and Logic, p. 108.
There is nothing that man might not do if our splendid organization of schools and universities were properly developed and properly manned, and directed intelligently to the reconstruction of human character. Each individual has a distinct principle of growth which when distorted by governmental regimentation, makes the life of the individual flabby, dull, and exhausting. The impulsive actions of the individual, which are injurious to others, are mainly the result of attempts to block individual growth. We should aim at harmony through differentiation, and not through mere aping of a uniform
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pattern. Russell states that "if human life is not to become dusty and uninteresting, it is important to realize that there are things that have a value which is quite independent of utility. What is useful is useful because it is a means to something else and the something else, if it is not in turn merely a means, must be valued for its own sake, for otherwise the usefulness is illusory."107
The sphere of individual action is not to be regarded as ethically inferior to that of social duty. On the contrary, some of the best human activities are rather personal than social. Prophets, mystics, poets, scientific discoverers are men whose lives are dominated by a vision ; they are essentially solitary men. When their dominant impulse is strong, they feel that they cannot obey authority if it runs counter to what they profoundly believe to be good. Although, on this account, they are often persecuted in their own day, they are apt to be, of all men, those to whom posterity pays the highest honour. It is such men who put into the world the things that we must value, not only in religion, in art, and in science, but also in our way of feeling towards our neighbour, for improvements in the sense of social obligation, as in everying else, have been largely due to solitary men whose thoughts and emotions were not subject to the dominion of the herd. Scornful of Dogmatic Political Creeds
Russell felt that the world had become the victim of dogmatic political creeds, of which, in our day the most powerful were capitalism and communism. He writes : "I do not believe that either, in a dogmatic and unmitigated form, offers a cure for preventible evils. Capitalism gives opportunity of initiative to a few ; communism could (though it does not in fact) provide a servile kind of security for all. But if people can rid themselves of the influence of unduly simple theories and the strife that they engender, it will be possible, by a wise use of scientific technique, to provide both opportunity for all and se jrity for all. Unfortunately our political theories are less intelligent than our science, and we have not yet learnt how to make use of our knowledge and our skill in the ways that will do most to make life happy and even glorious. It is only the experience and the fear of war that oppresses mankind, though this is perhaps the greatest of all the evils of our time. We are oppressed also by the great impersonal forces that govern our daily life, making us still slaves of circumstance that no longer slaves in law. This need not be the case. It has come about through the worship of false gods. Energetic men have worshipped power rather than simple happiness and friendliness ; men of less energy have acquiesced, or have been deceived by a wrong diagnosis of the sources of sorrow."108
In this connection it must be said that Russell stands for a simple and unsophisticated life. That is why, he praised China for its faith in simple life when he went for a year to teach there. He felt that there was less mechanism, and a slower pace; one could sit down and reason, and life would stand while one dissected it. He, then, remarked :
"I have come to realize that the white race is not as important as I used to think it was. If Europe and America kill themselves off in war it will not necessarily mean the destruction of the human species, nor even an end to civilization. There still will be a considerable number of Chinese left; and in many ways China is the greatest country I have ever seen. It is not only the greatest numerically and the greatest culturally, but it seems to me the greatest intellectually. I know of no other civilization where there is such openmindedness, such realism, such a willingness to face the facts as they are, instead of trying to distort them into a particular pattern."109But now as the situation has completely changed in China, Russell regarded it as great a threat to world peace and humanity as Russia is.'1