Sunday, October 14, 2007

Unpopular Essays, Chapter 3

Chapter 3 (pages 45-55), “The Future of Mankind”

Barring major unforeseen events, there are three possible fates for the earth by the end of the 20th Century: (1) human life, and possibly all life, exterminated; (2) return to the stone age after a massive depopulation; (3) a single world government controlling weapons of mass destruction.

The next world war won’t finish off humanity, but the post-war arms race and further instability might, through radioactivity. “Although the last survivor may proclaim himself universal Emperor, his reign will be brief and his subjects will all be corpses. With his death the uneasy episode of life will end, and the peaceful rocks will revolve unchanged until the sun explodes [pages 45-46].” Maybe this is not such a bad turn of events, but people don’t really believe that – even if they say they would rather see the world end than communism (or capitalism) take over. Such spoken sentiments are harmful, as they lessen our commitment to working to avoid the apocalypse.

A single world government might arise if either the US or Russia wins the next war, or if nations voluntarily agree to such a government. A common argument against a world government is that the prospect is utopian, but those commentators are only considering the voluntary means of achieving one. Russell concurs that as things now stand, the hopes for agreement between the two main sides are negligible; therefore, it would have to be “imposed by force [p. 47].”

Why can’t the world continue as before, with the occasional war? Technological development in weaponry has brought a level of destruction such that soon, any major world war would result in either extermination or depopulation and barbarism. (Russell foresees that the USSR will soon have lots of nuclear weapons.) Nor can it be hoped that for some reason, within the existing nation-state structure, war itself will become history.

Russell claims that a poll indicates that a majority of Americans support world government – but they do not understand the need for it to be established via force or the threat of force. The side that prevails in an armed struggle will have an irresistible monopoly of force, leading to a “secure peace [p. 49].” The leaders of that society will be rich and secure, allowing them to be generous to others. So a world government, of American or Soviet origin, will be preferable to the current “international anarchy [p. 50].” But an American-constructed world government will be better, because of the freedoms that are valued in America. We can see what sort of civilisation the Soviets would install by looking at what happened to the education system and the middle class in Poland once it fell under Soviet domination. Within a generation, all independent thought in Poland could be replaced with jejune communist orthodoxy, and this will also be the global fate within a Soviet uni-polar world – so a Russian victory in the bi-polar struggle would be “an appalling disaster [p. 51].” If America emerges as the victor, European cultures will not be crushed, nor will be freedom of expression. Soviet control of the press allows the ruling oligarchy to oppress the masses much more severely than in the US, so Soviet social inequalities worsen and harden.

The third alternative future outlined above, that of world government, can almost be as bad as the first two if it involves Soviet domination. The next step is for Britain and the US to start a military unification, with invitations and inducements to other nations to join. Once the alliance is large enough, any country that refused to join should be given an ultimatum: either join or be named an outlaw. Presumably Russia would receive such an ultimatum, and the war to follow – provided it happens quickly enough – should still leave US power intact, and then the military unification can be completed. We could hope that the ultimatum alone would work, that war would not be necessary – but we cannot rely upon that.

This all sounds gloomy, and it is, but the prospect of a world without wars also holds great promise; for the first time in 6000 years: “a weight will be lifted from the human spirit, deep collective fears will be exorcised, and as fear diminishes we may hope that cruelty also will grow less [p. 54].” Without war, poverty could be ended on a global scale “within a generation [p. 55].”

The global monopolization of force is a means, not an end; the end is to set up a system of laws to govern international relations. If we succeed in establishing such a system, we will enter a golden age; if we fail, “we face utter disaster [p. 55].”

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