Monday, December 22, 2008

The Conquest of Happiness, Chapter 3

Chapter 3 (pages 39-47), “Competition”

Business people like to say that the struggle for life undermines their happiness, but they don’t face such a struggle. “Everybody knows that a business man who has been ruined is better off so far as material comforts are concerned than a man who has never been rich enough to have the chance of being ruined [pp. 39-40].” It is the struggle for preeminence, and not for life, that is the real threat to happiness. Successful business people could choose to leave this competition and still live well, but generally they don’t view escape as an option.

“The working life of [a high-ranking business person] has the psychology of a hundred-yard race, but as the race upon which he is engaged is one whose only goal is the grave, the concentration, which is appropriate enough for a hundred yards, becomes in the end somewhat excessive [p. 41].” He sacrifices his life for this competition, not unlike Hindu widows who willingly submit to the flames. “The business man’s religion and glory demand that he should make much money; therefore, like the Hindu widow, he suffers the torment gladly [p. 41].” People pursue risky investments with high expected returns and concomitant high stress, even though they could have secure returns and untroubled minds if they weren’t caught up in the competition to outshine others. Some degree of money and success contributes to happiness, but money and success should not be purchased via the sacrifice of all the other components of happiness.

The competition for money is worse in America, in part because professional excellence itself is there only discernible in monetary terms. The competitive habit even extends to what books people read, or can boast about reading.

Competition undermines civilized standards generally. The art of conversation, knowledge of good literature, and other quiet pleasures are nearly abandoned. This is not a personal failing. “The trouble arises from the generally received philosophy of life, according to which life is a contest, a competition, in which respect is to be accorded to the victor [p. 46].” Power is now preferred to intelligence, as with the dinosaurs, and the intensely power-focused will eventually meet the fate of the dinosaurs. (Already they have low birth rates – “they do not enjoy life enough to wish to beget children [p. 46].”) Competition is destroying the pleasures of work as well as of leisure, and one perceived escape is to pursue leisure activities that are as tense as work. The “natural termination” of this system is “drugs and collapse. The cure for this lies in admitting the part of sane and quiet enjoyment in a balanced ideal of life [p. 47].”

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Conquest of Happiness, Chapter 2

Chapter 2 (pages 24-38), “Byronic Unhappiness”

Enlightenment does not require unhappiness. “The wise man will be as happy as circumstances permit, and if he finds the contemplation of the universe painful beyond a point, he will contemplate something else instead [p. 24].” Those who attribute their unhappiness to a rational view of the world are mistaken. They are unhappy for some other reason, and that unhappiness leads them to focus only on the negative aspects of existence.

When in the mood that “all is vanity,” one does not escape through philosophy, but through the imperative for action. Only the comfortable, not those fighting for survival, think that all is vanity. People are adapted for struggle, and when everything comes without effort, one of the necessary inputs into happiness is lost: “to be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness [p. 27].” In a good mood, however, we can see how much is new under the sun, like airplanes, newspapers, and skyscrapers. There is no tragedy in the cycle of generations, each seeing its day in the sun. (Indeed, immortality would sap the joys from the world.) Reason counsels optimism as much as it does despair. Instability and falling incomes, however, tend to make for pessimistic attitudes.

Love contributes to happiness, and does so more now that Victorian attitudes towards sex and love have been falling out of favor. Love itself is a delight, though this is not its chief virtue. The absence of love is painful. “A man who has never enjoyed beautiful things in the company of a woman whom he loved has not experienced to the full the magic power of which such things are capable [p. 34].” Love is an antidote to egoism, and gives the lie to philosophies that suggest the highest good can come from within, or from outside of society – parental love is even more telling than romantic love in this regard.

The philosophy of the futility of endeavor has changed our relationship to drama. In Shakespeare’s time, people really could look on the death of a king as tragic and deeply meaningful. “The cosmic significance of an individual death is lost to us because we have become democratic, not only in outward forms but in our inmost convictions [p. 36].” Modern tragedy requires a community problem, not an individual misfortune – Russell cites approvingly “Massenmensch” by Ernst Toller (whom he also had kind words for in Unpopular Essays). Young intellectual writers who are drawn to a futile view of existence should get out in the world and struggle for the means to meet their physical needs. “I believe that after some years of such an existence, the ex-intellectual will find that in spite of his efforts he can no longer refrain from writing, and when this time comes his writing will not seem to him futile [p. 38].”

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Conquest of Happiness, Chapter 1

Chapter One (pages 15-23), “What Makes People Unhappy?”

You might be happy yourself, but when you look around you can see that unhappiness abounds, even on holidays or at parties. The origin of some unhappiness lies in the social system, stemming, for instance, from the prevalence of war, economic exploitation, or poverty. This book will not deal with those big issues, however. The focus rather will be on how an individual person, unremarkable in wealth and health, can find happiness, given the prevailing social conditions. “My purpose is to suggest a cure for the ordinary day-to-day unhappiness from which most people in civilized countries suffer, and which is all the more unbearable because, having no obvious external cause, it appears inescapable [p. 17].”

Russell relates that he was unhappy as a child, and suicidal as an adolescent, though buoyed then by the desire to learn more mathematics. Now (1930) he is happy, and getting happier, it seems, chiefly “due to a diminishing preoccupation with myself [p. 18].” Self-absorption, whether in one’s perceived sins, or manifested as narcissism or megalomania, is quite common. The sinner may believe that his adult reason has allowed him to discard those nostrums taught to him in his infancy, but he still retains them. Pleasures, especially sex, he has learned to think of as wicked. He partakes, but cannot enjoy his transgressions. The only pleasure his early training permits him is his mother’s caresses. These are unattainable as an adult, and he cannot respect those who provide a substitute, his sexual partners. Liberation from these ingrained beliefs and desires is a necessary step for happiness.

Narcissists cannot love others, and lose interest in a romantic partner once they are sure that the partner loves them. Their work, sustained by the thought of the acclaim they will win from professional success, is undermined by their lack of interest in the subject itself: “…the man whose sole concern with the world is that it shall admire him is not likely to achieve his object [p. 21].” Extreme vanity leads to boredom, as activities cannot be enjoyed in themselves. The problem might stem from a lack of self-confidence, and could be cured by an infusion of self-respect. “But this is only to be gained by successful activity inspired by objective interests [p. 21].”

Many madmen and most great men have been megalomaniacs, focused on power and the inspiring of fear in others. Alexander the Great, differentiated from the lunatic by the fact that Alexander really could achieve domination, still could not achieve happiness, as his ambition outran his success. Any megalomaniac must also fail eventually, though this thought (and those who dare to speak it) can be repressed – while the psychological repression itself precludes happiness. Like self-love, love of power in moderation conduces to happiness; when all-consuming, however, it is disastrous.

What is the general lesson? “The typical unhappy man is one who, having been deprived in youth of some normal satisfaction, has come to value this one kind of satisfaction more than any other, and has therefore given to his life a one-sided direction, together with a quite undue emphasis upon the achievement as opposed to the activities connected with it [p. 22].” Narcissists and megalomaniacs believe that happiness is possible, though they employ unsuitable means for finding it. Many others give up even the thought of finding happiness. They seek distraction instead, perhaps in the “temporary suicide” of drunkenness. The first step for these discouraged souls is to convince them that happiness is desirable. Such persuasion might not be easy: “Men who are unhappy, like men who sleep badly, are always proud of the fact [p. 23].” But most people will seek happiness if they believe that it is attainable.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Next Up: The Conquest of Happiness

Must Stick With The Plan. Must Stick With The Plan. And so on. So The Conquest of Happiness it is. My copy is a Liveright Paperback (W.W. Norton), the reset version of 1996. The original copyright is listed as being issued to Horace Liveright, Inc., in 1930. We have come across Horace before, as the publisher of Marriage and Morals (just one year before The Conquest of Happiness) and also as an anti-censorship figure.

The 191 pages comprise 17 chapters plus a single-paragraph Preface; similar to the layout of Proposed Roads to Freedom, the chapters are divided into two sections. The first section (chapters 1 through 9) is “Causes of Unhappiness” and the second section (chapters 10 through 17) is, as you guessed, “Causes of Happiness.” Prior to the contents is an excerpt from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass – an excerpt that suggests that non-human animals manage to avoid unhappiness. The Preface notes that The Conquest of Happiness is an effort to record thoughts “inspired by what I hope is common sense [p. 11].” Russell has written the book, he announces, in the belief “that many people who are unhappy could become happy by well-directed effort…[p. 11].”

Here are the titles of the 17 chapters:

1. What Makes People Unhappy?
2. Byronic Unhappiness
3. Competition
4. Boredom and Excitement
5. Fatigue
6. Envy
7. The Sense of Sin
8. Persecution Mania
9. Fear of Public Opinion
10. Is Happiness Still Possible?
11. Zest
12. Affection
13. The Family
14. Work
15. Impersonal Interests
16. Effort and Resignation
17. The Happy Man

Onwards to Part One, “Causes of Unhappiness.”

P.S. -- An electronic edition of The Conquest of Happiness is available from Questia, but I am not sure of the rules for access.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Proposed Roads to Freedom, Full Time

My embrace of an asymmetrical approach to time has resulted in but three chapters being consumed since the halftime report – and much of the material in those chapters is developed or hinted at earlier in Proposed Roads to Freedom. Chapter VII, on science and art under socialism, appears to be visionary in at least two respects. One is how political control enervates (aboveground) art and literature – Russell accurately presages Soviet socialist realism. The second concerns the possibilities that lurk in increasing the scope of artistic and scientific freedom and unleashing creative potential in the public more broadly. Russell notes three elements that are needed to foster creativity: (1) the availability of technical training; (2) liberty in creative endeavors; and (3) the potential for some level of public approbation. I see in the widespread availability of computing power and the internet an outpouring of creativity that validates Russell’s perspective. (The ease of computing may have lowered technical barriers to creativity, though educational shortcomings with respect to both writing and mathematics still constrain some people from full participation. Russell believes that, under contemporaneous conditions, economic constraints preclude creative pursuits by most of the population.)

In international affairs (Chapter VI), we have not made much progress in Russell’s preferred direction of rendering war unthinkable – a direction that he believes we might travel in part through the creation of a transnational military force. Russell’s view that the elimination of private ownership of land and capital is a precondition for global peace cannot yet be falsified, though we can hope that it is false. Accepting Russell's contention, however, about the need for communal ownership to ensure peace, and assuming that this precondition is fulfilled, Russell still is skeptical that peace will reign on earth. Human nature night not allow it; Russell provides the wonderful ant colony analogy, where the cooperative ant society nevertheless destroys outside ants that stumble into its midst. Russell seems to hold a view that human nature is malleable via institutions and education -- but not unconstrainedly so. All-in-all, among the developed countries, I guess I would say that the past 60 years give us reason to hope that we can limit warfare, despite the persistence of capitalism and the lack of an effective unitary international military force. Perhaps this hope stems not from improved human nature but from increased destructiveness of weaponry, as Russell discusses elsewhere.

Also in Chapter VI, Russell identifies what came to be known as confirmation bias, the notion that we are much more skeptical towards new information that does not fit with our preconceived beliefs than we are towards similar information that conforms to those beliefs.

As noted at “half” time, many of the reforms that Russell sought have since taken place, though generally not within a socialist or syndicalist framework. Unemployment insurance has somewhat socialized the risk of unemployment. Public measures for child support, and much greater economic opportunities for women, have responded to problems that Russell identified (though his vision that housework would become publicly remunerated has not come to pass). Education in some countries is free of charge all the way through university, though competition for places in the best schools or for scholarships generally remains intense. Consistent with Russell's claims, Malthusian pressures have not undermined the utility of reforms that raise the living conditions of the working class.

As we have seen, Russell thought that a significant expansion in human freedom requires the elimination of private ownership of land and capital. In this regard, Russell appears to have been mistaken, in that the increased wealth and leisure made available to most members of rich countries have produced significantly more freedom without socializing property. Nevertheless, Russell’s chief contention – that individual freedom would be the main force in producing a better future – seems consistent with subsequent events.

Incidentally, following the index in Proposed Roads to Freedom are four pages of interesting advertisements for eight other books published by Henry Holt and Company. Three of the books are by Walter Lippmann -- one of them highly recommended by Theodore Roosevelt. The advertised books generally deal with topics such as labor unions or socialism that are related to the material in Proposed Roads to Freedom.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Proposed Roads to Freedom, Chapter VIII

Chapter VIII (pages 186-212), “The World As It Could Be Made”

[An e-version of Chapter VIII is available here.]

Fear tends to predominate over hope in most people’s lives, though it is better that this not be the case. A focus on creation and improvement, and a disdain for envy, generates and helps to spread happiness. This mindset undermines fear, because what it values most cannot be taken away. But the hopeful mentality does not come easily, so if fear is to be overcome, the causes of fear must be diminished. A good life must also be made a successful one, in the usual worldly sense.

Evils in people’s lives can be classed into those that are physical; those that involve character (including ignorance or violent passions); and those that are inflicted by the powerful over the less powerful. Of course, the classification is rough and fluid – many evils of character are responses to evils of power or of the body, for instance. “Nevertheless, speaking broadly, we may distinguish among our misfortunes those which have their proximate cause in the material world, those which are mainly due to defects in ourselves, and those which spring from our being subject to the control of others [p. 189].” They can be combated respectively by science, education and freedom, and political and economic reform. Anarchism and Socialism, in the first instance, are aimed at remedying existing evils of power.

The current system results in substantial evils of power, as most people are either poor or required to work extensively to get by. Much work itself is undertaken under dictatorial and painful conditions: “the very idea that work might be a joy, like the work of the artist, is usually scouted as utterly Utopian [p. 192].” These evils are correctable.

Russell then recapitulates his preferred system, which is a Kropotkin-like Anarchism joined with some Guild Socialism (as the previous chapters have made clear). Education is free up to at least the age of 21, and compulsory up to perhaps age 16. After completing education, people can choose to work, but receive a living stipend in any case. Russell notes that most folks will work, as most people who currently have enough investment income to get by nevertheless choose to work. Four hours of work per day would be enough to provide high living standards, if more rational production methods were implemented and competition was restrained. Each person will be trained in several trades. Factories and industries will be self-governing, in a democratic fashion, with respect to internal issues. A Guild Congress will coordinate between industries, a Parliament will conduct location-based (as opposed to vocation-based) affairs, and there will be a chamber of representatives from Parliament and the Guild Congress to resolve disputes between them.

Payments to workers will be salaries that will not fall when the amount of work to be accomplished falls – unemployment will not be a great dreaded evil hanging over everyone. If the Guild Congress thinks that different pay for different work is helpful, then such freely chosen wage inequality is fine. Disagreeable trades will be conducted for fewer hours or for more pay, and society will have a strong interest in making work more pleasant.

A type of money will be needed to reflect relative values. But to prevent the accumulation of large hoards of savings that might enable the saver to become a capitalist, the money paid to a worker might be valid for only a limited period of time, say, one year. Free distribution of necessities, like the Anarchists propose, should be adopted if it becomes feasible.

Women, married or not, who provide domestic services should be paid. “This will secure the complete economic independence of wives, which is difficult to achieve in any other way, since mothers of young children ought not to be expected to work outside the home [p. 196].” Children will not be an economic burden on parents, but on the public, who will provide the resources for their necessities (as with adults) and their education. Competition for scholarships will be removed from education. Student initiative will be encouraged, and the inculcating of propagandistic beliefs discouraged, in the reformed education system.

Government and law will be minimized; most property law will be unnecessary, and criminal motives reduced. Criminals will be regarded as unfortunate, not as wicked, “and kept in some kind of mental hospital until it is thought they are no longer a danger [p. 198].”

A monopoly of legitimate violence (domestically and internationally) is needed to suppress other uses of force. This currently exists within a state, but the international equivalent is far from being established. Once people believe that war is an impossibility, the dismantling of most of the present military structures will be possible. Liberty can be enhanced by the utmost devolution of power, and by reducing the possibility of war. These reforms are connected, as it is war that is used to justify centralized executive power.

Russell then goes on to ask how his preferred society would remedy defects of character. The reduction of economic power currently possessed by large capitalists will diminish despotism and enhance gentility. Fear of economic failure and hope for great wealth will disappear. Ambitions will have to be channeled into nobler enterprises than commercial success. Science and technical progress will flourish, as these will be the roads to honor. And with freedom from state direction, art, too, will flourish. Work will be more edifying when it is done without compulsion, and human relations will improve when authority and class distinctions are dissolved.

The relations between the sexes will improve enormously when the commercial angle is eliminated. Currently, marriage is often worse than prostitution, in being harder to escape from. Marital relations can be free and spontaneous in the absence of an economic component. Affection will keep families together, and when affection is gone, there is nothing worth preserving. “Reverence for whatever makes the soul in those who are loved will be less rare than it is now: nowadays, many men love their wives in the way in which they love mutton, as something to devour and destroy [p. 206].” Happiness will grow with this newfound spiritual satisfaction in marriage. A childlike joy, rare among adults in our competitive world, will become widely available.

Will our remade society also reduce physical evils? Less onerous work and healthier conditions for children should add to physical well-being. Science can flourish if the economically liberated are given mental freedom, too, and scientific advances will alleviate suffering.

“There remains the population question, which, ever since the time of Malthus, has been the last refuge of those to whom the possibility of a better world is disagreeable [p. 210].” But birth rates in advanced countries have fallen, and any nightmare population scenarios are too conjectural to stand in the way of socialist-style reform at this point.

While communal ownership of land and capital is necessary to bring on a better world, it is not sufficient. Creativity and joy, love without domination – these are some of the non-economic markers of the better world, a world that is feasible. Russell concludes on an optimistic note, that following the demise of our current social system, “from its ashes will spring a new and younger world, full of fresh hope, with the light of morning in its eyes [p. 212].”

Monday, September 29, 2008

Proposed Roads to Freedom, Chapter VII

Chapter VII (pages 164-185), “Science and Art Under Socialism”

[An e-version of Chapter VII is available here.]

Socialism might provide sufficient income and leisure time to allow everyone to contribute to societal advance – though most comfortably-off people in current society do not do so. For material progress to be of real use to society, “it must be made a means to the advancement of those higher goods that belong to the life of the mind [p. 166].” But the life of the mind must itself be connected with community life to avoid sterility and preciousness.

Russell asserts the higher social value of people who are capable of creating beauty or extending knowledge. “A social system which would render them unproductive would stand condemned, whatever other merits it might have [p. 167].” He claims that the best of creative activity cannot be brought about via monetary inducements. (Here Russell forgets or ignores Shakespeare, of whom Pope noted, “For gain, not glory, wing'd his roving flight, / And grew immortal in his own despite.”) What is needed is “circumstances which keep the [creative] impulse alive and afford scope for the activities which it inspires [p. 168].”

To promote mental creativity, social systems can provide: (1) technical training; (2) liberty to pursue one’s Muse; and (3) the potential for public approbation (if only that of a small public). Some forms of Socialism would surely be worse than the current system at fostering scientific and artistic development.

Who receives the requisite technical training now? Those whose parents are sufficiently wealthy and interested, and those who show such promise when young that they attract a scholarship. The first category would essentially disappear under socialism – but the wealthy are only a small proportion of society, anyway. The scholarship system suffers from inducing the wrong type of competition, leading to glibness and overwork in the young – and a compensatory dilatoriness later. State Socialists might universalize scholarship exams, which would be disastrous. The bureaucrats in charge would want only to subsidize those who can do the most for society, and let the others wallow.

Russell proposes instead that education be free to whoever wants it up to the age of 21. Most students will quit at an earlier age, but those with the strongest inclinations – not necessarily the most talent – towards learning will continue. (Russell notes, page 172, that the desire to become a painter is not limited to folks who can paint.) Subsidizing some students who lack talent is a small price to pay for making sure that those with talent have the opportunity to develop it. This sort of free education could be provided under Socialism or Anarchism; indeed, in theoretical terms, it is even consistent with capitalism, though it flies in the face of the typical spirit of capitalism.

Under current circumstances, the freedom to follow your Muse without regard to expert or commercial opinion is only effectively available to the wealthy and to those who can earn their living in a manner which still leaves them with the time and energy to undertake their creative endeavors. Private means have been available in the past to only a few, but those few include many who have made important contributions, such as Keats and Darwin. “If Darwin had been a university teacher, he would of course have been dismissed from his post by the influence of the clerics on account of his scandalous theories [p. 173].” [Russell himself had already (at the time he wrote Proposed Roads to Freedom) been dismissed from Trinity College for his anti-war activism, and later would lose a position he had secured at City College of New York because of other unpopular opinions.] Socialism will undermine the “private means” route to creative freedom, so it must compensate by broadening the opportunities available to those without private means. But even today, most creative work is done by those who support themselves in some less-than-fully-consuming occupation – including the research undertaken by those who teach in a related area.

State Socialism is likely to result in a bureaucratic mechanism, whereby a panel of people considered eminent in their field would license the products of those young people whom they find most promising. “In such a world all that makes life tolerable to the lover of beauty would perish [p. 175].” Art requires an anarchic spirit, one profoundly at odds with the bureaucratic mindset. “Better Anarchism, with all its risks, than a State Socialism that subjects to rule what must be spontaneous and free if it is to have any value [p. 175].” Fortunately, not all forms of Socialism require this bureaucratization of art.

Art could remain free under Socialism if artists choose to work only a few hours a day (at their non-art occupation), with commensurately less pay, and devote the remainder of their working time to art. The artist’s right to sell his products at freely negotiated prices must complement this system. (Many young artists currently do limit their paid work, but they live less well than they would under the Socialist arrangement.) Or, a small but sustaining guaranteed income could be made available to all, without a work requirement. Russell thinks that having vagabonds who choose to accept this wage and do no paid work would enliven the community, as long as they were not too numerous. Either of the approaches that Russell outlines to artistic freedom under Socialism would produce “far more complete freedom, and far more widespread, than any that now exists except for the possessors of capital [p. 178].”

But who will decide what books to publish? If it is the state or a literary guild, censorship will be rife. Kropotkin’s suggestion is to eschew specialization and have authors also layout and bind books – but whose books? (Russell notes that “it would be a waste of time for them [authors] to leave the work they understand in order to do badly work which others could do far better and more quickly [p. 179].”) Authors whose own books are rejected are not likely to do a good job publishing the books of others. Books critical of the existing system (such as Kropotkin’s books!) will not be published. Russell claims that the only solution is to allow authors to pay for the publication of their books if the state or guild apparatus rejects them. The payment might take the form of a labor contribution, but it needn’t be bookbinding. (Perhaps the admirers of an author could contribute, too.) No book could be rejected if the offer of payment at a set rate is made.

At least twice in this chapter Russell notes the utility of placing some barrier or inconvenience in the way of artistic production. For instance, the discomfort associated with the servitude bartered for book publishing “would give an automatic means of eliminating those whose writing was not the result of any very profound impulse and would be by no means wholly an evil [p. 180].” Some suffering for the sake of art is not particularly objectionable.

For art to flourish, artists have to know that art is respected (even if specific artists are not). Too much solemnity, perhaps brought on by overwork, undermines the environment for art, which needs “a capacity for direct enjoyment without thought of tomorrow’s problems and difficulties [p. 182].” An environment conducive to art also requires “a diffused sense of freedom,” one that a bureaucratic State Socialism is unlikely to foster.

A general progress also helps to spur creativity, and this will require ongoing technological improvements. But will there be enough innovation under Socialism? Workers should be allowed to keep some of the fruits of better methods in their industry, to provide an incentive to innovate.

Russell concludes that the three conditions needed to promote science and art – training, freedom, and public appreciation – are unlikely to exist under State Socialism, but could be maintained under Guild Socialism or Syndicalism, with better results than what capitalism affords. The key is liberty. “In this as in nearly everything else, the road to all that is best is the road of freedom [p. 185].”

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Proposed Roads to Freedom, Chapter VI

Chapter VI (pages 139-163), “International Relations”

[An e-version of Chapter VI is available here.]

Socialists and Anarchists maintain, incorrectly, that all modern wars can be traced to capitalism. It is true that capitalists like to expand globally, and this can create friction. Capitalist owners of newspapers can whip up a war hysteria. (These two drivers towards international conflict might be reduced under non-capitalist conditions – page 148.) Successful capitalists have nurtured the habit of pugnacity and command, and hence they view any thwarting of their will as due to evil that must be subdued. But this last point would be true in any system that gives substantial power to small numbers of people – and it may not be possible to avoid a system where a few people have substantial power. The concentration of power causes wars, and wars lead to the concentration of power. Quick decisions are needed in dangerous situations.

Human nature seems to predispose us towards war, too, irrespective of the governmental system. People credit information that supports their instincts, and are quite skeptical of information that does not confirm their predispositions. The instinct towards pugnacity will out, “unless education and environment were so changed as enormously to diminish the strength of the competitive instinct [p. 147].” Global revolution by the proletariat might for awhile reduce international tensions, as the working classes direct their ire against the bourgeoisie, and not against other countries. But this too would pass, and national rivalries would likely re-emerge. “There is no alchemy by which a universal harmony can be produced out of hatred [p. 149].” So whipping up a class war is not likely to result in global peace.

The idea that working men in developed countries are brothers in arms with those of the developing world is untrue. In part, the English working class is prosperous because of the exploitation of the developing world, and many English workers have significant stakes – even corporate shares – in the capitalist order. Their new access to power has increased their nationalism.

Nevertheless, Russell confesses that he believes “that the abolition of private ownership of land and capital is a necessary step toward any world in which the nations are to live at peace with one another [pp. 150-1]” – necessary, but not sufficient. Race hatred, for instance, is likely to remain, and it can combine with labor competition to incite war. Global Socialism will not change such factors. “Ants are as completely Socialistic as any community can possibly be, yet they put to death any ant which strays among them by mistake from a neighboring ant-heap. Men do not differ much from ants, as regards their instincts in this respect…[p. 152].”

Russell has some hope that a League of Nations, which would credibly remove the perceived rationality of war by ensuring that military aggressors are punished, could make some headway in peaceful times or in the wake of a great war. But more is needed, including disarmament, though nations generally don’t trust that others are truly disarming. Institutions can help sustain cooperation, but they cannot create the goodwill that is necessary to initiate cooperation. Domestic political revolutions can be helpful, by quickly sweeping away the prejudices that are the main barrier to international cooperation: “great possibilities do arise in times of crisis [p. 155].”

Africa presents a nearly intractable problem, in that it will almost surely continue to “be governed and exploited by Europeans [p. 156].” How to govern Africa would be a tricky question even for an Anarchist or Socialist government. Such a government would not necessarily be any less exploitative of Africa, unless serious precautions are taken. Russell uses some charged language (“uncivilized”) when discussing Africa and Africans (including a hint (p. 158) of a “lack of intelligence,” as opposed to the population of Asia), but foresees that “even the populations of Central Africa may become capable of democratic self-government, provided Europeans bend their energies to this purpose [p. 158].” In discussing India, Russell sounds a knell for multiculturalism: “for it is not by a dead uniformity that the world as a whole is most enriched [p. 159].”

Problems in international relations fundamentally arise from psychological causes, chiefly “competitiveness, love of power, and envy… The evils arising from these three causes can be removed by a better education and a better economic and political system [p. 160].” Russell notes the importance of competitiveness in spurring effort, but identifies (somewhat too broadly) what economists might call rent seeking, too: “It [competitiveness] is only harmful when it aims at the acquisition of goods which are limited in amount, so that what one man possesses he holds at the expense of another [p. 160].” The hope is that a more just social system, one that includes communal ownership of land and capital, would reduce the harmful type of competition without interfering with the beneficial type. In turn, human nature would be improved, “for human nature, as it exists in adult men and women, is by no means a fixed datum, but a product of circumstances, education and opportunity operating upon a highly malleable native disposition [pp. 160-1].” Russell also argues that love of power and envy can be channeled into more constructive pathways through societal reforms.

Russell endorses, for international affairs, the same federalist approach that he endorses for national affairs: “self-determination for every group in regard to matters which concern it much more vitally than they concern others, and government by a neutral authority embracing rival groups in all matters in which conflicting interests of groups come into play; but always with the fixed principle that the functions of government are to be reduced to the bare minimum compatible with justice and the prevention of private violence [p. 161].”

Russell concludes Chapter VI with this cri de coeur: “A world full of happiness is not beyond human power to create; the obstacles imposed by inanimate nature are not insuperable. The real obstacles lie in the heart of man, and the cure for these is a firm hope, informed and fortified by thought [p. 163].”

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Proposed Roads to Freedom, Halftime

The obvious intermission in reading Proposed Roads to Freedom is at the break that Russell provides between Part I (“Historical”) and Part II (“Problems of the Future”), but I so enjoyed the delayed intermission in Unpopular Essays that I am trying to recapture the experience. The largest surprise for me in this first “half” of Proposed Roads to Freedom is Russell’s fairly positive take on Anarchism, and his prescience with respect to the tyranny lurking in State Socialism. Russell’s view that large increases in productivity were within grasp also has been borne out in the 90 years that have elapsed since Proposed Roads to Freedom was written. Russell’s argument that pure Anarchism cannot form a stable equilibrium seems sound to me, too.

Russell is endorsing a system in which people are guaranteed a minimal income (the “vagabond’s wage”) without any work requirement, along with a minimal government. Further, guilds play a serious role in governance, setting wages, output and prices, it seems. (Incidentally, though Russell does not reference Emile Durkheim, the guild part of Russell’s vision seems consonant with the ideas laid out by Durkheim in the Preface to the Second Edition of Division of Labour in Society.)

The first Russellian tenet, that of a guaranteed income, largely came to pass, though guild governance and a minimal State did not. I feel as if Russell neglects what proved to be an almost impenetrable issue for socialist economic planners, how to determine where to put new investments, how to decide what goods to make. (Russell, later in the book, discusses innovation with respect to art and science, and recognizes that incentives will have to be provided, but the socialist-style restriction on individual investment and entrepreneurship would, I believe, lead to a Russellian society ultimately falling behind a more capitalist one in terms of living standards.)

One of the reasons that Russell believes that any of the three alternatives (Socialism, Anarchism, and Syndicalism) could, in the right form, be an improvement over the status quo is that he recognizes a good deal of un-freedom in the status quo. Some of this lack of freedom is tied to the British class system – Russell believes that the working class are barred from high-paying professions by their poor education, and that they do not have the resources to support any type of intellectual, scientific, or artistic investment that does not offer an immediate payoff. Give them a vagabond’s wage, then, and watch the flourishing as the majority of people, for the first time, are free to pursue their dreams. I guess I believe that this vision has come to pass in part, too, though surely it is still the case that poor education limits the progress of many children.

Two mini-points made by Russell will stay with me, I think. The first is in the Introduction, when he offers an explanation of how people who fundamentally are empathic and loving nevertheless end up appearing to the rest of the world as being consumed by hate. The second is Russell’s argument against seizing power via violent tactics. Russell says that if the Syndicalists could actually seize and hold power via violent means, then they could do so using non-violent means. (Essentially, he is arguing that holding power requires substantial public support.) I am more intrigued than convinced by this argument, however: many regimes that come to power via violence are able to maintain their position for a long time, despite public disapproval. (Oh, one more mini-point, Russell’s note that labelling was one of the tactics of the Syndicalists was news to me; here’s a brief history of labelling. Two weeks from now [the first edition of this post was made on September 16, 2008], the US will require country-of-origin labelling on many meat products -- this particular labelling requirement might not reflect and appeal to our best instincts.)

Finally, Russell’s arguments in Chapter V about how liberty cannot be foisted upon or be maintained by an uninterested population form a lesson that largely remains unlearned.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Proposed Roads to Freedom, Chapter V

Chapter V (pages 111-138), “Government and Law”

[An e-version of Chapter V is available here.]

Even accepting that “freedom is the supreme aim of a good social system [p. 111],” the Anarchist program is unlikely to be desirable. The lack of state-imposed constraints upon individual behavior does not imply that liberty will prevail; rather, the strong will impose their will upon the weak, or the majority upon the minority. This still will be the case in a world where the possible accumulation of power (which builds its own appetite) would not be as great as in current circumstances. “It would seem, therefore, that, while human nature remains as it is, there will be more liberty for all in a community where some acts of tyranny by individuals are forbidden, than in a community where the law leaves each individual free to follow his every impulse [p. 113].” Coercion by private individuals, then, suggests a role for the state, but not for anything beyond that limited role which maximizes overall liberty by restraining private tyranny.

Marx’s approach to the state seems muddled. He wants the state to have significant power, but claims that the state, or at least its class nature, will disappear after socialism is established.

Guild Socialists present a sort of compromise between Socialists, who are really believers in a strong state, and Syndicalists, who take from Marx the class war theme but eschew working through the state. Guild Socialists maintain a state to represent consumers, but offset its power in part with the guilds, which represent producer interests and also will have coercive authority.

Anarchists maintain that all collective coercion is unnecessary -- a view that is far from absurd. As Kropotkin notes, there are many coordination-type problems in which unanimous consent already has occurred, such as issues that arise in international express rail traffic. Anarchists think that once the current system of property relations is abolished, more issues will be of this coordinating type in which unanimity is feasible. Russell finds this view to be a species of wishful thinking. There will still be violent crime, some stemming from lunacy, some from jealousy, even if equality eliminates acquisitive crime. There would be further threats to an Anarchist equilibrium. “Is it to be supposed, for example, that Napoleon, if he had been born into such a community as Kropotkin advocates, would have acquiesced tamely in a world where his genius could find no scope [p. 120]?” People who love power can only be contained “by means of the organized force of the community [p. 121].”

So Russell concludes that a system of Anarchism cannot form a stable equilibrium. At a minimum, coercion must be aimed against (1) theft, (2) violent crime, and (3) armed insurrections. How can criminal law be applied in such a way as to maximize freedom? The current approach, which is based on the infliction of pain, tends to brutalize the criminal. “He must emerge from such a treatment either defiant and hostile, or submissive and cringing, with a broken spirit and loss of self-respect. Neither of these results is anything but evil [p. 125].” It would be better to treat criminals more like carriers of infection, who also must be removed from society, but who are not considered to be guilty of anything. Any suffering imposed upon convicts should be viewed as a regrettable cost, not as the point of the exercise.

Russell continues by detailing how the treatment of prisoners is almost sure to make them less enamored of society, and he mentions that warders “often become brutalized by their occupation [p. 127].” This sentence is accompanied by a remarkable footnote, which reflects the fact that Proposed Roads to Freedom was completed just before Russell was imprisoned for six months in connection with his vocal opposition to World War I. The footnote reads: “This was written before the author had any personal experience of the prison system. He personally met with nothing but kindness at the hands of the prison officials [p. 127n].”

“At present a very large part of the criminal law is concerned in safeguarding the rights of property, that is to say – as things are now – the unjust privileges of the rich [p. 127].” The actions that some men take to become rich are more harmful to society than the petty crimes of poor men, and the law should reflect the seriousness of the crime. Law that is attuned to socially harmful acts, and treats crime more like disease than sin, would be better than the Anarchist vision of a world without law.

The state derives power not just from the criminal law but also from economic regulation and bureaucracy. This is where the State Socialists take a misstep, because they underestimate the power that bureaucrats would have in their preferred system, and the tyranny that would result. “The only changes they [the bureaucrats] will desire will be changes in the direction of further regulations as to how the people are to enjoy the good things kindly granted to them by their benevolent despots [p. 129].” Democratic representative institutions have not proven themselves adept at preventing the state from repressing a progressive minority. But for all the shortcomings of democracy on this score, it is not clear that the Anarchists or Syndicalists offer a workable alternative. They point out that industrial workers can grind things to a halt via a strike – for instance, by controlling a power station – but this is just an “appeal to force”. “The attempt to thrust liberty by force upon those who do not desire what we consider liberty must always prove a failure…[p. 131].” That is, the means that the Syndicalists appeal to are ultimately ineffective and illegitimate.

What of Syndicalist aims, however? Would a Guild Congress, representing producer interests, matched against the parliamentary institutions representing consumer interests, be an improvement over the status quo? Russell fears that a powerful Guild Congress would soon ally itself with Parliament, and prove a tyrant to a Guild that dissented from its strictures. To secure liberty, society needs not just good institutions “but also a diffused respect for liberty, and an absence of submissiveness to government both in theory and practice [p. 136].”

Russell recapitulates his argument. A state with some coercive powers is necessary. (Russell cites, among other functions, the need to restrict the trade in opium!) This state should have minimal powers, only what is necessary to accomplish its highly circumscribed role. Limits on state power require groups that are “jealous of their privileges [p. 137],” even to the point of dissenting from oppressive laws. “The glorification of the State, and the doctrine that it is every citizen’s duty to serve the State, are radically against progress and against liberty [p. 138].” Serving humanity is not the same as serving the State: “the free growth of the individual must be the supreme end of a political system which is to re-fashion the world [p. 138].” This paean to individual freedom, which concludes Chapter V, is yet another Russellian trope that would fit seamlessly into John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty -- an essay which ends as follows:
A government cannot have too much of the kind of activity which does not impede, but aids and stimulates, individual exertion and development. The mischief begins when, instead of calling forth the activity and powers of individuals and bodies, it substitutes its own activity for theirs; when, instead of informing, advising, and upon occasion denouncing, it makes them work in fetters or bids them stand aside and does their work instead of them. The worth of a State, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals composing it; and a State which postpones the interests of their mental expansion and elevation, to a little more of administrative skill or that semblance of it which practice gives, in the details of business; a State, which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands even for beneficial purposes, will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished; and that the perfection of machinery to which it has sacrificed everything, will in the end avail it nothing, for want of the vital power which, in order that the machine might work more smoothly, it has preferred to banish.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Proposed Roads to Freedom, Chapter IV

Chapter IV (pages 86-110), “Work and Pay ”

[An e-version of Chapter IV is available here.]

With Chapter IV, we move from Part I of the book (“Historical”) to Part II (“Problems of the Future”).

The standard of living is constrained both by natural forces that are independent of social institutions as well as by limits associated with those social institutions. Among the possible natural constraints are Malthusian population considerations and the requirement that most men engage in long, arduous toil, with little time for leisure, in order to produce a level of output that significantly exceeds subsistence for the whole population. But Russell thinks that neither of these potential natural constraints are currently real constraints, nor are they likely to become actual limitations for a long time – improvements in the technology of production allow for tremendous growth in output. Kropotkin himself is very convincing on the possibility, using known techniques, of raising agricultural output considerably. Malthusian pressures already do not apply to the advanced countries, which, since the time that Malthus wrote, have seen large declines in birthrates and large increases in living standards. Still higher living standards could be achieved if fewer people were engaged in war-making.

Kropotkin suggests that most agricultural work “could be carried on by people whose main occupations are sedentary, and with only such a number of hours as would serve to keep them in health and produce a pleasant diversification [p. 91].” Kropotkin promotes such diversification, where a single laborer undertakes both mental and physical tasks, and works in agriculture as well as in industry. Industrial output is perhaps even less likely to be constrained by decreasing returns than is agriculture, as manufacturing frequently is more efficient when undertaken at a larger scale. [Recall Marx in The German Ideology: " communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic."]

What about human as opposed to technical constraints? Many reformers want to abolish the wage system, but their opponents point out that people might not be willing to work hard unless arduous work were rewarded more liberally than leisure or easy tasks. Would the adoption of Socialism or Anarchism require a decline in living standards? Of course, Socialism and Anarchism are different. Many strands of Socialism would allow wages to reflect productivity, and impose an obligation to work upon the able-bodied. Anarchism aims at letting people have as much consumption of ordinary goods as they want, without requiring work in compensation. (For rare, scarce goods, equal division would be the rule. Russell later (pages 97-8) points out that prices of sorts would have to be placed on these goods to allow individuals to choose only those luxuries that most appeal to them.)

“Socialism with inequality of income would not differ greatly as regards the economic stimulus to work from the society in which we live [p. 94].” The differences that do exist are favorable to Socialism – the idle affluence that arises through inheritance, for instance, would disappear, along with the huge returns available in fields like finance that have little connection to their social utility. In the current system, highly paid jobs generally are available only to those with costly schooling, so children of the middle class are excluded from highly paid professions. And loyal, hard workers can become destitute through no fault of their own. “Such destitution is a constant fear, and when it occurs it produces undeserved suffering, and often deterioration in the social value of the sufferer [p. 95].” [This quick mention of the “social value” of people is reminiscent of Russell’s (later?) dalliance with eugenics.]

I [RBR] found the passage on undeserved suffering to be reminiscent of Friedrich Engels; consider this extract from Engels’s The Condition of the Working Class in England:
True, it is only individuals who starve, but what security has the working-man that it may not be his turn tomorrow? Who assures him employment, who vouches for it that, if for any reason or no reason his lord and master discharges him tomorrow, he can struggle along with those dependent upon him, until he may find some one else "to give him bread"? Who guarantees that willingness to work shall suffice to obtain work, that uprightness, industry, thrift, and the rest of the virtues recommended by the bourgeoisie, are really his road to happiness? No one. He knows that he has something today and that it does not depend upon himself whether he shall have something tomorrow. He knows that every breeze that blows, every whim of his employer, every bad turn of trade may hurl him back into the fierce whirlpool from which he has temporarily saved himself, and in which it is hard and often impossible to keep his head above water. He knows that, though he may have the means of living today, it is very uncertain whether he shall tomorrow.
Russell argues that the abolition of the wage and price system is not fantastical. The rich already have no effective budgetary limitation on the amount of bread that they eat, but they consume little more than the poor. Most people have access to free water, but they do not leave the tap running. Free access could be extended to all the necessities of life, and even to education (including higher education). The Anarchist idea of free distribution of basic goods is technically feasible.

Will people work without direct payment? Given the way tasks are currently organized, the worst of these jobs would find few takers. But if society had to entice people to work, instead of using the threat of starvation to drive them to work, society would find ways to make work more pleasant. Already, much highly paid work is pleasant, and people who engage in this work are better off than they would be with the same income, but without the work. “A certain amount of effort, and something in the nature of a continuous career, are necessary to vigorous men if they are to preserve their mental health and their zest for life. A considerable amount of work is done without pay [p. 101].” Much work is disagreeable only because of long hours, and these are not necessary, especially with better organization. Nevertheless, truly onerous or monotonous work like coal mining will undoubtedly require special inducements for the (otherwise) Anarchist system to function. If a few folks prefer idleness, that is OK, so long as it is only a few. In the current system, many potentially talented writers or poets, for instance, cannot indulge their talents due to the insufficiency of means that accompanies the lack of popular appeal. Under an Anarchist system, these people could produce works that now are economically unsupported.

The Anarchist-style free distribution of goods can be introduced gradually, and it would be easy to reverse if it did not work. The Anarchist notion that most people would work in the absence of compulsion or reward is not likely to work in practice, however, despite Russell's earlier argumentation. The Socialists would provide compulsion to labor, but surely they will not permit any type of labor to count: writing anti-government tracts will not be countenanced, nor would unfamiliar artistic styles or ideas not congenial to the censors receive official imprimatur. Socialists don’t recognize this problem, because they think that those future bureaucrats will be broad-minded individuals like themselves – but they won’t be.

“Anarchism has the advantage as regards liberty, Socialism as regards inducements to work [p. 108].” A combination might be better than either of the pure forms. One such combination would be to distribute necessities freely to all. Only luxuries would be rationed. Most people would work to acquire luxuries, but some people, who needed time for their artistic creation, say, would choose to forgo luxuries. The plan Russell advocates, then, provides a small, unconditional income to everyone, while those who work can achieve much larger incomes. A system based on such a plan “combines freedom with justice, and avoids those dangers to the community which we have found to lurk both in the proposals of the Anarchists and in those of orthodox Socialists [p. 110].”

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Proposed Roads to Freedom, Chapter III

Chapter III (pages 56-85), “The Syndicalist Revolt”

[An e-version of Chapter III is available here.]

Socialist parties evolved in various ways throughout Europe. In Germany, a revisionist socialism is quite popular, though favoring neither revolution nor industrial action. In England, Marxian socialism has never been popular, but Fabian-style, non-revolutionary socialism helped to inspire the Labour Party, which also encompasses the Trade Unions. [Russell himself, it seems, at one time was affiliated with the Fabian Society.] The Labour Party, however, is not Syndicalist, in that it prefers political to industrial action. It was in France where Syndicalism grew out of the existing institution of the Trade Unions. Mainstream French socialism had in part been undercut by the co-option of some leading socialists into the ruling party; these socialists then began to act in unsocialist ways. As a result, radicals sensed the futility of political action, so the industrial activity of Syndicalists won their sympathies by default.

“Syndicalism stands essentially for the point of view of the producer as opposed to that of the consumer; it is concerned with reforming actual work, and the organization of industry, not merely with securing greater rewards for work [p. 62].” In France, local trade unions are affiliated with other trade unions in their region, and are associated with the other trade unions in their industry throughout the nation. The idea is that the local ties can help overcome a too-parochial interest in their industry, and the national ties can prevent a too-parochial interest in their locality. Politics are supposed to be kept out of the unions.

“The essential doctrine of Syndicalism is the class-war, to be conducted by industrial rather than political methods. The chief industrial methods advocated are the strike, the boycott, the label and sabotage [pages 65-6].” Methods of sabotage vary from the unobjectionable – such as revealing the true quality of goods to consumers or working to the rules – to the morally unacceptable – such as causing railway accidents. While capitalists decry sabotage, they are quick to engage in it when it advances their interests. ("The label" refers to the placement of a label on goods certifying that they are made by union workers.)

Normal strikes, for Syndicalists, are but a prelude to what they really want, which is a General Strike that will destroy the current wage and employment system.

“Syndicalist aims are somewhat less definite than Syndicalist methods [p. 68].” They want to destroy the state, which is a capitalist lapdog. Syndicalists, unlike Socialists, do not think the institution of the state would be much improved by worker control. In keeping with their low regard for the state, Syndicalists tend to be anti-militarist. Each industry can govern itself under worker control, with some means required (but often not spelled out) to coordinate among industries. Syndicalists adopt an internationalist perspective.

Anarchists are sympathetic to Syndicalism, but place little hope in the General Strike as a way to effect change: anarchists generally embrace more violent direct actions. Russell notes that labor movements that can win by violence, and sustain their victory, could generally do so without the violence – a strong argument against Anarchist tactics.

Syndicalism is a form of industrial unionism: workers are clumped together based on the industry in which they work. This is as opposed to craft unionism, in which all electricians, for instance, would be in the same union, irrespective of what industry they plied their skills in. “Industrial unionism is a product of America…[p. 74],” and is reflected in the Industrial Workers of the World. This grouping is sensible when the goal being sought is revolution, as opposed to, say, better working conditions, and the IWW favors the abolition of the wage system.

American labor is far from homogeneous. Unskilled workers in the IWW or the Western Federation of Miners frequently are of foreign origin and lack the right to vote. Skilled native workers in America form a sort of “aristocracy of labor [p. 76],” with interests separate from those of the unskilled workers. These workers are organized around craft lines, in the American Federation of Labor.

Labor strife in the US tends to be much more violent (on both sides) than in Europe. “The employers have armies of their own and are able to call upon the Militia and even, in a crisis, upon the United States Army [p. 78].” (So the socialists are correct, the state really is an institution serving the interests of capitalists in the US. Incidentally, it was advocacy for a British lack of cooperation with the US Army -- because the Army suppressed labor -- that led to Russell being sent to prison as Proposed Roads to Freedom was being completed.) The labor movement in the US can be expected to become less violent when the proportion of recent immigrants diminishes.

Russell believes that revolutionary changes require industrial unionism, as that organizational structure sharpens the class war (p. 80). Nevertheless, in Great Britain, it is the more moderate type of Guild Socialism that has a better chance to succeed in effecting change. “Guild Socialists aim at autonomy in industry, with consequent curtailment, but not abolition, of the power of the State [pages 81-2].” Russell finds their proposal to be the best among the contenders, offering the prospect of liberty without the violence attached to Anarchism.

Under Guild Socialism, each factory, directed by elected managers, arranges its own affairs. Factories within the same industry are part of a National Guild, which tackles industry-level issues. While the Guilds manage production and the distribution of resources among Guild members, the state, on behalf of the community, owns the factories. (But the Guilds, not the state, are the employers.) A joint committee of producers and consumers would have the ultimate authority to settle disputes, and would fix taxes and prices. The state in essence looks after the interests of consumers, while the Guilds look after the interests of producers. Guild Socialism aims both to improve wages and to make work more fulfilling.

Russell concludes the chapter with a recitation of some of the virtues of the Syndicalist Revolt: virtues that more than offset its shortcomings. Syndicalism has promoted the interests of producers, while focusing more on liberty than on material wealth. Whatever its future prospects, Syndicalism has reminded us of the need for radical change, not a piecemeal approach that leaves the current system intact.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Proposed Roads to Freedom, Chapter II

Chapter II (pages 32-55), “Bakunin and Anarchism”

[An e-version of Chapter II is available here.]

Anarchists have a reputation among the public for being bomb throwers. But not all Anarchists favor violence, and virtually all political creeds favor certain types of bomb throwing. Governments kill millions more people with bombs than do Anarchists. Violence “is neither essential nor peculiar to those who adopt the Anarchist position [p. 33].”

Anarchists are devoted to individual liberty, and hence reject a coercive state, even a democratic one. “Such government as Anarchism can tolerate must be free government, not merely in the sense that it is that of a majority, but in the sense that it is that assented to by all [p. 33].” A doctrine akin to Anarchism existed in China as long ago as 300 B.C. Most modern Anarchism is of the communistic variety, envisioning communal ownership of land and capital. While Socialists tend to believe that the evils of private property in capital will be overcome if the state becomes the sole owner, Anarchists fear “that in that case the State might merely inherit the tyrannical propensities of the private capitalist [p. 36].” So Anarchists want to maximally reduce state powers, too, and in the limit, abolish the state.

Modern Anarchism flows from Bakunin, but he did not produce “a finished and systematic body of doctrine [p. 36],” though strides in that direction were made by Kropotkin. Russell provides (approximately pp. 37-47) a short biography of Bakunin, including his differences with Marx. “Michel Bakunin was born in 1814 of a Russian aristocratic family [p. 37].” After a short military career, Bakunin, like Marx, studied philosophy, and for a time was a Hegelian. By 1842 he was a revolutionary, and he lived in Paris during 1843-7, where he spent considerable time with Marx. They fell out by 1849 and remained rivals thereafter. Following the revolutionary uprisings of 1848-9, Bakunin was arrested and spent years in prison, having had death sentences commuted in both Prussia and Austria. Russia was his chief locale of confinement, but his situation was eased by an exile to Siberia in 1857. Bakunin eventually escaped and made his way to London; later he lived in Italy and Switzerland. Bakunin’s anarchist faction participated in, but was eventually sidelined from, the international socialist movement spearheaded by Marx. Bakunin died in 1876. He was always sympathetic to rebellion against authority, but his writings, crafted quickly amidst some ongoing crisis, are “chaotic”. “There is something of Anarchism in his lack of literary order [p. 48].” One looks in vain for a description of the type of society Bakunin envisioned, or an argument that such a society could be stable. Kropotkin and other followers help to fill this void, however.

Kropotkin believes that a more scientific organization of production would allow high living standards to be universal, without long hours, onerous conditions, or an obligation to work. Wages would be abolished and goods would be distributed equally. Work would be pleasant enough that most people would choose to work. There would be no coercive government, and such policies that would be adopted would be done by universal agreement. Russell postpones until a later chapter (Chapter V, it turns out) his views on the extent to which Kropotkin’s system is tenable.

What about the violence associated with Anarchism? The “general tone of the Anarchist press and public is bitter to a degree that seems scarcely sane, and the appeal…is rather to envy of the fortunate than to pity for the unfortunate [p. 52].” A person who revolts against law seems to have a hard time adhering to the standard moral rules. Anarchists and their sympathizers have made martyrs out of some people who were condemned to death for heinous crimes: “…Anarchism attracts to itself much that lies on the borderland of insanity and common crime [p. 53, footnote omitted].” Thus it can be understood why the denunciations by authorities and the public do not distinguish between the criminal elements and the heroic intellects behind Anarchism. Fortunately, the terrorist version of Anarchism has been on the wane, and the “better sort” is reflected in the advocates of Revolutionary Socialism within the Trade Union movement.

Again, Anarchists differ from other Socialists in that the Socialists generally allow for a government reflecting the will of the majority to undertake coercive policies. “It is undeniable that the rule of a majority may be almost as hostile to freedom as the rule of a minority: the divine right of majorities is a dogma as little possessed of absolute truth as any other [p. 54].” The argument against parliamentary routes to reform has largely been the purview of the Syndicalist form of Anarchism.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Proposed Roads to Freedom, Chapter I

Chapter I (pages 1-31), “Marx and Socialist Doctrine”

[An e-version of Chapter I is available here.]

While it is hard to define “socialism,” something along the lines of “the advocacy of communal ownership of land and capital [p. 1]” is serviceable. Communal ownership might include state ownership, but only if the state is itself democratic – with differences among socialist or radical variations often depending on the type of democracy envisioned. All variants are opposed to capitalism, though supporters of the current working class, the wage earners.

As a potent political movement, socialism in Europe essentially started with Marx and Engels. They developed a sufficiently convincing theoretical structure, and initiated “the International Socialist movement, which has continued to grow in all European countries throughout the last fifty years [p. 3].” Russell then provides a brief biography of Marx (pp. 3-6), including his debt to Hegel. Russell maintains that the three key Marxian doctrines are: first, “the materialistic interpretation of history; second, the law of the concentration of capital; and, third, the class war [pp. 6-7].” This won’t be new to readers of Marx, so I’ll only pick up on a few points. “He [Marx] does not so much advocate the Socialist revolution as predict it [p. 7].” Capitalists are only pawns in the game, not really to blame for the behavior that is foisted upon them. Marx seems to think that a factory will have a single owner, and hence that the capitalist class will shrink as concentration in industry and agriculture increases. Higher concentration in production helps to support Marx’s supposition that people tend increasingly to fall into one of two classes, capital owners or wage earners.

Russell embarks on a set of quotations from The Communist Manifesto [pp. 10-17], a work that he (correctly) characterizes as possessing “the most amazing vigor and force [p. 9].” Again, as these quotations will not be news to readers of Marx (and Engels), I will bypass them. Russell moves on to a brief discussion of Capital and Marx’s theory of surplus value. “This doctrine is very complicated and is scarcely tenable as a contribution to pure theory [p. 18];” rather, it serves as “a translation into abstract terms of the hatred with which Marx regarded the system that coins wealth out of human lives…[p. 18].” Russell believes the main contribution of Capital is the accumulation of facts about the horrors of the working of the capitalist system, facts that “are practically unknown to the vast majority of those who live comfortable lives [p. 19],” and Russell provides some excerpts concerning child labor, impossibly long working hours, and terrible working conditions, sometimes proving fatal. He notes the hoped-for, and for Marx, inevitable end of the system through a revolution in which “‘The expropriators are expropriated [p. 25].’”

Is Marx’s vision of historical development true, and is socialism desirable? “The second of these questions is quite independent of the first [p.25].” One gets the impression [or at least I do] that Russell doesn’t think all that highly of Marx as a philosopher or as an economist, but values Marx as a social critic and political organizer. [Russell devotes a section of A History of Western Philosophy to Marx, and comments: "Considered purely as a philosopher, Marx has grave shortcomings."] Russell notes that the passage of time has shown problems with Marx’s theories and predictions, even though it has also revealed Marx to be “a man of very unusual penetration [p. 25].” Some of the difficulties: nationalism has not faded away; in the advanced countries, the lot of workers has improved; while there has been some agglomeration of capital into big firms, there also has been growth in medium-sized firms; and shareholding has broken down the stark distinction between workers and capitalists.

Partly as a result of the failed prophesies, reformist versions of Marxian socialism – offering evolutionary and not revolutionary change – have emerged from within. “Syndicalism represents an attack against it from without, from the standpoint of a doctrine which professes to be even more radical and more revolutionary than that of Marx and Engels [pp. 28-9].” The Syndicalists focus on the class war dimension of Marxian thinking. They attack Marx’s vision of socialism, as well as Marx’s proposed path to achieve it. The notion (which appears in The Communist Manifesto) that an initial step in the revolution is for the proletariat to take over the apparatus of the state holds little appeal to Syndicalists. They view the state as hopelessly corrupt, and democracy and political parties as not to be trusted. Syndicalists favor organization not by political party, but by vocation. Parliamentary methods and elections are not the way forward; direct action by revolutionary trade unions is. A powerful state, even a Socialist state, is no part of the Syndicalist plan.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Proposed Roads to Freedom, Introduction

Introduction (pp. vii – xviii)

[Here's an e-version of the Introduction to Proposed Roads to Freedom.]

People who adopt an ideal for looking at the world are saddened by the evils that attend needlessly falling short of that ideal, so they seek to inspire reform. “What is new in Socialism and Anarchism [Russell consistently capitalizes these isms – RBR] is that close relation of the ideal to the present sufferings of men, which has enabled powerful political movements to grow out of the hopes of solitary thinkers [p. vii].” It is only a small handful of people who, feeling sympathetic pain for the suffering of others, look for new ways to organize society. Thanks to better education and higher working-class living standards, such reforms can now interest their intended beneficiaries, and be politically potent. Both Socialism and Anarchism are accepted by many working-class people as guides to practical activity – though in the case of Anarchism, only in its Syndicalist form. Syndicalism starts from the institution of a Trade Union, which (in their advanced French incarnations) then adopted Syndicalist ideas. The ideas themselves, however, largely developed out of Anarchism.

Modern Socialism grows from Marx, and Anarchism (hence Syndicalism) grows from Bakunin – Marx and Bakunin’s long-running disagreements led to the split of the First International. Syndicalists object to Socialism’s “emphasis on the state and political action [pp. x-xi].” Russell indicates that he thinks that pure Anarchism should be the goal in the abstract, but he thinks that it would not be sustainable for long if it were adopted. Marxian Socialism or Syndicalism are not as desirable, but they would bring more happiness than is found in the current state of affairs. Socialism makes the state too powerful, and Syndicalism, despite its aim to abolish the state, would find that rivalries among various producer interests would require a central authority to contain. So Russell thinks that Guild Socialism, a sort of federalism among trade groups, a mélange of the advantageous elements of Socialism and Syndicalism, would work best in practice (pp. xi-xii).

Russell then embarks on an interesting overview of why people often find radical reformers to be distasteful. Generally would-be reformers are quite disinterested, and they sacrifice worldly honors for their cause. Often they endure imprisonment, exile, and poverty. In essence, they are motivated, more strongly than is the norm, by a love for others. But this love becomes camouflaged; their commitment to their cause breeds frustration with the fact that the world will not listen, and often that frustration is greatest with rather like-minded people. “The intense faith which enables him [the reformer] to withstand persecution for the sake of his beliefs makes him consider these beliefs so luminously obvious that any thinking man who rejects them must be dishonest, and must be actuated by some sinister motive of treachery to the cause. Hence arises the spirit of the sect, that bitter, narrow orthodoxy which is the bane of those who hold strongly to an unpopular creed [pp. xiii-xiv].” The opposing strands accuse each other of all manner of heresies, including being in the pay of the police, and they do not allow the slightest deviation from their platforms. So to an outsider, these reformers, motivated by love, can seem consumed by hate, and sympathetic people of goodwill will be unable to cooperate with the reformers.

Outsiders will also misjudge reformers due to “enemy of my enemy” logic. People behave differently (and better) towards members of their herd than they do to dangerous outsiders, enemies, or outcasts. The radical reformers, who by definition will be critical of existing institutions, tend to be concerned with how those institutions treat the outcasts. A reformer ends up with “a quite different attitude toward existing society from that of the ordinary well-to-do citizen: an attitude as true as his, perhaps also as untrue, but equally based on facts, facts concerning his relations to his enemies instead of to his friends [p. xvi].”

When a nation is at war, it views its enemies based on their hostile and fierce behavior. But those enemies themselves see themselves as kindhearted folk. Both views are right, and wrong. Likewise with a class war – reformers view the capitalist based on one set of data, a set that is accurate but incomplete, but that is viewed as mistaken by the capitalist class itself, which is either ignorant of or ignores the facts that form the reformer’s view. [I am reminded of John Stuart Mill in On Liberty, who also notes that those who dissent from the prevailing view are likely to go too far, but should be respected – RBR. Here is Mill: "No sober judge of human affairs will feel bound to be indignant because those who force on our notice truths which we should otherwise have overlooked, overlook some of those which we see. Rather, he will think that so long as popular truth is one-sided, it is more desirable than otherwise that unpopular truth should have one-sided asserters too; such being usually the most energetic, and the most likely to compel reluctant attention to the fragment of wisdom which they proclaim as if it were the whole."]

At any rate, it is easy to think of these reform or revolutionary movements as being motivated by hate, when really they are based on love. The reformers do tend to hate: “It is difficult not to hate those who torture the objects of our love [p. xvii].” Reformers do not possess ultimate wisdom – but neither do their opponents. And at least the reformers are not passive in the face of the injustices of the existing system.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Next Up: Proposed Roads to Freedom

Harking back to the original plan I see that Proposed Roads to Freedom is next on the official though tentative Russellian Reading List. Forthwith…

The subtitle of Proposed Roads to Freedom is “Socialism, Anarchism and Syndicalism.” I am using the 1919 edition published in New York by Henry Holt and Company. The volume consists of a one-page preface (by Russell), an introduction, and eight chapters. Part I (“Historical”) of the book comprises the first three chapters, and Part II (“Problems of the Future”) comprises chapters four through eight. There is an e-version of Proposed Roads to Freedom available here.

The contents:

Chapter I. Marx and Socialist Doctrine
Chapter II. Bakunin and Anarchism
Chapter III. The Syndicalist Revolt
Chapter IV. Work and Pay
Chapter V. Government and Law
Chapter VI. International Relations
Chapter VII. Science and Art Under Socialism
Chapter VIII. The World as it Could Be Made

In the preface (written, it is noted, in London in January, 1919), Russell tells us in a rather understated fashion that the book “was completed in April, 1918, in the last days before a period of imprisonment [p. iii].” The idea behind Proposed Roads to Freedom is to look at various doctrines (three, it later turns out: socialism, anarchism, and syndicalism) promoting drastic economic change; Russell notes that he will find something useful in all of them – but will not find the whole answer in any of them. Onwards.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Unpopular Essays, Full Time

Since the belated halftime assessment there have been only five further chapters in Unpopular Essays, and the last two, concerning eminent men and the spoof auto-obituary, are not particularly connected to the main theme of the previous essays, which has concerned the dangers of dogmatism and the benefits of a liberal frame of mind. Chapter 8, on teaching, notes that countering dogmatism is a central role for a teacher, though one that often is opposed by the powers that be (and those powers might be funding and operating the schools). As a teacher myself, I was struck by Russell’s claim that though imparting information is primary to the mission of teaching, it is less important than the side effects that can accompany that dissemination, including inculcating the practice of impartial inquiry. (I wonder if information transmission, in the age of the internet, remains the primary goal of teaching. On most topics, a high school or college student who spends 20 minutes can be more informed than his or her teacher – that was always theoretically possible, but now it is practically relevant, as the student can rapidly access the relevant information. Developing the Smithian triad of Wonder, Surprise, and Admiration might be more important than ever in teaching.)

In Chapter 9, “Ideas That Have Helped Mankind,” well-known non-Christian Russell mentions that Christianity overall has been a force for liberalism. (This is reminiscent of John Stuart Mill’s point that Christianity was better than its predecessors in promoting the interests of women.) Russell again argues for world government, but he does not (unlike in Chapter 3) mention the possible necessity of installing that government by force. I was (once again) not impressed by his retort to those who argue that a world government would prove oppressive – Russell notes that this is true of national governments, too, but that the possibility (indeed, it seems, the likelihood, in the early years) of governmental oppression does not mean that anarchy is to be preferred. My problem with this argument is that the fact that there are many, many nations, and that emigration is to some extent possible, helps to contain (not all that effectively, alas) the depredations of national governments. A world government would lack feasible competitors, lack exit options, and so at least one channel that restrains tyranny would be eliminated. In Chapter 10, “Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind,” we see again Russell’s concern with the readiness of people to punish others, along with perhaps the main argument against dogmatism and in favor of tolerance: “Most of the greatest evils that man has inflicted upon man have come through people feeling quite certain about something which, in fact, was false [p. 176].”

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Unpopular Essays, Chapter 12

Chapter 12 (pages 188-90), “Obituary.” There is an e-version of this chapter available here. [Update: Apparently the entirety of Unpopular Essays is available online here.]

Russell first published this forward-looking obituary in 1937. An initial footnote shows that Russell was overly pessimistic about the date of his death, as he writes: “The obituary will (or will not) be published in The Times for June 1, 1962, on the occasion of my lamented but belated death.” Russell died on February 2, 1970, outliving by nearly eight years the death at age 90 that he foretold.

The obituary continues in tongue-in-cheek fashion, acting as if Russell’s unpopular opinions and politics were clearly mistaken, as was his commitment to rational thought. But it manages to be rather informative of his life in any case. Russell notes that his grandfather visited Napoleon at Elba – so his opening line about how with Bertrand’s death “a link with a very distant past is severed” rings true. (Imagine – a man alive in 1970 had a granddad who knew Napoleon!) Russell accurately predicts a second World War, alas, and mentions (again, correctly) that in its aftermath, “much of what was once the civilised world lies in ruins [p. 190].” A reader who did not know when this obituary was written would think, I believe, that it was written after WWII.

“His life, for all its waywardness, had a certain anachronistic consistency, reminiscent of that of the aristocratic rebels of the early nineteenth century. His principles were curious, but, such as they were, they governed his actions [p. 190].”

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Unpopular Essays, Chapter 11

Chapter 11 (pages 181-7), “Eminent Men I Have Known”

Though Russell met many famous people, he did not find that the ones who left the greatest mark on history were the most personally impressive. Russell saw little in Browning, for instance, and Tennyson was caught up in “acting the poet [p. 181].” Russell thought Ernest Toller was the most unforgettable of the poets he had known, “chiefly through his capacity for intense impersonal suffering [pp. 181-2].” Rupert Brooke (who looked like a young Hugh Grant) “was beautiful and vital, but the impression was marred by a touch of Byronic insincerity and by a certain flamboyance [p. 182].”

William James was the philosopher, among those no longer living, considered by Russell to be the most personally impressive. James had no apparent consciousness of being great, but was “a natural aristocrat, a man whose personal distinction commanded respect [p. 182].” Henry Sidgwick was distinguished by his intellectual honesty. Some scientists, like Einstein, combine immense intellects with an admirable disregard for how their actions or opinions will be received.

Of the seven prime ministers Russell knew (to that point), including his grandfather, Gladstone was the most unforgettable. The only other politician who could match Gladstone for impressiveness was Lenin. Gladstone inspired terror in those he met, including Russell, and Gladstone even was more than a match for the indomitable spirit of Russell’s grandmother. Lenin and Gladstone shared many features, including an absolute certitude of their own rectitude. But “Lenin was cruel, which Gladstone was not [p. 185].” The other differences also tended to favor Gladstone, and this helps to explain why Gladstone’s overall influence was beneficial, while Lenin’s was disastrous. But what if you had met these men on a train without knowing who they were? One would quickly sense Gladstone’s greatness, but with Lenin, narrow-mindedness and cynicism would be the observable traits. Lenin, Russell suspects, needed the unquiet times of 1917 to succeed as a leader. His religious-like conviction and the aura that science and logic were on his side carried the day during those upheavals.

Many unforgettable people are not eminent, and their memorable quality often lies in a type of “self-forgetfulness.” One (who did achieve eminence – RBR) was E.D. Morel, whom Russell praises for his “purity of heart [p. 187].” Morel learned of the horrors of King Leopold’s policies in the Congo, and sacrificed his means of livelihood to make those horrors public. Eventually Morel won this battle which he started virtually single-handedly, but then forsook his public esteem by embracing pacifism during World War I. [RBR: This story is reminiscent of Russell’s own: a friend to the British left for his WWI pacifism, Russell lost most of that friendship by returning from Moscow in 1920 firmly anti-Soviet. Incidentally, this short chapter is a prelude of sorts to Russell’s 1956 book, Portraits From Memory and Other Essays.]