Russell, Bertrand. Political Ideals. United States: Watchmaker Publishing, July 9, 2010 Bertrand Russell’s political essay; Political Ideals, was first published in 1917 towards the end of the First World War. Bertrand Russell is considered one of the most prominent Philosophers of the 20th century, winning the Noble Prize for Literature “in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought”. The time period this essay was written is both historically important while also represent an important period during the life of Russell.
The fact that Political Ideals was written while Russell was behind bars for refusing to fight in World War I is a reflection of Russell belief in pacifism and international collaboration. Political Ideals is divided into five chapters: Political Ideals, Capitalism and the Wage System, Pitfalls in Socialism, Individual Liberty and Public Control, National Independence and Internationalism. Each chapter provides an insight into Bertrand Russell’s thoughts, many of which are very much seen as before their time. The topics he covers are very relevant to the time period specifically in concern to the large political changes around the time.
Bertrand Russell believed that a state should be judged by the good or harm they do individuals, their encouragement for creativeness over possessiveness and whether they preserve self-respect. Those three aspects Russell saw as fundamental in the judgement of whether a state accurately and properly reflected the needs of its people. The time period around and during World War I was a time when the role of the state was most prevalent in the lives of its population. The strong nationalistic belief in nearly all countries at the time helped sustain the dominance of the state in society.
Russell’s greatest theme throughout the essay is his strong belief in the ingenuity of people and believed that the role of the state was to make sure this was best accentuated. He said that there are two kinds of impulses; the Possessive one and the Creative and Constructive one. It was of his belief that society was not too much concerned with the first of the two impulses. He criticizes Capitalism and in particular the wage structure for their competitiveness, and as a result of their competitiveness the fact hat they stifled ingenuity. It is the employers that wield the power in a capitalistic society; by doing something different an employee risks their livelihood. Therefor they put their heads down and do as they were told. Russell believed that the fear of being different and risking trying new things is what is killing ingenuity. In his criticism of capitalism and the wage structure Russell emphasized the way it had influenced the way people wanted to live their lives, the rich and wealthy where the ones to look up to.
Russell viewed Capitalism and the wage structure as structures that benefited those who stifled creativity rather than those that actually benefited society; the artists, the scientists, the inventors, those that created rather than those that possessed. As alternatives to the capitalistic society of the time Russell proposed the growing syndicalist movement. Under analysis though he discredits the value of syndicalism by saying that by devolution of power from the state to different trade unions there would be an imbalance of power as unions revolving around necessities would be over represented.
The example he gave was that in a syndicalist society coal miners would have more power than teachers because of their possessive value to society; this thus results in an overrepresentation of those with possessive impulses. Russell’s analysis of the role of the state and the influences of capitalism show him to be un-reactionary and altogether very liberal. Though written during the struggles of World War 1 the ideas and concerns remain significant then and still so now.
Russell’s criticism of Socialism is derived from his idea that government officials are an evil of the similar to that of the previously discussed capitalist. He argues that state socialism would possibly be more creatively stifling because of its bureaucracy and predisposed fondness for uniformity. Russell further faults the role of government officials for their detachment to those they govern. What Russell does commend in his essay is the lefts strong association with the idea that they are representative of the people. Russell goes on to advocate the strengths of democracy.
With reference back to the time period Political Ideals was written in; democracy was nowhere near as prevalent as it currently is. The Age of imperialism was still undergoing and nationalistic fever ran high. The majority of states at the time still had autocratic leadership and democracy was seen as very progressive. Russell’s support of it is a considerable show of fortitude on his behalf as it was still a largely innovative system, especially coming out of a time where common belief was role in government was preserved for the select upper few rather than as an electable post.
Russell’s belief in democracy was down to his view on individual liberty; his dislike for oppression is an underlying theme throughout the essay. Russell revolves his views on religions role in government around that quintessential belief; he feels that the state has no role in controlling religion. Again Russell’s insightful separation of religion and state is before its time. At a time where the church still played an important part in European politics Russell’s view that it should have a smaller role was not necessarily a commonly agreed upon opinion, however now a very prevalent one.
Probably the greatest political conflicts of the first half of the 20th century revolved around international relations. With the War nearly won there was a strong pacifistic movement hitting particularly the United States, France and Great Britain, the US reacted with increasing isolation while in contrast the British and French sought greater international cooperation. Russell’s ideas on internationalism are the very same on which the League of Nations was born on, a union prerequisite to the current United Nations and European Union.
He even explicitly expresses his view that a international government body would come to form. The European Union is based on the very same ideas of free trade that Russell gives 76 years later. He believed that free trade and low tariffs would remove competition and lower malevolence between nations as countries will turn their focus from competitiveness to specializing in what they are renowned for, ingenuity will thus be encouraged over competitiveness. Political Ideals is a homage to the liberal belief of creativity.
The theme of ingenuity through liberating them from oppression is what drives his beliefs on each of the five chapters of his essay. Being an opinion piece it is difficult to critic its worth, but what I personally commemorate it on is its forward thinking. Russell’s ideas are far before their time, his ideas on internationalism and capitalism in-particular could have made significant differences in preventing the great depression and improved international relations and possibly preventing World War II. Whether socialist of capitalist preservation of ingenuity is what creates thing.
A world solely composed of possessors is worthless and stagnate, creativity is what furthers the world and it is thus no wonder that Russell places such a heavy emphasis on it in his essay. This essay is so fascinating as it introduces new ideals that are impossible to refute but yet are at no point are definitive solution, his style is personified by his quote ‘’You don’t stop loving your family when you are patriotic towards your nation, similarly, you don’t have to stop loving your country when you espouse internationalism”.