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.

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