Wednesday, March 20, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, Chapter Eight

“The Rule of Force,” pages 67-73

Humans can cooperate on an equal, voluntary basis, or greater force can compel submission. Until recently, relations between the genders were based on force, but now women in most places have increased scope for consent. [Russell’s recognition that the superior social position of men all derives from physical power had been (forcefully!) stated by his godfather, John Stuart Mill, in 1869: “the inequality of rights between men and women has no other source than the law of the strongest.”] The movement towards private freedom for women has been fostered by the increasing monopolization of all power by the state. Russell admits to exaggeration as he provides a pithy summary: “Women became emancipated from men in proportion as both became slaves of the State [p. 68].”

Cooperation between the genders and within the family originated in force. Fathers used force on their children, who then returned the favor when they grew up. Recognizing their eventual vulnerability, fathers built the honoring of parents into a mainstay of morality. “Filial piety is a good example of the way in which a superiority which is originally one of physical strength acquires the sanction of religion, and is thereby able to survive even when it is no longer sustained by superior strength [p. 68].” Another example of a religious precept growing out of superior strength is the biblical claim that women should submit to men.

Similar forces are at work on more macro scales. Some warrior tribe or clan imposes its will on a subject people, and over time, the clan becomes a hereditary aristocracy associated with religious virtues and worthy of special privileges. “The remarkable thing is that conquering aristocracies succeed in getting these views accepted by their subjects [p. 69].” Such is the origin of the divine right of kings, though aristocrats and nobles are loath to accept the military origin of their position. Many Indians resent British claims to superiority, which are founded on force; their own caste system has a similar basis, but became hallowed with time. Slavery, of course, also is based on force, and so are post-slavery social advantages claimed by the descendants of the slaveholders.

Now a word in praise of rule by the powerful. It may be that such an organization of power is the only feasible organization, that without rule through strength, there is no organization; rather, there is anarchy. Once government is consolidated by a forceful monarch and habits of law-abiding behavior are established, the government can transition to one that is responsive to popular will. [Shades, again, of Mill: "Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion. Until then, there is nothing for them but implicit obedience to an Akbar or a Charlemagne, if they are so fortunate as to find one."] The consolidation of a social unit generally is the hard part; the transition to a democratic form can be much smoother. And that consolidation (Russell echoes the Melian Dialogue), at first, restrains only the weak elements of the unit, while the powerful do as they will. Even murder is only a crime when an inferior kills a superior; the law will condone and even ease the homicides committed by the superior class.

We need to keep this process in mind today for a transition to world government, which is necessary for preventing war. United Nations-style voluntary associations must needs be weak, as individual nations will not be keen to relinquish their sovereignty. So the establishment of a world government must be the work of a strong power or a small group of strong powers. Once established, the world power can take on a more democratic hue. “This view, which I have held for the last thirty years, encounters vehement opposition from all people of liberal outlook, and also from all nationalists of whatever nation [p. 72].” The alternative, however, of waiting for voluntary surrender of authority, is not feasible.

Like it or not, we need to have world government imposed by a strong military force. One hundred years or so of enforced compliance can then give way to voluntary compliance, and a democratic world government can evolve. Any attempt to establish meaningful world government without military superiority will fall victim to the siren song of nationalism, the call to fight and die for freedom rather than to exist in a condition of servitude. Perhaps we could sidestep this logic if people were different than they now are – and maybe they can be different. “It will be necessary that individuals shall have less feeling of hostility and fear towards other individuals, more hope of security as regards their own lives, and a far more vivid realization that, in the world which modern technique has created, the need of world-wide co-operation is absolute, if mankind is to survive [p. 73].”

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