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Portal Site for Russellian in Japan


Bertrand Russell's Best; Silhouettes in Satire,
selected and introduced by Robert E. Egner.

(London; Allen & Unwin, 1958. 113 p. 20 cm.)

An essay introducing the section 'Politics'

Altogether Lord Russell has had extensive experience with politics and with the effects of politics. His activities range from membership in the House of Lords to serving a term in prison for failing to agree with those in power on war policy.
During World War I he wrote a pamphlet in protest against the sentencing of a conscientious objector; for this he was fined one hundred pounds. A few months after this incident he was sentenced to six months' imprisonment for quoting the report of a congressional investigation into the use of federal troops against strikers. His pacifistic views crystallized when he said that neither the Allies nor the Central Powers could solve any problem by means of war. He changed his opinion, however, in the late thirties when Hitler and Mussolini made their totalitarian motives clear. During World War II he was a vigorous supporter of the free nations in the West. Since his visit to Russia in 1920 he has been a consistent opponent of Communism in both theory and practice.
With the advent of the atomic age a new question arose: Is victory possible for either side in an armed dispute? In the summer of 1955 he summoned news reporters from around the globe to listen to a last-minute appeal from a number of scientists regarding the possible effects of a war conducted with nuclear weapons. On July 9, 1955, just prior to the Summit meeting of the Big Four nations in Geneva, he met the Press to report the opinion of some of the most eminent scientists of our time on this grave problem. These scientists signed the following resolution: 'In view of the fact that in any future world war nuclear weapons will certainly be employed, and that such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, we urge the Governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purposes cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute among them.' This resolution was the outcome of a previous conference between Lord Russell and Albert Einstein in which they decided a public appeal must be made to focus attention on the problem of human survival in a modern war. The resolution was written by Lord Russell and signed by Einstein and nine other scientists. This was Einstein's final word to humanity; he died the very day Lord Russell received a letter from him confirming his agreement to this plea.
The kind of political structure Lord Russell would wish to see is one in which power is apportioned with more intelligence than it has been in the past. In his opinion the central problem of political theory is 'how to combine that degree of individual initiative which is necessary for progress, with the degree of social cohesion which is necessary for survival.' The history of Western civilization has not been too encouraging in this respect, but mankind now has at its disposal weapons of universal extinction, which may cause men to review their motives with grave concern.
The problems involved in international power politics in a scientific society are, without doubt, the most serious men have had to face thus far. It is now imperative that men settle their political differences by some method other than war. Lord Russell's view is that society, such as we have at present, in which thought and technique are scientific, can be stable, given certain conditions. The minimum prerequisite conditions for peace are: a single government of the world with a monopoly of police power, a general diffusion of wealth so that no nation has special cause for envy, a low birth-rate throughout the world, and an atmosphere in which individual initiative in science, art, and play can thrive. (松下注:今流行の(英米を真似た)、偏狭な、国益'重視の考え方とは大きな相違あり。) Lord Russell freely admits that the world is a long way from achieving these noble objectives, but men can achieve them if they seriously choose to adopt them.
The wit that Lord Russell displays in the selections in this chapter is somewhat paradoxical. He is a very serious critic of politics and political theory but he is also one of the most trenchant satirists of this century. Most social critics fail to hold the interest of the reader because their style of writing is 'dry.' The reader who has gone this far will have discovered that Russell's style is anything but dull.