Saturday, July 27, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, Chapter Thirteen

“Creeds and Ideologies,” pages 111-125

Ideologies compete with (and sometimes complement) race and economic interests as sources of division. Differing ideologies can co-exist peacefully, unless extreme intolerance also is involved. Ancient religions didn’t require exclusivity – and hence intolerance of infidels – but Judaism changed that, and was followed in that practice by Christianity. After the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, intolerance not only was instituted for non-Christians, but also for the wrong species of Christian. When Islam developed, the intolerance on both the Christian and the Muslim sides led to war.

The religious strife of the Middle Ages became even more bloody in the 16th and 17th centuries. “At length, in view of the inconclusiveness of the struggle, a few enlightened nations, led by the Dutch, discovered that it was possible for Protestants and Catholics to live peaceably side by side [p. 113].” The French Revolution allowed Catholic countries to substitute political for religious strife.

The notion that “Western values” include religious toleration does not comport with the historical record: Europe actually was less tolerant than other continents. The Western intolerance only subsided when neither side could be extirpated.

The century of comparative European peace starting in 1815 ended abruptly in 1914. Those of Russell’s generation thought that the progress of the nineteenth century was the template for the future – instead of being a brief respite from darkness. “The practice of toleration, liberty and enlightenment had spread with astonishing rapidity [p. 114].” With hindsight, we can see the gathering storms, but the onset of World War I met with a mentally unprepared Europe; as a result, nations piled blunder upon blunder.

In the two centuries up to 1914, there have been times where fanatics held the reins, but generally these were brief intervals, even during the French Revolution. The post-World War I era has seen a much greater degree of fanaticism in power, and not only from Russia’s Bolsheviks. The competing fanaticisms, including the Cold War version, make it impossible to move in concert to a world government.

Soviet fanaticism derives from Marx and from Russian history. Pre-Marx socialists tended to be benevolent humanists. Marx had no use for what he thought of as their utopian schemes. His rather deterministic doctrine even marginalized the need to persuade opponents. His system in practice involved hatred of the bourgeoisie, though they were, again by his lights, only playing their own historical role – a sort of class-based predestination not unlike Calvin’s. “Naturally the propertied classes, wherever his creed spread, were terrified into violent reaction, and the vague good-natured liberalism of the middle nineteenth century gave way to a blacker and fiercer outlook [pages 116-117].”

The Marxian message found an appreciative audience among those who would prosper when the existing order is overturned. But as ordinary workers experienced improved living conditions in advanced countries, Marxism held less appeal. Hence it was in Russia, not in a highly developed capitalist nation, that Marxists took control, despite the relatively tiny Russian proletariat.

Bertie relates that he personally knew Bebel and Liebknecht, and found them to be gentle humanitarians. In these German communists, as well as in other radicals of the late nineteenth century, the cruelty that became pronounced in Bolshevik communism was not visible.

Lenin’s interest in Westernization places him closer to Marx than Stalin is. [Recall that New Hopes for a Changing World was written while Stalin was alive.] Lenin did not possess an outstanding intellect, but his commitment and determination was formidable. He somehow managed, starting from meager resources, to secure power in a largely defeated, almost non-functioning Russia. But this unlikely securing of power was based on force (following the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly), and force has been the cornerstone of Bolshevik legitimacy, as it were, ever since.

Russian fanaticism is longstanding. Stalin’s Russia – where communism and patriotism are largely intertwined – has spread communism quite widely, with perhaps more gains yet to come. “No success since the rise of Islam has been so rapid or so astonishing as the success of Communism [p. 121].” Not long ago, Fascism was almost as successful, and we might see a rebirth of that ideology, too, especially if the US were to return to 1920’s-style economic policies.

When a state is controlled by fanatics it becomes an unreliable partner for cooperation. Voluntary movement to a world government therefore will be aided by a reduction of communist fanaticism, and by a reduction of fanatic anti-communism, too.

“The essence of fanaticism consists in regarding some one matter as so important as to outweigh everything else [p. 121].” A current example is the unwillingness by some Americans to employ nuclear scientists who have distant, weak ties to communism. On both sides of the cold war are those who would rather see humanity exterminated rather than cooperate with the rival side.

Some fanaticisms, either from the nature of the beliefs or the small number of adherents, are not socially costly, such as the Amish prohibition on buttons. Most fanaticisms, including that of the Nazis, have their origins in difficult times, which prime the population to accept the fanatic claims. Tsarist oppression (including the execution of Lenin’s brother), combined with the suffering of military defeat, helped to stoke Bolshevism.

“To cure fanaticism, except as a rare aberration of eccentric individuals, three things are needed: security, prosperity and a liberal education [p. 123].” All three of these necessities are lacking today. The appeal of fanaticism in part draws from the lack of security that currently accompanies the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Russia is not economically developed – the west should seek to trade with Russia, to promote its prosperity. And Russia is a fierce opponent to liberal education, while America draws back from liberalism, too. “Consider the case of Dr. Lattimore, who was accused of being a traitor for saying things about China which every well-informed person knew to be true, and which it was to America’s interest to have known by those who make American policy [p. 124].” 

Statesmen must address the problem of insecurity, in part by explaining the intolerable costs of future conflict. Scientists and others in the West should gather, without endorsing communism or capitalism, to make clear the horrors of modern war (even for the so-called winning side), and to indicate that cooperation among the cold war rivals is possible. (Recall Bertie’s faith in the reasonableness of philosophers in global politics, as expressed in Portraits From Memory.) Removing the fear of war would help to liberalize Russia and to increase toleration in the US.

World government is the goal, and though it will take half a century, the barriers put in its way by population, race, and creed can be surmounted. If we can muddle through while maintaining peace, eventually “mankind may enter upon a period of prosperity and well-being without parallel in the past history of our species [p. 125]” – not Bertie’s only vision of a future golden age.

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