Bertrand Russell

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure
and the intelligent full of doubt.”
~Bertrand Russell

A decade or two ago, I happened across a quote by Bertrand Russell. Two things caught my eye: (1) his ‘definition’ of fascism matched what appeared to be underway in the US at least since the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, and (2) Russell had penned the line in 1940, two years before I was born.

“The first step in a fascist movement is the combination under an energetic leader of a number of men who possess more than the average share of leisure, brutality, and stupidity. The next step is to fascinate fools and muzzle the intelligent, by emotional excitement on the one hand and terrorism on the other.” ~Bertrand Russell: Freedom; (Harcourt Brace, 1940)

I was curious. I had heard of Russell, of course, but having not been much of a humanities student whilst in college all those years ago, I was largely unfamiliar with the specifics of his work, of his ideas. So I dug a little deeper and found tons more tidbits of B.R. wisdom. Here are a small handful that demonstrate, to me, Russell’s immense capacity for rational thought as well as his amazing ability to clearly summarize most any topic, all-the-while subtly exposing popular fallacies in the process.

“Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear.”

“We may define ‘faith’ as a firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. [and] We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence.”

“If throughout your life you abstain from murder, theft, fornication, perjury, blasphemy, and disrespect towards your parents, your Church, and your king, you are conventionally held to deserve moral admiration even if you have never done a single kind or generous or useful action. This very inadequate notion of virtue . . . has done untold harm.”

“If you think that your belief is based upon reason, you will support it by argument, rather than by persecution, and will abandon it if the argument goes against you. But if your belief is based on faith, you will realize that argument is useless, and will therefore resort to force either in the form of persecution or by stunting and distorting the minds of the young in what is called ‘education.’ This last is peculiarly dastardly since it takes advantage of the defenselessness of immature minds. Unfortunately it is practiced in a greater or less degree in the schools of every civilized country.”

And then there’s this GEM!

“The date of the creation of the world (according to the orthodox view) can be inferred from the genealogies in Genesis, which tell how old each patriarch was when his oldest son was born. Some margin of controversy was permissible, owing to certain ambiguities and to differences between the Septuagint and the Hebrew text; but in the end Protestant Christendom generally accepted the date 4004 B.C., fixed by Archbishop Usher. Dr. Lightfoot, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, who accepted this date for the Creation, thought that a careful study of Genesis made even greater precision possible; the creation of man, according to him, took place at 9.00 A.M. on October 23rd. This, however, has never been an article of faith; you might believe, without risk of heresy, that Adam and Eve came into existence on October 16th or October 30th, provided your reasons were derived from Genesis. The day of the week was, of course, known to have been Friday, since God rested on the Saturday.”

Undercurrent thesis stated another way,

“Dogma demands authority, rather than intelligent thought, as the source of opinion; it requires persecution of heretics and hostility to unbelievers; it asks of its disciples that they should inhibit natural kindliness in favor of systematic hatred.”

Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) lived a long and extremely productive life. I’ll not even attempt to make a list his accomplishments — the multi-paged Wikipedia link embedded above offers a detailed summary of his life; it also includes links to more detailed information for any who so desire. Suffice to say that in my somewhat shriveled and mediocre mind, I see the world in much the same way as he did — a footnote I readily admit and accept.

Here, for example, is Russell speaking of God and Religion in 1959. Curiously, he and I do share one tiny bit of religious ‘history.’ When asked when he decided not to remain a believer in the Christian beliefs he’d been taught, he said that “by the time I was eighteen, I discarded the last of them.” For me, likewise. 🙂

“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity
toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”
Bertrand Russell

21st Century GOP defined. Amen.


About frugalchariot

How Frugal is the Chariot That bears the Human soul. (Emily Dickinson)
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