Saturday, September 18, 2010

Analyze, and comment on, the ideas expressed by Bertrand Russell in his essay, The Future of Mankind.

Three Possibilities
Russell believes that, as a result of the next world war, the world will face three possibilities, one of which will definitely materialize. These three possibilities are: (1) the end of human life, perhaps of all life on this earth;  (2) a reversion to barbarism after a disastrous fall in the human population of the earth; and (3) the establishment of a single world-government possessing a complete control over all the principal weapons of war.

The Extinction of the Human Race
The first possibility, according to Russell, may not materialize as a result of the next world war, unless that war is postponed for a longer time than now seems probable. But if the next world war is indecisive, and if organized States survive, it, a period of feverish technical development may begin. With a much greater utilization of atomic energy, it is possible that radio-active clouds, drifting round the world, may destroy living tissue everywhere. Although the last survivor may then proclaim himself the emperor of the universe, his reign will be brief and his subjects will all be rotten dead bodies. This will mean, of course, the end of the human race. Some people may welcome such a development but this attitude shows only a bogus heroism. The majority of people would like to think of ways to avoid such a catastrophe.
Too Pessimistic a View
There is nothing fantastic about the possibility which Russell visualizes here, namely the extinction of the human race. There has recently been a lot of talk about environmental pollution. Such pollution can assume menacing proportions, if no safety measures are taken in time. Pollution by the radio­activity generated on a large scale by nuclear research can certainly lead to the destruction of this world. However, scientists have already become alert to this danger, and international conferences are being held to take the necessary precautions. Russell’s view about the extinction of the human race is in any case too pessimistic. This essay was written nearly thirty years ago, and we have now just twenty years more to complete the twentieth century. It does not seem likely that the end of the human race will come before the end of the twentieth century through the spread of radio-activity in the atmosphere.
A Reversion to Barbarism
The second possibility, according to Russell, is a reversion to barbarism as a result of a scientific world war in which a large majority of human beings will be killed, and only a small number of people will be left on the earth. All civilization will be destroyed by a scientific world war, and the few people who survive here and there over the globe will begin life from almost primitive conditions. A scientific world war will destroy the chief cities and centres of industry; it will wipe out laboratories and libraries; it will cause famine resulting from radio-active spray and pestilence resulting from bacteriological warfare. The great States to which we are accustomed would disintegrate, and the small number of survivors would revert to a primitive village economy.
A Strong Basis for the Second Possibility
There is nothing absurd or preposterous about the second-possibility also. A scientific world war is sure to reduce the human population to a small number and to annihilate all the progress that mankind has achieved through centuries of hard work and effort. In that case, a reversion to barbarism would be a certainty.
The Third Possibility
The third possibility is the establishment of a single government for the whole world. This possibility may be realized in different ways: (1) by the victory of the United States in the next world war; (2) or by the victory of the Soviet Russia; (3) or by means of an agreement among the nations of the world. If world-government is established through an agreement among the nations, another world war may be avoided, but a courageous and imaginative statesmanship would be needed for the purpose.
A World-Government Not Feasible
The third possibility visualized by Russell seems far-fetched, and therefore unrealistic. The present temper of the different nations of the world shows no signs at all that a world-government is possible through a general agreement. And, as for the establishment of a world-government through the victory of either the United States or Soviet Russia in the next world war, that too seems out of the question for the simple reason that the next world war is sure to destroy the world altogether.
A World-Government through Agreement Unlikely
Russell next examines some of the arguments that are used against the project of a single government for the whole world. The commonest argument is that the idea of a world-government is Utopian and impossible. Russell accepts this argument if it means that the establishment of a world-government by means of a general agreement is impossible, Russell agrees that the mutual suspicions between Soviet Russia and the western democracies make any general agreement in the near future to be futile. Any-universal authority to which both sides can agree under the existing conditions is bound to prove illusory. Such an authority will prove to be as helpless as the UNO has proved. Even the modest project of an international control over atomic energy has not been found feasible in view of Russian objections. Thus a world-government, if it has to be established, will have to be imposed by force.
The Establishment of a World-Government through War
Russell then mentions another argument against the project of a world-government. It may be asserted that wars have always been fought and that the human race has survived in spite of them. It may also be asserted that wars provide an opportunity for heroism and self-sacrifice, and that people will feel frustrated if there are no wars at all. To this argument Russell replies by pointing out the much greater destruction caused by modern wars on account of technological developments. Even if the next world war does not exterminate the human race, it is sure to bring about a kind of reversion to barbarism which has already been mentioned above. It will then take a very very long time for what is left of the world to attain any degree of civilization. If things are allowed to drift, the conflict between Russia and the western democracies will continue till an atomic war breaks out. In such a war, western Europe, including Great Britain, will be almost totally destroyed. If the United States and Soviet Russia survive, as organized States, they will soon afterwards fight again. If one side wins, it will rule the world and a single government of mankind will come into existence; if not, mankind will perish. If nations of the world and their rulers give evidence of a constructive vision, they should take steps for the establishment of a world-government. But Russell feels that a world-government cannot be established by friendly negotiations. Force, or a threat offeree, Russell thinks, will be necessary for the purpose. If a threat of force does not suffice, actual force should be employed to establish a world-government, says Russell. In other words, Russell believes that a world-government should be established through a world war in which either the United States or Soviet Russia will win the victory.
The Beneficial Results of a World-Government
Russell then proceeds to describe the kind of world that will result from the victory won by the United States or Soviet Russia in the war that they will fight. Whether the United States wins or Soviet Russia wins, it will be a world in which successful rebellion will be impossible because the winning side will have a monopoly of the armed forces. The people of the victorious side will achieve a very high degree of material comfort, and will be freed from the tyranny of fear. They will become gradually more good-natured, kind-hearted, and less inclined to persecute. They will, in the course of time, extend the same privileges to the defeated people. There will then be a true world-state. A world empire of either the United States or Soviet Russia is therefore preferable to the continuance of the present international anarchy.
A Russian Victory in War, an Appalling Disaster
Russell next gives us his reason why he would prefer a victory for the United States in the world war which he anticipates. His reason for siding with the United States is that there is more respect in that country than there is in Russia for the things that contribute to a civilized way of life. What he has in mind is freedom: freedom of thought, freedom of inquiry, freedom of discussion, and humane feeling. If Soviet Russia wins the victory, all these freedoms would be crushed; education would be reduced to learning the formulas of communism; opponents and dissidents will be liquidated or imprisoned; and there will be various other kinds of persecution. Under such a world-government, science, philosophy, art and literature will be fully controlled by official authorities and will therefore become narrow. No individual will be allowed to think or even feel for himself, but each will be a mere unit in the mass. A victory for Russia would, in time, make such a mentality world-wide. A Russian victory is therefore an appalling disaster.
The Victory of an Alliance of Nations
A victory for the United States would not have such awful consequences. In the first place, it would not be a victory of the United States alone, but of an alliance in which the other members would insist upon retaining much of their traditional independence. Thus, after such a victory, there would still be British culture, French culture, Italian culture and so on.
The Freedom Allowed by America
Secondly, America allows considerable individual liberty which is totally absent from Soviet Russia. In America, a geneticist may hold whatever view of Mendelism he likes to hold on the basis of the evidence. But in Russia a geneticist must accept the official view. In America a man may write a book debunking Lincoln. In Russia, if a man writes a book debunking Lenin, the book would not be published, and the author would be liquidated. In a world controlled by Russia, intellect must stagnate. Communists despise individual liberty which, however, is important from the point of view of those who have been brought up under democratic conditions. Soviet Russia has established a servile State, with luxury for the few and overworked poverty for the many. Only democracy and free information can prevent the holders of power from establishing a servile State.
The Formation of an Alliance against the Soviet Union
Russell then comes to the following conclusion: great wars can only be brought to an end by the concentration of armed forces under a single authority. Such a concentration cannot be brought about by agreement, because of the opposition of Soviet Russia, but it must be brought about somehow. The first step is to persuade the United States and Britain of the absolute necessity for a military unification of the world. The other nations, of the same way of thinking, can then join this alliance. This alliance should next proceed to establish its supremacy, if necessary through a war in which the alliance is sure to win.
How to Abolish War
There are now only two fully independent States, America and Russia. These two should be reduced to one by the establishment of a world-government. Only then can war be abolished. And if war were abolished, the world would enjoy much greater happiness through the scientific techniques which are at its disposal. Liberty can exist only if there are effective laws to control international relations. The first and most difficult step in the creation of such laws is the establishment of adequate sanctions, and this is possible only through the creation of a single armed force in control of the whole world. A single armed force can exist only if it is controlled by a world-government.
Russell’s Unrealistic Approach to the Problem
This is the only essay in which Russell, the great apostle of reason, himself becomes unreasonable. It seems to be a case of Homer nodding, that is, a man of great intellect showing a sign of fatigue or negligence in his reasoning. In the first place, it is strange that a confirmed pacifist should advocate the establishment of a world-government through war. However sublime the idea! of a world-government, war is not the means to it because, as Russell himself suggests at the outset in this essay, the next war will mean a reversion of what is left of mankind to a state of barbarism. Secondly, how does Russell assume that the alliance led by the United States is bound to win the war against Russia and its allies ? And, when this essay was written, China had not become so powerful as it is today. Nobody can predict what role China might choose for itself. If, contrary to Russell’s assessment, Russia were to win the war, it would in Russell’s own words be an “appalling disaster”. No, war is not the right means to achieve the ideal of a world-government. In fact, this ideal cannot be achieved. We must be more realistic and think of avoiding wars in the future by deciding to live in harmony in accordance with the principle of “live and let live”. Co-existence is the only formula for the world today, and the atom bomb, instead of being allowed to destroy the world, should be treated only as a deterrent to war. The nuclear deterrent: herein lies our only hope, though that also raises the fear of a continuing arms race which would become necessary to maintain a parity in the fighting capability of the two sides.

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