Bertrand Russell’s pacifism in the face of Nazism

russell-pipe
A new (to me) anecdote about philosopher Bertrand Russell’s opinion that the world would be better off with a Nazi victory. As reported by Richard Jencks, who was one of Russell’s students at UCLA in 1940:

“The British philosopher Bertrand Russell, who had been jailed in World War I for his pacifism by a government of which Churchill was a minister, is considering whether he should abandon those pacifist beliefs if Britain faces imminent invasion. He does not think that passive resistance would work against Hitler. These considerations do not prevent Russell from confiding to his philosophy students at the University of California in Los Angeles (this writer among them) that world peace, in the long run, will probably be better served by Hitler’s victory. World peace, Russell posits, cannot be had without world government. Over the long years ahead, he says, civilizing influences will operate to soften the bestial edges of Nazi rule.”

How does one makes that consequentialist calculation? Is it like this:

Scenario 1: If the Nazis win, there will be many deaths from war and bestial Nazi government. But if they win, the Nazi will establish a world government; and if there is a world government, there will be no more war. Meanwhile, civilizing forces will lessen the harms done by the Nazi world government. Total death and human damage account: X.

Scenario 2: If the Nazis lose, there will have been many deaths from that war but bestial Nazi damage will cease. However, many different nations will still exist, and they will exist contentiously, so there will continue to be wars. Total death and human damage account: Y.

Russell thinks X < Y. I have no idea how to assign numbers here. I wonder whether Russell did. Also: Are those the only two scenarios? I don't think so. The continued existence of many states is in principle compatible with peace, as long as we continue to make progress in teaching about individual rights and that we should make trades not war — the so-called democratic peace and capitalist peace hypotheses.

So: Can we assign some Russellian numbers to the above two scenarios? And are there other plausible scenarios we should consider?

Source: Richard W. Jencks, “Why Capitol Hill Needs a Churchill Reminder,” The Wall Street Journal, May 10, 2013. Viewed May 26, 2013.

Related:
Friedrich Engels against liberal peace.
Is commerce rendering war obsolete?

15 thoughts on “Bertrand Russell’s pacifism in the face of Nazism

  • June 3, 2013 at 6:40 am
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    Again, a slight rebuttal. Your definitions prove your point. Perception precedes cognition. The existence of an external object can be proven by evidence. If many people accept this, such as photos of the moon, then the moon may be said “to exist.” Exist for those people. Objects which cannot be perceived cannot be said to exist, save in themselves. As for reason, it is dependent upon perception and its own logical operation. People being imperfect, many mistakes using reason are incurred. Ayn Rand was specific about this, but you may wish to consult Aristotle. The touchy subject of “racism,” which seems an irritant to you, I answer by saying there is one human race, many human families. Not all these families get along or profit from one another. You are not obliged to like Outer Mongolians, nor am I (I happen to, but their women are charming, being a smiling kind, with big red cheeks). Men are created “equal” in that, as Jefferson wrote, they are given by their Creator “certain inalienable rights” — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They do not all possess the same brain power. The Boeing Company is not planning to hire a team of Aborigines to design their next jumbo jet. International IQ tests show the Japanese to be the most intelligent people on the planet. It’s all one merry whirl, not subject to caviling small thoughts! Best, SRD

  • June 3, 2013 at 8:48 am
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    Stephen Dhal wrote: “Again, a slight rebuttal. Your definitions prove your point. Perception precedes cognition. The existence of an external object can be proven by evidence. If many people accept this, such as photos of the moon, then the moon may be said “to exist.” Exist for those people.”

    That’s a non-sequetur. Yes perception precedes cognition and the existence of external objects can be proven by evidence. But from that, it does not follow that existence means only existence for “those people.”The water molecule consisted of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen long before this was demonstrated by chemists. Indeed, that was so even before there were people who could recognize water, let alone figure out its chemical formula.

    You wrote: ” Objects which cannot be perceived cannot be said to exist, save in themselves.”

    Yes they can be said to exist. For example, right now there are probably thousands of planets around other stars which haven’t been discovered yet. And they exist despite our lack of knowledge about them. What you should have written is “objects which cannot be perceived are not presently known to exist.”

    You wrote: ” The touchy subject of “racism,” which seems an irritant to you, I answer by saying there is one human race, many human families.”

    Yes of course there is. I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear here. The point I was making was that ideas can’t be said to have any validity simply because they have been around a long time. Perhaps I should have used the belief in witches instead. That idea is still around BTW. I read an article a few days ago that people are still being killed in New Guinea for that reason.

  • June 6, 2013 at 10:51 am
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    Philosophically I think we’re still at an early stage of separating being and consciousness.

    Kant capitalized on this, aided by the fact that consciousness and being are subjectively experienced as an indivisible whole (it is by its content that consciousness is manifested) hence require a degree of sophistication and abstraction to separate i.e. to separate being a thing from consciousness of it. In spite of the dazzling virtuosity of its circumlocutions ‘The Critique of Pure Reason’ remains at the level of a primitive man just beginning to separate them: to waken to the scientific understanding of consciousness as process i.e. to realize that what he has always subjectively experienced as the primary, self-evident fact of his life is in fact the product of the most complex process known to man.

    With the phenomenal-noumenal split Kant equivocated a radical redefinition of knowledge into contradiction and absurdity against which human knowledge failed to measure. Taking a page from the Christian ethics he created an epistemological analog of the moral notions of original sin and “perfection” (ideas to which in essence he also subscribed) that rendered consistent virtue impossible to Christians, creating sin and the market for salvation. In both cases, by means of impossible contradictions posited as ideals, man’s nature was framed as his failure: In one morally; in the other epistemologically. By implying that being, or identity, ought to be the criterion of, and synonymous with knowing, or identification, Kant equivocated a contradiction as the standard of the latter. Accepted, it destroyed the possibility of knowledge of the world. That world – the world – he had reclaimed for faith.

  • June 1, 2015 at 8:28 pm
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    Ummm…shouldn’t the bigger point be that Russell changed his mind?

  • June 1, 2015 at 11:03 pm
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    Great, Jacob. Please provide a source, and an explanation for why this is the bigger point would be helpful too.

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