Bertrand Russell: A passionate lover of humanity
Born with silver spoon in the mouth in Monmouth-shire, England on May 18, 1872, Bertrand Russell belonged to the Russell's, one of the oldest and most famous families in England, a family that has given statesmen to Britain for many generations.
His grandfather, Lord John Russell, was a great Liberal Prime Minister who fought an unyielding battle for free-trade, for universal free-education, for the emancipation of the Jews. His father Viscount Amberley, was a free-thinker, who did not over-burden his son with the hereditary theology of the West.
With bearing a legacy of aristocracy and having taken lessons in his early childhood days from his father and house-tutors professing free-thinking as well, Bertrand Russell rose, in course of his long life, as thinker, philosopher, mathematician, educational innovator, champion of intellectual, social and sexual freedom, campaigner for peace and for civil and human rights.
In the prologue of his highly acclaimed auto-biography, Russell wrote: "Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds have blown me hither & thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair".
For the cause of humanity and civil rights and as a pioneer of anti-nuclear march, Russell, even at his ripe age of 90, rose to the occasion to lead a huge rally at Trafalgar Square, London on February 18, 1961 to mobilize public opinion. Bertrand Russell was among the first in the West to raise his voice against Vietnam War and in collaboration with eminent French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre and other top intellectuals of the world constituted The Russell Tribunal, also known as the International War Crimes Tribunal, Russell-Sartre Tribunal or Stockholm Tribunal in 1966 and after public hearing and investigation handed down a symbolic Verdict convicting the U.S.A and its the then President Lyndon. B. Johson and his cohorts for committing War Crimes in Vietnam.
A Vox popluli, Bertrand Russell's voice shook the foundation of the seat of power of America's and West's hegemony in contemporary 20th century world and as such he was often dubbed, by his ardent admirers, as the 'Socrates' of the 20th Century. Having authored more than 100 books and innumerable articles, essays and lectures on the subjects of varied interests in his life time, Russell's iconic stature stood peerless and stills shines with glows and radiance in the firmament of intellectual discourses in the contemporary world where his ideas and philosophy find great relevance.
Intellectual canvas enriched with his logic and philosophy is so vast and immense that men with the stature of bearing extensive erudition is needed to review Russell's works even in partial proportion.
Widely famed for his work The Story of Civilization (in 11 volumes) and equally noted for his book The Story of Philosophy, described as a groundbreaking work that helped to popularize philosophy , Professor Will Durant - a Pulitzer prize (1968) and Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977) recipient philosopher and historian made a scholarly review of Russell's partial selective works from which I wish to quote and append below a chapter in full titled 'The Reformer' for the discerning readers who may like to refresh their repertory of knowledge with delving into Professor Durant's analysis and brief review of Russell's ideas and philosophy which are pertinently relevant to great extent in the contemporary global situation that we have been passing through, as I strongly reason.
"Professor Durant illustrates"------And then the Great Madness came; and the Bertrand Russell who had lain so long buried and mute under the weight of logic and mathematics and epistemology, suddenly burst forth, like a liberated flame, and the world was shocked to find that this slim and anemic-looking professor was a man of infinite courage, and a passionate lover of humanity. Out of the recesses of his formulae the scholar stepped forth, and poured out upon the most exalted statesmen of his country a flood of polemic that did not stop even when they ousted him from his chair at the University, and isolated him, like another Galileo, in a narrow quarter of London.
Men who doubted his wisdom admitted his sincerity; but they were so disconcerted by this amazing transformation that they slipped for a moment into a very un-British intolerance. Our embattled pacifist, despite his most respectable origins, was outlawed from society, and denounced as a traitor to the country which had nourished him, and whose very existence seemed to be threatened by the maelstrom of the war'.
'Back of this rebellion lay a simple horror of all bloody conflict. Bertrand Russell, who had tried to be a disembodied intellect, was really a system of feelings; and the interests of an empire seemed to him not worth the lives of the young men whom he saw so proudly marching forth to kill and die. He set to work to ferret out the causes of such a holocaust; and thought he found in socialism an economic and political analysis that at once revealed the sources of the disease and indicated its only cure. The cause was private property, and the cure was communism'.
'All property, he pointed out, in his genial way, had had its origin in violence and theft; in the Kimberley diamond mines and the Rand gold mines the transition of robbery into property was going on under the nose of the world. "No good to the community, of any sort or kind, results from the private ownership of land. If men were reasonable they would decree that it should cease tomorrow, with no compensation beyond a moderate life-income to the present holders".
'Since private property is protected by the state, and the robberies that make property are sanctioned by legislation and enforced by arms and war, the state is a great evil; and it would be well if most of its functions were taken over by cooperatives and producers' syndicates. Personality and individ-uality are crushed into rote conformity by our societies; only the greater safety and orderliness of modern life can reconcile us to the state'.
'Freedom is the supreme good; for without it personality is impossible. Life and knowledge are today so complex, that only by free discussion can we pick our way through errors and prejudices to that total perspective which is truth. Let men, let even teachers, differ and debate; out of such diverse opinions will come an intelligent relativity of belief which will not readily fly to arms; hatred and war come largely of fixed ideas or dogmatic faith. Freedom of thought and speech would go like a cleansing draught through the neuroses and superstitions of the "modern" mind'.
'For we are not so educated as we think; we are but beginning the great experiment of universal schooling; and it has not had time to affect profoundly our ways of thinking and our public life. We are building the equipment, but we are still primitive in methods and technique; we think of education as the transmission of a certain body of settled knowledge, when it should be rather the development of a scientific habit of mind. The distinctive feature of the unintelligent man is the hastiness and absoluteness of his opinions; the scientist is slow to believe, and never speaks without modification.
The larger use of science, and of scientific method, in education would give to us a measure of that intellectual conscience which believes only up to the evidence in hand, and is always ready to concede that it may be wrong. With such methods, education may prove the great solvent of our ills; it may even make of our children's children the new men and women who must come before the new society can appear. "The instinctive part of our character is very malleable. It may be changed by beliefs, by material circumstances, by social circumstances, and by institutions."
It is quite conceivable, for example, that education could mould opinion to admire art more than wealth, as in the days of the Renaissance, and could guide itself by the resolution "to promote all that is creative, and so to diminish the impulses and desires that centre round possession." This is the Principle of Growth, whose corollaries would be the two great commandments of a new and natural morality; first, the Principle of Reverence, that "the vitality of individuals and communities is to be promoted as far as possible"; and second, the Principle of Tolerance, that "the growth of one individual or one community is to be as little as possible at the expense of another".
'There is nothing that man might not do if our splendid organization of schools and universities were properly developed and properly manned, and directed intelligently to the reconstruction of human character. This, and not violent revolution, or paper legislation, is the way out of economic greed and international brutality. Man has come to control all other forms of life because he has taken more time in which to grow up; when he takes still more time, and spends that time more wisely, he may learn even to control and remake himself. Our schools are the open sesame to Utopia".
With the above brief review of Professor Will Durant on Bertrand Russell's philosophy with portraying him as 'reformer' at certain crux of the situation, with being on board a nostalgia train, I wish to conclude this write-up again with falling back on prologue of Russell's autobiography wherein he wrote, "With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved'."
'Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pains reverberate in my heart. Children in famines, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hatred burden to the sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pains make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot and I too suffer'. 'This has been my life. I have found it worth living and would gladly live it again if the chances were offered to me."
Bertrand Russell left this material world long time ago and now supposedly resting in the Multiversity or afterword with his philosophy and ideas, aptly portrayed in the vast canvas of his life-time work, still influencing the people who loved and adorned Russell as a passionate lover of humanity and tried to delve into his works by absorbing in brown studies with due reverence and adulation.
The writer is a former Civil Servant