Friday, May 14, 2010

Human Society in Ethics and Politics, Part Two, Chapter IX

Part Two, Chapter IX (pages 228-234), “Steps Towards a Stable Peace”

Russell quotes from the final chapter of his 1953 book, The Impact of Science on Society, on what it would take for a scientific society – a society where politics and the economy are based on science – to remain stable for long periods. (Human Society in Ethics and Politics first was published in 1954, one year after The Impact of Science on Society.) Russell believes that stability would require that the society be global, feature high living standards without poverty, and keep population growth in check – while individual liberty and political decentralization would be given the widest possible scope. Alternative future paths seem to lead to chaos and destruction, so people should want to move towards a stable, scientific society.

Soviet ideology is based on the conflict between capitalism and communism, and part of the Marxist myth is the inevitable triumph of communism. But Soviet fanaticism should not be met with the Western fanaticism of preaching the evils of communism and the need to fear them, while censoring information about what communism actually means. Instead of the East-West cooperation that we need, mutual suspicion fuels an arms race. Russell thinks that the allaying of this suspicion can begin through the good offices of a neutral power like India. Indians could prepare a forecast of what would be likely to happen should the cold war heat up. The great powers would be invited to comment and to disagree – but at the end of the day, it should be obvious that aggression by either side would not be in anyone’s interest. Once everyone understands, and knows their rival to understand, that war is not a feasible option, negotiations can begin. The negotiations would have their eye towards creating a stable peace. For instance, surely stability requires that Germany not remain divided, and that the ruling power in China be acknowledged. With current tensions eased, the long-term problem of establishing international control over atomic energy can be addressed.

Russell hopes for an East-West détente that will allow the realization to grow that in a crowded world, like in a crowded city, some liberties that are reasonable in isolated areas must be sacrificed for stability. “The anarchic liberty enjoyed hitherto by nations is just as impossible in the modern world as would be anarchic liberty for either pedestrians or motorists in the streets of London or New York [p. 233].” Establishing an international government will require an embrace of science and a rejection of fanaticism. “One of the first things that would have to be done during a period of détente would be a cessation everywhere of governmental encouragement to fanatical blindness and the hatred which it generates [p. 233].”

All humans have the capacity to suffer. We can operate below capacity if we end the mutual, irrational enmity between East and West. Humane and wise statesmanship should aim to relieve suffering.

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