Durant 1926: The Reformer (Bertrand Russell)

Reference: The Story of Philosophy

This paper presents Chapter X Section 3.2 from the book THE STORY OF PHILOSOPHY by WILL DURANT. The  contents are from the 1933 reprint of this book by TIME INCORPORATED by arrangement with Simon and Schuster, Inc.

The paragraphs of the original material (in black) are accompanied by brief comments (in color) based on the present understanding.

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III. BERTRAND RUSSELL

1. The Reformer

And then the Great Madness came; and the Bertrand Russell who had lain so long buried and mute under the weight of logic and mathematics and epistemology, suddenly burst forth, like a liberated flame, and the world was shocked to find that this slim and anemic-looking professor was a men of infinite courage, and a passionate lover of humanity. Out of the recesses of his formulae the scholar stepped forth, and poured out upon the most exalted statesmen of his country a flood of polemic that did not stop even when they ousted him from his chair at the University, and isolated him, like another Galileo, in a narrow quarter of London. Men who doubted his wisdom admitted his sincerity; but they were so disconcerted by this amazing transformation that they slipped for a moment into a very un-British intolerance. Our embattled pacifist, despite his most respectable origins, was outlawed from society, and denounced as a traitor to the country which had nourished him, and whose very existence seemed to be threatened by the maelstrom of the war.

Bertrand Russell who had lain so long buried and mute under the weight of logic and mathematics and epistemology, suddenly burst forth, like a liberated flame. He poured out a flood of polemic upon the most exalted statesmen of his country for which he was isolated and outlawed from society.

Back of this rebellion lay a simple horror of all bloody conflict. Bertrand Russell, who had tried to be a disembodied intellect, was really a system of feelings; and the interests of an empire seemed to him not worth the lives of the young men whom he saw so proudly marching forth to kill and die. He set to work to ferret out the causes of such a holocaust; and thought he found in socialism an economic and political analysis that at once revealed the sources of the disease and indicated its only cure. The cause was private property, and the cure was communism.

Back of this rebellion lay a simple horror of all bloody conflict. He set to work to ferret out the causes of such a holocaust. To him, the cause was private property, and the cure was communism.

All property, he pointed out, in his genial way, had had its origin in violence and theft; in the Kimberley diamond mines and the Rand gold mines the transition of robbery into property was going on under the nose of the world. “No good to the community, of any sort or kind, results from the private ownership of land. If men were reasonable they would decree that it should cease tomorrow, with no compensation beyond a moderate life-income to the present holders.”

Since private property is protected by the state, and the robberies that make property are sanctioned by legislation and enforced by arms and war, the state is a great evil; and it would be ‘Well if most of its functions were taken over by cooperatives and producers’ syndicates. Personality and individuality are crushed into a rote conformity by our societies; only the greater safety and orderliness of modern life can reconcile us to the state.

All property, he pointed out, in his genial way, had had its origin in violence and theft. Since private property is protected by the state, and the robberies that make property are sanctioned by legislation and enforced by arms and war, the state is a great evil.

Freedom is the supreme good; for without it personality is impossible. Life and knowledge are today so complex, that only by free discussion can we pick our way through errors and prejudices to that total perspective which is truth. Let men, let even teachers, differ and debate; out of such diverse opinions will come an intelligent relativity of belief which will not readily fly to arms; hatred and war come largely of fixed ideas or dogmatic faith. Freedom of thought and speech would go like a cleansing draught through the neuroses and superstitions of the “modern” mind.

Freedom is the supreme good; for without it personality is impossible. Life and knowledge are today so complex, that only by free discussion can we pick our way through errors and prejudices to that total perspective which is truth.

For we are not so educated as we think; we are but beginning the great experiment of universal schooling; and it has not had time to affect profoundly our ways of thinking and our public life. We are building the equipment, but we are still primitive in methods and technique; we think of education as the transmission of a certain body of settled knowledge, when it should be rather the development of a scientific habit of mind. The distinctive feature of the unintelligent man is the hastiness and absoluteness of his opinions; the scientist is slow to believe, and never speaks without modification. The larger use of science, and of scientific method, in education would give to us a measure of that intellectual conscience which believes only up to the evidence in hand, and is always ready to concede that it may be wrong. With such methods, education may prove the great solvent of our ills; it may even make of our children’s children the new men and women who must come before the new society can appear. “The instinctive part of our character is very malleable. It may be changed by beliefs, by material circumstances, by social circumstances, and by institutions.” It is quite conceivable, for example, that education could mould opinion to admire art more than wealth, as in the days of the Renaissance, and could guide itself by the resolution “to promote all that is creative, and so to diminish the impulses and desires that center round possession.” This is the Principle of Growth, whose corollaries would be the two great commandments of a new and natural morality: first, the Principle of Reverence, that “the vitality of individuals and communities is to be promoted as far as possible”; and. second, the Principle of Tolerance, that “the growth of one individual or one community is to be as little as possible at the expense of another.”

We think of education as the transmission of a certain body of settled knowledge, when it should be rather the development of a scientific habit of mind. The vitality of individuals and communities is to be promoted as far as possible. The growth of one individual or one community is to be as little as possible at the expense of another.”

There is nothing that man might not do if our splendid organization of schools and universities were properly developed and properly manned, and directed intelligently to the reconstruction of human character. This, and not violent revolution, or paper legislation, is the way out of economic greed and international brutality. Man has come to control all other forms of life because he has taken more time in which to grow up; when he takes still more time, and spends that time more wisely, he may learn even to control and remake himself. Our schools are the open sesame to Utopia.

Education and not violent revolution, or paper legislation, is the way out of economic greed and international brutality.

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