Bertrand Russell. A People’s Philosopher.


There was the time, the 50s and the 60s, with warrior youths who knew what they wanted: freedom! Within the mass of demos in which were (primarily) individuals, there were famous philosophers like Sartre and Russell among them. Russell has participated in these marches for rights and freedom, even in his aged years. I remember how I was surprised when I saw this older adult with his silvery-white hair marching in the first row along with many young people. I watched it on the TV; It was such an extra evet that the Persian Shah regime couldn’t censor this.

Seamen’s strike 1966. Bertrand Russell and Peace Foundation with striking Seamen, Trafalgar Square London. Ralph Schoenman (L)
Report digital

What years they were, those years. I am sure some of the friends here from my generation know what I am talking about; The years of excitement, innocent, and courage.

Here is about Liberalism, in which Russell found a solution to avoid chaos. That was a good idea, but that was! Those days after WWII, people were tired of war and looking for answers to social problems, tried many different ways. But these ways became extreme. It is always conceivable that the morale of social breakdown after any war. We can see and read in human history that the idea of Liberalism was the best way to achieve the goal. But now, it has become a way for political lobbyism, abusage and jobbery by all political parties. Gerhard Schröder’s calm hand with his politics of the middle! He is a member of SPD (Social Democratic Party) and was Chancellor of Germany for a while. The SPD was once an actual “social democratic” party, but after Schroder won the election in 1998, he had changed many social agendas of the party and had followed the idea of Liberalism; he called it “the politic of the middle” and enjoyed lobbyism until now that he is one of best friends Putin’s! I want to say that the pure ideas, either ultras or decent ones like Liberalism, are now all mixed up (as I see in the world politic, especially in Germany). It is a pity to see how they all wasted and trashed in a world of money-makers.

Now back to this great thinker; he had ten, not “commands” for sure, but suggestions, to free the minds and use the thoughts for a better world:

Bertrand Russell’s Ten Commandments for Living in a Healthy Democracy

russell rules 2

Image by J. F. Horrabin, via Wikimedia Commons

Bertrand Russell saw the history of civilization as being shaped by an unfortunate oscillation between two opposing evils: tyranny and anarchy, each of which contains the seed of the other. Russell maintained that the best course for steering clear of either one is Liberalism.

“The doctrine of liberalism is an attempt to escape from this endless oscillation,” writes Russell in A History of Western Philosophy. “The essence of liberalism is an attempt to secure a social order not based on irrational dogma [a feature of tyranny], and insuring stability [which anarchy undermines] without involving more restraints than are necessary for the preservation of the community.”

In 1951 Russell published an article in The New York Times Magazine, “The Best Answer to Fanaticism–Liberalism,” with the subtitle: “Its calm search for truth, viewed as dangerous in many places, remains the hope of humanity.” In the article, Russell writes that “Liberalism is not so much a creed as a disposition. It is, indeed, opposed to creeds.” He continues:

But the liberal attitude does not say that you should oppose authority. It says only that you should be free to oppose authority, which is quite a different thing. The essence of the liberal outlook in the intellectual sphere is a belief that unbiased discussion is useful and that men should be free to question anything if they can support their questioning with solid arguments. The opposite view, maintained by those who cannot be called liberals, is that the truth is already known and that questioning it is necessarily subversive.

Russell criticizes the radicals who would advocate change at any cost. Echoing the philosopher John Locke, who had a profound influence on the authors of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, Russell writes:

The teacher who urges doctrines subversive to existing authority does not, if he is a liberal, advocate the establishment of a new authority even more tyrannical than the old. He advocates certain limits to the exercise of authority, and he wishes these limits to be observed not only when the authority would support a creed with which he disagrees but also when it would support one with which he is in complete agreement. I am, for my part, a believer in democracy, but I do not like a regime that makes belief in democracy compulsory.

Russell concludes the New York Times piece by offering a “new decalogue” with advice on how to live one’s life in the spirit of Liberalism. “The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows,” he says:

1: Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

2: Do not think it worthwhile to produce belief by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

3: Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.

4: When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

5: Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

6: Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do, the opinions will suppress you.

7: Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

8: Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a more profound understanding than the latter.

9: Be scrupulously truthful, even when the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

Wise words, then. Wise words now.

I know how dry it is to talk about politics! So, let’s enjoy a beautiful song from back then. 😉🤗🙏💖


7 thoughts on “Bertrand Russell. A People’s Philosopher.

  1. elainemansfield

    Bertrand Russell brings me back to my days in the 1960s and the hope that the world would be a better place. I think of the Vietnam War crimes he investigated with other philosophers during a time with the United States was brutal and heartless with Vietnam civilians and military. (Reminding me of what’s happening in Ukraine.) I look at Russell’s list and see the wisdom, most of which this culture ignored. I begin with this one which seems essential: “Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.” This was my one of my first teachings and it has served me well as I watch the world and my place in it change. Thanks for reminding me of this wise man and my idealistic youth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow! Heartfelt thanks for your excellent response with such wise words. You are aware of what happened those days and what is happening now. Unfortunately, we have not a genius like Russell anymore and it’s a pity. Blessing 🙏❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  2. With so many notable people in the world, why does the world focus on all the crap instead of all that is good and wonderful. What a thought-provoking chap is Bertrand Russell. While I’ve heard of him before, I’ve never really read anything about him. Thank you, Aladin.

    Liked by 1 person

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