Friday, September 20, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, End of the Second Period

The first section of New Hopes for a Changing World takes on the conflict between Man and Nature; the now-completed (by RBR) second section looks at the conflict between Man and Man. In this section, Russell sees technological and military considerations as raising the optimal size of social units, but he recognizes nationalism as an important counterforce; perhaps the upcoming Scottish independence referendum is a case in point. 

Nobel prize-winning economist Ronald Coase passed away earlier this month. Some of Coase’s best known work parallels Russell’s analysis of the size of social units. In his 1937 article “The Nature of the Firm,” Coase looks into the optimal size of corporations in a market economy – and like Russell, sees that agency problems, the difficulty of controlling large numbers of people through centralized commands, are a limiting factor. Further, though a rather staunch free-market thinker, Coase does not have a strong commitment to the notion that individuals make their decisions in a rational fashion.  (Russell points to substantial free trade zones as one of the advantages that accrue to large nations.) Russell’s observation that biased education leads to overly optimistic views of military adventures – and hence to even more war – perhaps would have been agreeable to Coase. I wonder if Coase, who was British (and was born in 1910), ever met Russell?

Russell sees the formation of the rule of law in Marxian terms, as the establishment of the rule of the powerful. (From The Communist Manifesto: “Your very ideas are but the outgrowth of the conditions of your bourgeois production and bourgeois property, just as your jurisprudence is but the will of your class made into a law for all, a will, whose essential character and direction are determined by the economical conditions of existence of your class….The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.” From Russell: “Property, in fact, is what the dominant political group chooses that it should be [p. 78].”) But order probably is better than anarchy, and offers the potential for transition to more democratic systems. World Government might have to follow from the usual historical pattern, where it is imposed by one or more powerful nations, but eventually develops independent legitimacy. The Marxian notion that class struggle will disappear following a revolution is a mirage, in part because the negative motivations that underlie Marx’s thinking will survive the revolution.

Communist-style ideas of full equality would lead to poor consequences, as socially beneficial acts would not be sufficiently incentivized, nor socially detrimental acts deterred. But this is only a theoretical concern, as the departures from equality currently are so severe that they themselves lead to inferior consequences, chiefly social instability. No justice, no peace, Russell seems to say, both within a nation and at the international level. So economic development of the currently poorer countries is necessary for global stability and for curtailing racial animus.

Russell uses historically-informed logic to make his case for World Government (Chapter 11). A global system of competitive nation states has always brought war. While the payoff to winners from a war has diminished, or become negative, the overall danger from war has increased with more terrible weaponry. We cannot maintain the old system of nation-states if we are to have a good chance of survival. Hence, we need an armed world government, one that will punish any militarily aggressive states. Russell does not examine the difficulty in determining which state is the aggressor, but there is some ambiguity even in seemingly obvious cases like World War II, and virtually all military adventures are characterized, and not without some justification, as humanitarian.

Three sources of human strife that must be neutralized to give peace a chance are economic, racial, and ideological conflicts. The spread of toleration and enlightenment can help to reduce these conflicts, especially in the face of the rising toll that even a winning war brings. (Enlightened economic self-interest would even indicate a cooperative, altrusitic approach towards other countries.) Marxism in practice is intolerant of the bourgeoisie, who thus respond with equal intolerance when Marxism gathers a following. In some sense, this second section of New Hopes for a Changing World is focused on anti-dogmatism – also the focus of Unpopular Essays, which was published only one year earlier.

Russell holds Keynes’s approach to macroeconomic policy in high esteem, believing that it offers a serviceable cure for sustained unemployment. Russell is in good company, even if the Keynesian solution no longer holds the same luster.  Russell’s encapsulation of macroeconomic distress as arising when private interest undermines the public interest (as with Keynes’s Paradox of Thrift) continues to be relevant, as does his recognition of the tendency of capitalism to evolve into state capitalism.

Russell foresaw the post-war economic renaissance in western Europe. along with the (eventual) softening inside Russia – although the emergence of a world government in the wake of the end of the cold war did not come to pass. Nonetheless, the international human rights project, which was all but non-existent when New Hopes was penned, has come a long way, and is helping to improve the situation for once (and sometimes still) marginalized groups like women and gays.

Despite his criticism of Marx and Lenin, Russell’s vision of the future involves a major role for a vanguard, which comprises some scientists and others devoted to world economic development, as well as sane, anti-dogmatic humanitarians; their work and example can help make today’s new hopes into tomorrow’s realities.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, Chapter Fifteen

“The Next Half-Century,” pages 136-144

This chapter of a book concerning new hopes opens: “The twentieth century so far has not been a credit to the human race [p. 136].” The welcome demise of emperors led to an unwelcome succession by the likes of Hitler and Stalin, with enormous human costs, including some specific mass atrocities, involved in the transition. As bad as the twentieth century has been so far, the second half holds a much worse prospect, that the world and all its people can be destroyed at any moment.

Western leaders need a sober appreciation of the dangers, but the current fearful response leads nowhere. Western policy, of course, must start with the military might necessary to protect western Europe. The security thereby achieved will lead to a renaissance in France, West Germany, and Italy – and this will prevent world war, if the US will be mellow. A mellow America, in turn, might allow the Russians to put aside their understandable fears that they are threatened with conquest by the West. The internal regime in Russia will soften, permitting the negotiated establishment of a world government by the end of the century.

Asia and Africa need economic development, lest envy ignite violence. It is in the interest of rich countries to devote considerable resources to raising living standards in poorer countries – even in their direct economic interest, as prosperity, as well as poverty, tends to propagate across borders.

The economic development of Africa and Asia requires, as Russell argued in Chapter Five, population control. Though many westerners perceive religious and other barriers to contraception in poor countries, these barriers can be overcome. “I do not think any reasonable person can doubt that in India, China and Japan, if the knowledge of birth-control existed, the birth-rate would fall very rapidly [p. 139].” Africa, too, could see its population checked by the availability of medical clinics that would disseminate the relevant information, though the US will be unlikely to aid such clinics because of Catholic political force. The British and French, who have more substantial interests in Africa, eventually could fill in for the Americans, however.

The history of imperialism renders suspicious any activity of the US, Britain, and France, in Asia or Africa. The Russians, no less imperialist, nonetheless are not perceived as a similar threat. It is a very delicate matter for the West to engage Asia and Africa where such engagement is fruitful, while avoiding the excesses of imperialism. “It will be very regrettable if the cessation of Western imperialism prevents the spread of what is good in Western ways of life [pages 140-141].” Western scientists and technicians of a philanthropic bent can be the unthreatening vanguard in helping export economic development, educational progress, and improved healthcare.

Religious and nationalistic fanaticism (recall Chapter Thirteen) continue to threaten future prosperity. Even legitimate interests in national independence, as in Iran, are premature given the political realities of the Cold War. Nor can lingering dreams of isolationism be maintained – humanity is an interconnected, global family, and like all families, we can quarrel or maintain harmonious relations.

International cooperation requires that people be educated in a broad manner, not in the crude, nationalistic style that generally holds sway. The history books should be as impartial as possible, perhaps by having scholars from neutral countries write the history of other places (like Olympic judging?). “Children should from an early age be made aware of the modern interdependence of different groups of men, and the importance of co-operation and the folly of conflict [p. 142].” They should know of freedom and possibility, and not be led to think of the past of prohibitions and wars as if it is the present.

Intolerance towards the prejudiced teachers of hate and hostility is called for. Violent conflict is almost always an inefficient means for securing change: Britain has peaceably progressed in recent years beyond anything achieved by the bloodbath of revolution in Russia and France. Hatred doesn’t dissipate just because the object of hatred has been overcome; rather, it seeks out new horizons. Social reformers primarily should stress, when possible, the future benefits, not the negative features of the status quo. A focus on negative features also risks missing the deeper causes when ameliorating the intolerable conditions – and hence makes recurrence likely.

“The world could within a couple of generations be made to consist of men and women who would be happy and sane, and because they were happy and sane, would be kindly in their impulses towards others, since they would have no impulse to regard others as their enemies in the absence of positive evidence [pages 143-144].” Our knowledge of the development of character should be put to use in inculcating this kindliness.

Mankind would survive a third world war. (One year later, Russell was less certain.) Such an event, however, would bring to a standstill the process of advancing global peace and sanity. Eventually, however, our duty will be to reignite that process. (Russell employs in passing what became Reverend Jesse Jackson’s signature line, “keep hope alive.”) Mankind learns slowly, and through suffering – perhaps more suffering than they have already endured – even when the material to be learned points the way to future wellbeing. There must be some individuals today whose sanity and hope will provide the guide to others. The more sane, hopeful people there are, the better the chance that the result of suffering will indeed be the insight to drive us forward.