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].”

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