Saturday, September 18, 2010

To what extent and in what way do the Unpopular Essays show Bertrand Russell to be an opponent of dogmatism and an apostle of liberalism?

The Meaning of Dogmatism and of Liberalism
Dogmatism implies a stubborn holding of beliefs and opinions, and a refusal to subject them to the scrutiny of reason or verify them by evidence. Liberalism, on the contrary, means keeping an open mind, a mind receptive to the fresh evidence which may become available. Liberalism, in other words, implies a readiness to modify, alter, or discard the views which one holds if fresh evidence so dictates. Russell is a determined opponent of dogmatism of all kinds, dogmatism in the philosophical sphere, dogmatism in the religious sphere, dogmatism in the political and social spheres, and dogmatism in educational theories. He is truly an apostle of liberalism. The Unpopular-Essays provide ample evidence to show Russell as a relentless critic of all kinds of dogmatic beliefs, and an ardent upholder of the liberal attitude in all fields of thinking.

The Dogmatism of the Catholics, the Nazis, and the Communists
Russell’s opposition to dogmatism in the philosophical and religious spheres, and in the political sphere, is evident in the very first essay, Philosophy and Politics. He here points out that the Catholic Church is connected to the philosophy of Aquinas, and that the Soviet government is connected to the philosophy of Karl Marx. The Nazis upheld German idealism, though the degree of allegiance which they offered to Kant, Fitchte, or Hegel respectively was not clearly laid down. All these three classes of people: Catholics, Communists, and Nazis, are dogmatists, Russell rightly tells us. John Locke is mentioned by Russell as an example of the liberal thinker who showed himself to be a powerful opponent of Hegel and the Hegelian philosophy. Even Plato was a dogmatist, though his dogmatism was not realized until his disciples, Lenin and Hitler, had committed their worst excesses in the persecution of those who did not accept their political ideologies. The political consequences of Hegel’s philosophy, like those of the philosophy of Plato, proved to be disastrous. It follows from Hegel’s philosophy that true liberty consists in obedience to arbitrary authority, that free speech is an evil, that absolute monarchy is good, that war is desirable, and that there is no need at all for an international organization to bring about a peaceful settlement of disputes. Hegel’s philosophy had a great influence on Karl Marx who took over some of Hegel’s most fanciful tenets, more particularly the belief that history develops according to a logical plan and is concerned to find ways of avoiding self-contradiction. According to the philosophy of Hegel, and according to the disciples of Marx, any degree of coercion is justified if it leads to the goals stated by them. Both Hegel and Marx thus justify autocracy or despotism or tyranny on the basis of their dogmas.
Locke’s Liberalism
Locke’s philosophy of empiricism, on the contrary, lends support to an attitude of liberalism and to the democratic values. Locke’s empiricism is intimately connected with his views on liberty and toleration, and with his opposition to absolute monarchy. Locke preached religious toleration, representative institutions, and the limitation of governmental power by the system of checks and balances.
The Need of Tentativeness and Tolerance
An examination of these two philosophies makes Russell come to the conclusion that “only through a revival of liberal tentativeness and tolerance can our world survive”. Russell condemns dictatorships, concentration camps, and world wars, and mentions the brutal treatment of the Jews at Auschwitz as an example of persecution resulting from dogmatic beliefs. Russell advocates a rational outlook or a scientific attitude: “Science is empirical, tentative and undogmatic; all immutable dogma is unscientific”.
The Advantages of Dogmatism Purely Illusory
Russell also rebuts the argument that in a war between liberals and dogmatists (or fanatics), the dogmatists are sure to win. Russell points out that dogmatists or fanatics have failed over and over again because they were too unscientific to adopt the right means even when their aims were good. In every important war since 1700, the more democratic side has been victorious, and the dogmatists have been defeated. Nor does Russell accept the view that systems of dogma, such as Marxism and fascism are capable of producing a greater degree of social unity. During World War II, no nation showed greater social unity than England with its democratic system.
Empiricist Liberalism, the Need of the Times
Russell closes this essay with the statement that dogma demands authority rather than intelligent thought as the source of opinion, that dogma requires the persecution of those who disagree, and that empiricist liberalism is the only philosophy that can serve the purpose in the modern world.
Political Dogmatism in Soviet Russia
In the essay, The Future of Mankind, Russell condemns the political dogmatism which holds the field in Soviet Russia and in countries under Soviet control. In Poland, for instance, education has been reduced to learning the formulas of Stalinist orthodoxy. From such an educational system nothing of intellectual value can result, says Russell. Russell advocates the freedom of thought, the freedom of inquiry, the freedom of discussion, and humane feeling which are found in the U.S.A. A Russian victory in any future world war would be an appalling disaster. Russell gives several examples of the way in which the government in Soviet Russia tries to control the minds of the people with its dogmatic teaching. To take only one example, in America one may write a book debunking Lincoln if one feels so inclined; in Russia, if one writes a book debunking Lenin, the book would not be published, and the writer would be liquidated. Only democracy and free publicity, says Russell, can prevent the holders of power from establishing a servile State.
Religious Dogmatism
In the essay, An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish, Russell first of all condemns the dogmatism of priests. Daring the ages of faith, the priests taught that man’s sins were punished by pestilence, by famine, by earthquakes, by floods etc.; and many thousands of witches were burnt at the stake. So dogmatic were the men of religion that they put up a stiff resistance against Darwin’s theory of evolution; and so dogmatic are they still that they are now fighting in the same fanatical manner against scientific theories of psychology and education. Another example of religious dogmatism is that, although the Copernican astronomy is taught in schools and colleges, it has yet not produced any great influence on people’s religious beliefs and their morals; in fact, this astronomy has not even succeeded in destroying the belief in astrology, so that people still believe in the influence of stars upon human life. Russell’s liberalism also compels him to question the whole conception of sin. Russell feels puzzled by what the religious people consider sinful and by what they do not consider sinful. He exposes the absurdity of such dogmatic beliefs as that human beings will one day rise from their graves, that sexual intercourse is sinful, that there is no need to show any sympathy for the lower animals, that mercy-killing is wicked. In this context, Russell ridicules the puritanical ideas of Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and the Manichaeans. One of the most amusing examples of the absurdity of such beliefs is a Catholic theologian’s view that a priest may fondle a nun’s breasts provided he does so without any evil intention.
Other Dogmas and their Consequences
Russell also dwells in the same essay upon the fallacious ideas which result from the dogmas about race and blood. A dogma which causes much mischief is the view that human nature cannot be changed. As a consequence of this belief is the dogmatic assertion that there will always be wars because human nature is so constituted that wars will always be needed. Opposition to birth control is the result of another dogmatic belief on the part of theologians. In short, dogmatic beliefs have done tremendous harm to mankind, and so Russell suggests certain simple rules by which human beings can rid themselves of at least certain kinds of dogmatism, the general rule in this connection being that one should freely discuss one’s ideas and opinions with those who hold different views and opinions. Russell advocates complete freedom of discussion and exchange of views.
The Dangers of Dogmatic Education
The Functions of a Teacher is another essay in which Russell appears as a champion of liberalism and a foe of dogmatism. He here deplores the fact that institutions such as universities largely remained in the grip of the dogmatists for many centuries. Russell refers to the dangers of State education which seeks to control the minds of people by instilling certain dogmatic beliefs among them. The evils to be feared as a result of State education were seen in their full magnitude in Nazi Germany, and are still seen in Russia. State education in such countries produces fanatical bigots, who are ignorant of the world outside their own countries, and who are totally unaccustomed to free discussion. The modern dogmatists, says Russell, are preaching one creed in Germany, another in Italy, another in Russia, and yet another in Japan. This kind of thing does great damage to the concept of cultural internationalism which has rapidly been declining ever since the First World War. The inculcation of different dogmatic beliefs in different countries can only lead to another world war, because each set of dogmatists thinks itself to be in the right and all others to be in the wrong. Russell pleads for complete freedom to the teacher who should feel himself to be an individual directed by an inner creative impulse, not dominated and fettered by an outside authority. He strongly disapproves of the system of education by which nationalistic feeling is encouraged in every country and school­children are taught that the inhabitants of other countries are inferior to the inhabitants of their own country. In this way, Russell upholds the liberal ideal in the field of education.
Liberalism: Brotherhood of Man; Individual Liberty; Democracy
In the essay, Ideas That Have Helped Mankind, Russell lends a strong support to such liberal ideas as the brotherhood of man and the freedom of the individual. He traces the development of the concept of the brotherhood of man which was invented by the Stoics, and he dwells upon the meaning of individual liberty. The greatest of the theoretical advocates of liberty was John Locke whose philosophy Russell has discussed in the very first essay in our collection. In this context, Russell refers to the feeling of perplexity which Stalin experienced when, in compliance with the democratic traditions, Winston Churchill resigned as the British Prime Minister when his party was defeated in the general election. The dogmatist Stalin could not understand why Churchill should have given up his control of the government because of the result of a popular vote. In this context, Russell writes: “I am a firm believer in democratic representative government as the best form for those who have the tolerance and self-restraint that is required to make it workable.” But Russell is opposed to dogmatism even in supporting democracy as a form of government. He is a believer in democracy, but not a fanatical believer in democracy. He thinks democracy to be an excellent form of government, but it is not a desirable form of government for every country, because some countries are not mentally and morally fit for this system.
Further Condemnation by Russell of Dogmatic Beliefs
Dogmatic beliefs are also condemned and ridiculed by Russell in the companion-essay called Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind. Russell mocks at the dogmatism of the Christian saints who, abstaining from the pleasures of senses, yet enjoyed thinking that pagans and heretics would suffer eternal tortures in hell. This is described by Russell as a fierce form of Christian dogma, an ascetic form of cruelty. The modern political scene shows somewhat similar beliefs. The German Nazis and the Russian communists have given a political twist to the Christian dogma; they have replaced hell with concentration camps and they teach that the best life is a life of hard work in the service of the government. Another dogma in modern times is the philosophy of economic nationalism which is based on the false belief that the economic interest of one nation is necessarily opposed to that of another. Still more examples of dogmatic beliefs are the beliefs in the superiority of the nation, or the race, or the sex, or the class, or the creed to which one belongs. All these dogmatic beliefs lead only to conflicts and persecution. And Russell’s recipe is that “in public as in private life, the important thing is tolerance and kindliness”. Once again Russell asserts that democracy is an excellent form of government, and once again he points out that the believers in democracy should not assume a fanatical tone, because democracy is not the best system of government always and everywhere.
One of the important liberal ideas of Russell is that only the establishment of an international government can now save the world.

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