The Continuing Validity of Russell’s Ideas
The ideas which Russell preached and which he tried to popularize have not lost their validity even today. The problems which he wanted to solve and the dangers against which he warned the readers of his own day continue almost unabated, and in some cases the dangers have actually increased. The value of the suggestions and remedies offered by Russell also continues undiminished. We can still greatly benefit by Russell’s exhortations. The relevance of Russell’s thought to our times is very great, indeed.
Russell’s Opposition to Dogmatism, and his Advocacy of Liberalism
In the preface to the Unpopular Essays, Russell tells us of his purpose to combat the growth of dogmatism, whether of the Right or of the Left, which has hitherto characterized our tragic century. This purpose becomes perfectly clear as we go through these essays. In Philosophy and Politics, for instance, he tells us that dogma demands authority, rather than intelligent thought, as the source of opinion; dogma requires the persecution of those who disagree; dogma calls upon its followers to suppress their natural sympathy and kindness in favour of systematic hatreds. The conflicts that occur between rival dogmatists are bound to lead to war; and war, in our scientific age, means universal death. As against dogmatism, Russell advocates liberalism which means keeping an open mind and a readiness to change one’s opinions when fresh evidence becomes available. The liberal creed is one of “live and let live”, of toleration and freedom, of moderation and absence of fanaticism in political programmes. In the essay, The Future of Mankind, Russell points out that Russian control over Poland led to education in that country losing its liberal character; education was there reduced to learning the formulas of communist theory; and from such an educational system nothing of intellectual value can result. He also speaks of the absence of intellectual freedom in the
Soviet Union itself where, if a man writes a book debunking Lenin, he would be liquidated. In the essay The Functions of a Teacher, Russell points out that the young in Nazi Germany became, and in still become, fanatical bigots, ignorant of the world outside their own country. In An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish Russell suggests that a good way of ridding yourself of certain kinds of dogmatism is to become aware of opinions held in social circles different from your own. Russia
The Value of Russell’s Campaign Against Dogmatism
The value of Russell’s campaign against political dogmatism is very great even today. If anything, this dogmatism has further hardened in communist countries like
and Russia . Countries like China , Poland , and Hungary continue to be under the rigid control of Russian communist ideology. All these countries have a totalitarian system of government which is opposed to individual freedom in any form. A citizen in any one of these is a slave to the ideas and doctrines which the government there constantly instils among the people. The writings of a man like Russell would not, for instance, find their way into any of the communist countries for fear lest his ideas should sow rebellion or discontent in the minds of the people there. By going through Russell’s ideas we realize how fortunate we are in living in a country where the government does not indoctrinate its citizens and does not try to bring about a regimentation or uniformity of thought. Czechoslovakia
Russell’s Emphasis on Rationalism
The essay called An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish places much emphasis on the need of a rational attitude towards life. Unfortunately, says Russell, cruelty, persecution and superstition have been increasing in this world by leaps and bounds, and rationality has been pushed into the background. Russell then points out the irrationality which characterizes the religious beliefs that have for centuries been held by priests and propagated by them. The belief in witchcraft, the belief that people’s sins are punished by pestilence or earthquake or famine, the whole conception of sin, the view that all sexual intercourse is wicked—all these are examples of irrational beliefs. Then there ate the irrational ideas about the superiority of particular races. Irrational also is the view that human nature cannot be changed and that there will always be wars. Science has always tried to fight against all such irrational beliefs, and today science is fighting one of its most difficult battles in the sphere of psychology. What is worse even than holding irrational beliefs is to become dogmatic in holding them, and that is the general tendency where religious beliefs are concerned.
The Value of Russell’s Gospel of Rationalism Today
All this is applicable even to present-day conditions in which we find ourselves. Russell’s gospel of rationalism is of the utmost importance for our own country if we want to accelerate the pace of our progress. Our people still remain extremely orthodox and conservative in holding certain beliefs in the spheres of religion and morals. Superstitions still reign supreme in our country. The worship of all kinds of deities goes on here with the greatest possible fervour. The exploitation of people by the priests of various religions in this country continues to be as great as ever it was, and the number of the so-called “god-men” is on the increase. People still believe that they can wash away their sins by visiting temples, shrines, and similar other places of pilgrimage. The same orthodox attitudes govern our notions of morality. In view of all this, if we were to follow the teaching of of Russell, we could cleanse our society of many social ills.
The Value in Our Times of Russell’s Emphasis on Liberty and Democracy
Russell is a great advocate, as has already been indicated above, of individual liberty and of democracy as a form of government. In the essay The Future of Mankind, he expresses his preference for the American way of life which shows more respect for civilization than we find in Soviet Russia. The Americans have a genuine respect for the freedom of thought, the freedom of inquiry, the freedom of discussion, and humane feeling. In
, one may hold any views on the subject of genetics; and there one may even write a book debunking such a great man as Abraham Lincoln. Only democracy and free publicity can prevent the holders of power from establishing a servile State. In the essay, Ideas That Have Helped Mankind, Russell points out that democracy was invented as a device for reconciling government with liberty. Democracy makes men’s tenure of power temporary and dependent upon popular approval. In doing so, democracy prevents the worst abuses of power. In a democracy a man cannot be punished except by due process of law. Furthermore, democracy means free speech, a free press, and the freedom of religion. The value of the emphasis that Russell puts upon democracy and individual liberty is again evident to us. When we look at the kind of dictatorship that now prevails in America , Afghanistan , and Pakistan , not to speak of the countries under communist influence, we realize again how fortunate we ourselves are. We have not forgotten how, during two years or so of the Emergency that was declared in this country, all kinds of excesses and injustices were perpetrated, and how freedom of all kinds was completely crushed. We can only hope that the democratic form of government with all its advantages and in spite of all its disadvantages, will continue in our country. These essays by Russell serve to strengthen our democratic beliefs and our love of freedom. And yet we must not forget that Russell does not approve of fanaticism or dogmatism in our holding democratic views. As he points out in the essay, Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind, democracy is not the best system always and everywhere: there are many nations which are not yet morally and politically well-equipped for the success of parliamentary institutions. In the essay Philosophy and Politics also, Russell says much the same thing. There he points out that a fanatical belief in democracy makes democratic institutions impossible, as appeared in Iran under Cromwell and in England during the French Revolution. France
Russell’s Suggestion About a World-government
Russell is a great believer in a single government for the whole world. In the essay The Future of Mankind, he insists that the world can be saved only through the establishment of a world-government. The hope of a world-government, he says, might be realized by the victory of the
in the next world war, or by the victory of the United States Soviet Union, or by agreement among the leading nations. A world-government is essential if world wars are to be prevented and the total extinction of the human race is to be avoided. In the essay, Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind, he again advocates the establishment of an international government to prevent wars. In the essay, Ideas That Have Helped Mankind, he says that either man must revert to primitive conditions or we must learn to submit to an international government. An international government, whether good, or bad, or indifferent, will make the continuation of the human species possible. He also says that an international government is at least as important to mankind as national government.
The Relevance of this Suggestion to Our Times
Now, we do not doubt the value and importance of an international government which can prevent armed conflicts between nations and especially worldwide conflicts. However, we do doubt the feasibility of such an idea. The idea is great and noble, but it is, to use Russell’s own phraseology, “Utopian and impossible”. Every nation today has a sense of its own importance, and even small nations have learnt to assert themselves in international affairs. We cannot therefore imagine that the nations of the world, and especially the super-powers, will surrender their individual sovereignty in favour of a world-government. Nor can a world-government be established by means of a war which Russell suggests in The Future of Mankind, because any world war now will destroy all civilization. World peace can now be preserved only through a universal recognition by all nations that the next world war will mean either the end of the world or the reversion of mankind to a state of barbarism, Still the ideal of a world-government should not be dismissed summarily; ideals have their own value even when they cannot be given a practical shape.
Russell’s Ideas on Education and their Value Today
In the essay The Functions of a Teacher, Russell offers certain suggestions which appeal to us even today. Teachers are, says Russell, the custodians of civilization. But, in order to perform their functions well, teachers should be allowed the freedom to teach what they please and how they please. Russell strongly disapproves of bureaucratic control over education. Teachers should be protected from intellectual bondage. A teacher should feel himself to be an individual directed by an inner creative impulse, not dominated and fettered by an outside authority. Russell also points out that it is the duty of a teacher to produce in pupils the feeling of tolerance which is necessary for the survival of democracy. Furthermore, a good teacher, according to Russell, does not try to conceal the truth; nor does a good teacher allow himself to become a propagandist. All these ideas and suggestions show Russell to be a great educational reformer. His suggestions are still needed in the sphere of education not only in other countries but in our own. The teacher in our country is a man of mercenary motives without any missionary zeal; he is generally a shirker; he is also an intriguer. For the Indian teacher, therefore, this particular essay should be an eye-opener.
Russell’s Appeal to Philosophic Readers
One of Russell’s great achievements was to explain philosophical theories and doctrines for the benefit of laymen having some interest in philosophy. Philosophy and Politics is an essay in which we find a lucid exposition of the philosophical systems of Plato, Hegel, and Locke. This is a highly illuminating essay for the layman. It teaches us how political ideas and systems are derived from philosophical doctrines. For instance, Hegel’s philosophical theory or dialectic led him to his belief in an obedience to an arbitrary authority and to the view that free speech was an evil and that war was good. Similarly from the philosophy of empiricism expounded by Locke, the liberal creed in politics was derived. In this essay, Russell comes to a most valuable conclusion which is valid for us even today. That conclusion is that empiricist liberalism is the only philosophy that can be adopted by rational human beings who want mankind to be happy.
The Appeal of Russell’s Prose Style
Finally, the appeal of Russell to the modern reader is due, in no small measure, to the charm of his prose style. Russell writes in a style which is characterized by lucidity, clarity, elegance, and a grace of expression. It is a plain, unembellished style which the layman easily understands, and yet it is a style which abounds in all the literary graces.