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Bertrand Russell's Best; Silhouettes in Satire, selected and introduced
by Robert E. Egner (London; Allen & Unwin, 1958. 113 p. 20 cm.)

* Robert E. Egner is a professor of philosophy at Northland College, Ashland, Wisconsin, U.S.A.

Prefece by the editor

Bertrand Russell needs no special introduction to the general reader; his pen has been active for over half a century and his more than one hundred books and articles have travelled a range of thought as wide as the scope of man's quest of knowledge. Lord Russell's position on the great variety of social problems he has written about has always been scientific in the sense that he does not claim pontifical certainty on the views expressed.
Is there a central key to an understanding of the social philosophy of Lord Russell? Is there a certain point that the general reader, who is not accustomed to philosophical jargon, should begin if he is to read with comprehension and insight? In terms of lucidity, style, and content, the many books and articles from which the material for the present volume was taken amply testify that Lord Russell has no peer among contemporary writers. What makes the selections in this book unique, however, is the incisive wit that Lord Russell brings to bear upon such varied subjects as religion, education, ethics, politics, psychology, and marriage. It is seldom that a philosopher can simultaneously display intellectual brilliance and humour. Although Lord Russell has been the victim of extreme bigotry during the past fifty years, the attacks have not in any way caused him to recant his liberal views. In our own time few thinkers have been more flagrantly misrepresented than Lord Russell. Countless people have been influenced to envisage him as the anti-Christ, the idol smasher, and the patron philosopher of immorality. It is a portrait drawn in fear and prejudice. The fact that he has consistently pleaded for more benevolence in ethics and politics has escaped the notice of many of his critics. He maintains that what men need is not dogma, but rather an attitude of 'Christian love or compassion.' Lord Russell's critics pass over his statements to this effect in silence.
As these pages will show, Lord Russell has been mainly concerned with showing how dogmatic authority in its innumerable forms has been, and still remains, one of the great obstacles to human advancement, in terms of an increase in scientific knowledge on the one hand and a decrease in human misery on the other. These selections are witty, but the message beneath the humour is deadly serious. If the reader finds nothing more than wit, he is careless and superficial, seeing only the farcical elements before his eyes, and neglecting relations and perspective. One may hold a penny so that it hides the sun.
One might say that there are three Bertrand Russells. There are (1)the experimental investigator, (2)the social critic, and (3)the sagacious satirist. Sometimes Lord Russell keeps these three selves in unison. But, more often than not, he allows the satirist full expression.
It was in his role as experimental investigator that he made his monumental contribution to mathematical philosophy which gained for him an international reputation as one of the great mathematicians of the twentieth century. The social and political problems of World War I, however, turned his attention from philosophy and science to social phenomena, and much of his later writing deals exclusively with social and political problems. He uses a swift and sharp wit to express and expose the evil passions in human minds -suspicion, fear, lust for power, hatred, and intolerance - which stand in the way of a more benevolent society. He is an inspired thinker who has just the right measure of wit to spice his wisdom. Russell, however, possesses one cardinal virtue which is rare among social critics; his criticism is always constructive despite, what appears to some, a destructive tone. He does not wantonly destroy an edifice, nor does he dismantle an institution without showing how to build a better one. Above all the reader will find Lord Russell scientific, yet humane, hopeful, and thoroughly honest. Lord Russell is, in short, the greatest combiner of Common sense and uncommon sense, the undisputed heir of a tradition in British philosophy that extends from Francis Bacon. Among the many honours that Lord Russell has received are the much esteemed Order of Merit, bestowed upon him by King George VI in 1949, and the equally esteemed Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950.
This book is an anthology of witticisms on a variety of topics -- psychology, politics, education, religion, ethics and marriage. The selections are taken from a large number of Lord Russell's books and articles. The choice of selections is the editor's, and he is responsible for the abridgement of exposition and argument. No attempt was made to include every witticism available; in his opinion, this is Bertrand Bussell's Best.