Volumes of The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell


Volume 25: Defence of the West, 1948–50

QUOTATIONS*                                                             IN PROGRESS
Edited by Kenneth Blackwell


* Russell's assessments of individual books that drew his interest during the period of this volume and the previous one will be found together in the fall 2013 issue of the Bertrand Russell Society Bulletin, no. 148, pp. 9–12.


“If I were a young man now, I do not think I could calmly choose a contemplative life, knowing, as one must, that everything valued by civilized men is in jeopardy and may be lost through the errors of politicians. But we who were young in the nineties were mercifully unable to foresee the future, and lived a carefree life in which the creation of good things seemed more important than the prevention of evils.
(“A Turning-Point in My Life”, 1948; Paper 1, 25: 6)  

“In practical matters I was brought up in the creed of nineteenth-century aristocratic liberalism, involving toleration, democracy, freedom of opinion, and respect for the individual. I have never seen any reason to abandon any part of this creed, though I have been more conscious at some times than at others of its apparent or temporary limitations.

“The world in which we find ourselves is nearer to the world of Hitler's dreams than it was before 1933; in this impersonal sense, some part of the victory was his. To take only one instance: there is far more anti-Semitism, both in England and in America, than there was before Hitler’s persecution of the Jews began.

         “But much the greater part of the violence in human relations would be prevented if men could feel and practise the virtue which I am calling ‘respect for the individual’. Primarily, this consists in a great reluctance to inflict humiliation.

         “Not only the industry as a whole, but each factory, should have a measure of self-government. If Socialism is not to stifle individual energy and initiative, it must be accompanied by an immense extension of federalism. The general principle that should govern all federal institutions is clear: whatever mainly concerns a subordinate group should be managed by that group, while what concerns its external relations should be managed by a federal authority.
(“What Life Has Taught Me”, 1948; 2, 25: 10, 11, 13, 16)  

         “I think the greatest service Shaw did was in dispelling humbug by laughter. We all talk in a different way from that in which people talked before Shaw, and even our emotions hardly allow themselves such delicious exhibitions of concealed egoism as were customary in Victorian times.
(“George Bernard Shaw”, 1949; 4, 25: 23)  

“I have come to think that much unclear thought exists as an excuse for cruelty, and that, conversely, much cruelty is due to superstitious beliefs which clear thinking would dispel.
(“Bertrand Russell Writes for the Daily Graphic on the Life of His Mind”, 1949; 5, 25: 28)   

“Orwell had too much human sympathy to imprison himself in a creed.

“Both embodied their despair in biting and masterly satire. But while Swift’s satire expresses universal and indiscriminating hate, Orwell’s has always an undercurrent of kindliness: he hates the enemies of those whom he loves, whereas Swift could only love (and that faintly) the enemies of those whom he hated.

“Most philosophers have more breadth of outlook when adequately nourished than when driven mad by hunger, and it is by no means a general rule that intense suffering makes men wise.
(“George Orwell”, 1950; 8, 25: 33, 33, 34)  

“He [Ely Culbertson] is one of that very small company of men who, having decided in youth to make a fortune and then do good work, not only succeed in making the fortune, but when they have made it still retain the public spirit of their youth. Such men are as admirable as they are rare.

         “The survival of the child in the adult is one of the characteristics of really remarkable men, and is perhaps the chief cause of the affectionate devotion that they inspire. Something of the child exists in every man who has strong impersonal passions which dominate his life, for such passions outweigh the instinct of self- preservation, and lead to heroic actions from which a sensible adult would shrink.
(“The Key to Culbertson”, 1950; 9, 25: 36, 38)  

“The philosopher, the artist, the man of science, I should feel, are not civil servants, whose business is to carry out policies decided from above: if they are to perform their functions adequately, they must not be limited to one Party, one State, or one small portion of space and time, but must pursue ends which are outside the scope of politics and have in their essence something universal.

“Ever since Hegel, there has been a pernicious habit of talking of ‘the state’ as if there were only one.

         “The kind of tyranny that the Soviet Government exercises, not only over music, not only over the arts, but over every kind of mental activity, must crush out all possibility of important achievement, even in the purely technical sphere. Such a regime, if it persists, can only produce generations of dumb workers and dusty despots, falling gradually further and further behind the free nations of the world. Anarchy is an evil, but too much system is an almost greater evil, and one which in our day is perhaps not sufficiently feared.
(“Culture and the State”, 1948; 10, 25: 45, 46, 47)  

“The British entered the second world war as a heavy duty, by no means in the spirit of a crusade. The Russians and Americans were goaded into self-defence by unprovoked attacks. Only the Nazis were inspired by fanaticism, and their fanaticism contributed not a little to their downfall.

“To believe in these [intelligence, kindliness, and self-respect] or any other ultimate values without giving a reason for doing so is not irrational, since the matter is not one for rational argument. All rational argument requires premisses, without which it cannot start. In matters of fact, the premisses come from perception; in matters of value, from feeling.

“Tolerance and the scientific spirit are among the greatest of human achievements, and I see no reason to think that we are in process of losing them, or that those who retain them are thereby in any degree weakened in whatever struggle may lie ahead.
(“Why Fanaticism Brings Defeat”, 1948; 12, 25: 51, 53, 53)  

“Now I quite agree that Law is extremely important. I quite agree that you want to have a law-abiding community, and that Law enforcement—especially if you could get a system of enforcing Law between nations—is of the most enormous importance—that I agree to. But when Hogg says that Law is not tyranny, well some Law is not tyranny and some Law is tyranny. Read, for instance, one of the most effective chapters in Marx's Capital, which has been responsible, I suppose, for a great deal of his success—“Bloody Legislation Against the Expropriated”—and you will see that Law can very well be tyranny.

“I think sometimes there is right on the side of the state and also right on the part of the Conscientious Objector, and in that case I think the Conscientious Objector should be free to make his objection and the state is quite right to punish him, though I don't think it should punish him too severely. I think the punishment should be comparatively mild. At the same time, I do think it's of very great importance that it should be possible for individuals to express opinions that the state does not like.

“I'm entirely in favour of such private property as does not give you economic power over other people.

“Well I don't know exactly what it is that I have to answer, but I should like to say that I entirely agree that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely, in fact that is the basis of the whole of my outlook. I want to find ways by which central authorities can get control of those things that I think it's absolutely vital to control centrally and yet if there should be bodies and even individuals capable of standing up against those central authorities when necessary. It's much the same as the seventeenth-century problem of limiting the power of the king.
(“Bertrand Russell's Reith Lectures”, 1949; 13, 25: 58, 59–60, 61, 61–2)  

         “Learned journals and books published abroad should be available without delay.

         “All university teachers should be encouraged to spend sabbatical years (without loss of salary) in one or more foreign universities of their choice. This is especially important for the younger teachers; it should not be a reward for eminence already achieved, but part of the process of broadening the minds of the young.

“Any State or any university which demands that its teachers should accept, or that they should reject, the doctrines of Marx or of Thomas Aquinas or of anybody else from Confucius to Stalin, is failing in its elementary duty, and cannot be admitted to the comity of the world of learning.

         “The teaching of history must be radically reformed. At present, in every country, emphasis is laid on the history of that country, and, almost inevitably, its merits are stressed at the expense of those of other countries. Contrast what is taught in America about the war of 1812 with the almost complete silence on the subject in English history teaching.

“The most important thing from our point of view is that the young should become aware of the gradual emergence of mankind from primitive barbarism, and of the collective efforts that are still needed, if this emergence is to be complete and more stable. Competition, however natural, has become disastrous. For the future, it is only by co-operation among nations that human welfare can be achieved.
(“The General Conference of Unesco”, 1949; 15, 25: 67, 68, 68, 69, 72)  

“I mean, I dislike it [Communism] myself very much, but dislike isn't a really fruitful attitude and I think we ought to recognize it as a great phenomenon, a great new religion, which one may dislike, and feel towards it—as for instance when one reads history—one feels towards the rise of Islam. It's analogous, very analogous to that, and we ought to learn on both sides toleration. Whenever a new religion comes into the world people at first are intolerant of it.

“What I do maintain is that the state of the world at the end of the last war was worse than the state of the world at the beginning.

“I think that the present state of Britain is infinitely creditable to ourselves and a very great achievement, and a model which the world could follow, if only it would. I'm afraid it won't, but I think it's admirable, quite admirable, and infinitely better than it's ever been before.

“‘So you don't think the historian will say that we didn't wake up in time to the importance of the African problem?’ I do.

“I disagree more profoundly than I can say: (a) that I don't think general agreement is a good thing and (b) that there is general agreement wherever the Communists are in control. They do agree completely about morals. We may not like their views but they agree. And you see the result; it isn't good.

“Well, it's very difficult to sum up this discussion but what I should like to say is that the future will judge us by things that we cannot yet know. It will judge us by what comes after us, which will show whether we've grappled adequately with our problems or not. And until we see what comes after us we can't tell what the future will think of us.
(“What Will Future Ages Think of Our Own?”, 1950; 16, 25: 78, 79, 80, 81, 81, 82)  

“On the executive side, it is important that criminals should be apprehended, but it is equally important that persons unjustly suspected should be compensated for any loss or suffering that they may incur. There must be no police pressure to extort confessions or to procure false witness. Defence as well as prosecution should be at the public expense.
(“The Problem of Punishment”, 1950; 17, 25: 87)  

“Usually, however, when such crimes are committed on a sufficiently large scale they are rewarded instead of being punished; most of the people to whom equestrian statues have been put up have been guilty of them. Only a world government could cure this unfortunate disproportion between the penalties of little crimes and the rewards of great ones.

“A person should be judged legally insane when the existence of a law against the act to which he is impelled is not likely to keep him from committing the act even if there is practical certainty of his being caught and condemned.

“There is something pharisaical and intolerably repulsive about the rich man who, although he has made his money by dubious methods, nevertheless holds up his hands in pious horror at the sight of a poor man who steals when he is starving.

“I think it is clear that while punishment must be disagreeable if it is to be deterrent, it should not be degrading or needlessly cruel, nor should it be such as to destroy a man's self-respect.
(“Crime and the Community”, 1950; 18, 25: 88, 89, 91, 91)  

“I think, therefore, that in the beginning the respect for fact demanded by science is more difficult even than the framing of what may prove good hypotheses. And the hypotheses that prove good are very seldom such as commend themselves to our initial prejudices.

         “Science has been victorious over the prejudices that opposed its progress, because it has conferred power, and especially power in war.
(“Science as a Product of Western Europe”, 1948; 19, 25: 98, 99)  

“What makes the gravity of the present situation is that recent inventions have done much more for the attack than for the defence, but this is by no means a universal characteristic of the application of science to war. The happy periods in human history are those in which defence is stronger than attack; we, unfortunately, seem to be entering upon a period of the opposite kind.

“Only artists and authors preserve something of the self-direction that formerly belonged to peasants and handicraftsmen, and, in fact, to a large proportion of the population.

“King Leopold's treatment of the natives of the Congo provoked a scandal, but was only worse in degree than much that negroes have suffered elsewhere. In Russia inhumanities not unlike those of the Congo and of early British industrialism are inflicted in the forced labour camps, which have become an integral part of the Soviet economy.

“I think that perhaps, even at its best, it is likely to contain less than we could wish of some good things, more particularly art.
(“Science and Civilization”, 1948; 20, 25: 103, 103, 106–7, 107)  


* Bertrand Russell Research Centre * Faculty of Humanities * Bertrand Russell Archives * McMaster University


The text for this page was prepared at McMaster University.
Page maintained by K. Blackwell. Last updated 14 January 2014.
Russell Keyword: alembics