Real Philosophy Re-Discovered 2. Bertrand Russell’s “Proposed Roads to Freedom,” Introduction. (Cornwall, NY: Cornwall Press, 1918, With an Introduction by Z.)

1. Introduction, by Z

Here is the Wikipedia sub-article on Russell during the First World War:

First World War

During the First World War, Russell was one of the few people to engage in active pacifist activities and in 1916, he was dismissed from Trinity College following his conviction under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914.[99] Russell played a significant part in the Leeds Convention in June 1917, a historic event which saw well over a thousand “anti-war socialists” gather; many being delegates from the Independent Labour Party and the Socialist Party, united in their pacifist beliefs and advocating a peace settlement.[100] The international press reported that Russell appeared with a number of Labour MPs, including Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden, as well as former Liberal MP and anti-conscription campaigner, Professor Arnold Lupton. After the event, Russell told Lady Ottoline Morrell that, “to my surprise, when I got up to speak, I was given the greatest ovation that was possible to give anybody”.[101][102]

The Trinity incident resulted in Russell being fined £100, which he refused to pay in hopes that he would be sent to prison, but his books were sold at auction to raise the money. The books were bought by friends; he later treasured his copy of the King James Bible that was stamped “Confiscated by Cambridge Police”.

A later conviction for publicly lecturing against inviting the US to enter the war on the United Kingdom’s side resulted in six months’ imprisonment in Brixton prison (see Bertrand Russell’s views on society) in 1918.[103] While in prison, Russell read enormously and wrote the book Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy.

I found prison in many ways quite agreeable. I had no engagements, no difficult decisions to make, no fear of callers, no interruptions to my work. I read enormously; I wrote a book, “Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy”… and began the work for “Analysis of Mind”

— The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell[104]

Russell was reinstated in 1919, resigned in 1920, was Tarner Lecturer 1926 and became a Fellow again in 1944 until 1949.[105]

Significantly, there’s no mention whatsoever of Russell’s Proposed Roads to Freedom: Socialism, Anarchism and Syndicalism, published in 1918, the full text of which can be found here.

I think it’s an extremely important, virtually unknown, and therefore very mistakenly neglected work in real philosophy.

In the final stages of the cataclysmic First World War, Russell could very reasonably assume that it would be self-evident to his readers that nationalist, capitalist Statism, and the very idea of “political authority,” are rationally unjustifiable and immoral, and that radical social change was and is most urgently needed.

But we can supply the a priori argument for him, in four simple steps:

(i) If it is rationally unjustifiable for ordinary people to impose commands on other people, especially including immoral commands, just because they possess the coercive power to do so, then it is rationally unjustifiable for governments of States to impose commands on people, especially including immoral commands, just because they have the coercive power to so.

(ii) But every government and every State claims the right to impose commands of any kind whatsoever on people, including immoral commands, calling them all “laws,” and they also require people to obey these immoral coercive commands by virtue of their “political authority,” grounded ultimately on a promise “to keep the peace” and prevent the “war of all against all,” i.e., a promise to provide a well-armed, effective police force and army.

(iii) Now if a command is immoral and wrong, then it is immoral and wrong, and therefore possessing the coercive power to impose that command and calling it a “law,” together with a well-armed, effective police force and army, will not make it moral and right.

(iv) Therefore all States, including all nationalist, capitalist States, are rationally unjustified and immoral.

In any case, Russell goes straight to the historical-philosophical consideration of alternatives, and ultimately opts for a version of social anarchism inspired by the writings of Peter Kropotkin, plus federalism, that he calls “Guild Socialism.”

Then in the second half of the book, Russell works on the practical, real-world applications of Guild Socialism.

There are many good philosophical reasons to re-discover and (re-)read this book.

But in a period in which the democratically-elected lawmakers of Brazil, themselves rife with corruption, can unconstitutionally impeach their own democratically elected President, and then take power, in the name of neoliberalism, big capitalism, and coercive moralism,

and in which a neoliberal, big capitalist bully and would-be tyrant, Donald Trump, has a serious chance of democratically becoming the next President of the USA,

then it is virtually philosophically imperative to (re-)read it, but in any case politically imperative to do so….

2. Bertrand Russell, Proposed Roads to Freedom: Socialism, Anarchism, and Syndicalism


THE attempt to conceive imaginatively a better ordering of human society than the destructive and cruel chaos in which mankind has hitherto existed is by no means modern: it is at least as old as Plato, whose “Republic” set the model for the Utopias of subsequent philosophers. Whoever contemplates the world in the light of an ideal–whether what he seeks be intellect, or art, or love, or simple happiness, or all together–must feel a great sorrow in the evils that men needlessly allow to continue, and–if he be a man of force and vital energy–an urgent desire to lead men to the realization of the good which inspires his creative vision. It is this desire which has been the primary force moving the pioneers of Socialism and Anarchism, as it moved the inventors of ideal commonwealths in the past. In this there is nothing new. What is new in Socialism and Anarchism, is that close relation of the ideal to the present sufferings of men, which has enabled powerful political movements to grow out of the hopes of solitary thinkers. It is this that makes Socialism and Anarchism important, and it is this that makes them dangerous to those who batten, consciously or unconsciously upon the evils of our present order of society.

The great majority of men and women, in ordinary times, pass through life without ever contemplating or criticising, as a whole, either their own conditions or those of the world at large. They find themselves born into a certain place in society, and they accept what each day brings forth, without any effort of thought beyond what the immediate present requires. Almost as instinctively as the beasts of the field, they seek the satisfaction of the needs of the moment, without much forethought, and without considering that by sufficient effort the whole conditions of their lives could be changed. A certain percentage, guided by personal ambition, make the effort of thought and will which is necessary to place themselves among the more fortunate members of the community; but very few among these are seriously concerned to secure for all the advantages which they seek for themselves. It is only a few rare and exceptional men who have that kind of love toward mankind at large that makes them unable to endure patiently the general mass of evil and suffering, regardless of any relation it may have to their own lives. These few, driven by sympathetic pain, will seek, first in thought and then in action, for some way of escape, some new system of society by which life may become richer, more full of joy and less full of preventable evils than it is at present. But in the past such men have, as a rule, failed to interest the very victims of the injustices which they wished to remedy. The more unfortunate sections of the population have been ignorant, apathetic from excess of toil and weariness, timorous through the imminent danger of immediate punishment by the holders of power, and morally unreliable owing to the loss of self-respect resulting from their degradation. To create among such classes any conscious, deliberate effort after general amelioration might have seemed a hopeless task, and indeed in the past it has generally proved so. But the modern world, by the increase of education and the rise in the standard of comfort among wage-earners, has produced new conditions, more favorable than ever before to the demand for radical reconstruction. It is above all the Socialists, and in a lesser degree the Anarchists (chiefly as the inspirers of Syndicalism), who have become the exponents of this demand.

What is perhaps most remarkable in regard to both Socialism and Anarchism is the association of a widespread popular movement with ideals for a better world. The ideals have been elaborated, in the first instance, by solitary writers of books, and yet powerful sections of the wage-earning classes have accepted them as their guide in the practical affairs of the world. In regard to Socialism this is evident; but in regard to Anarchism it is only true with some qualification. Anarchism as such has never been a widespread creed, it is only in the modified form of Syndicalism that it has achieved popularity. Unlike Socialism and Anarchism, Syndicalism is primarily the outcome, not of an idea, but of an organization: the fact of Trade Union organization came first, and the ideas of Syndicalism are those which seemed appropriate to this organization in the opinion of the more advanced French Trade Unions. But the ideas are, in the main, derived from Anarchism, and the men who gained acceptance for them were, for the most part, Anarchists. Thus we may regard Syndicalism as the Anarchism of the market-place as opposed to the Anarchism of isolated individuals which had preserved a precarious life throughout the previous decades. Taking this view, we find in Anarchist-Syndicalism the same combination of ideal and organization as we find in Socialist political parties. It is from this standpoint that our study of these movements will be undertaken.

Socialism and Anarchism, in their modern form, spring respectively from two protagonists, Marx and Bakunin, who fought a lifelong battle, culminating in a split in the first International. We shall begin our study with these two men–first their teaching, and then the organizations which they founded or inspired. This will lead us to the spread of Socialism in more recent years, and thence to the Syndicalist revolt against Socialist emphasis on the State and political action, and to certain movements outside France which have some affinity with Syndicalism– notably the I. W. W. in America and Guild Socialism in England. From this historical survey we shall pass to the consideration of some of the more pressing problems of the future, and shall try to decide in what respects the world would be happier if the aims of Socialists or Syndicalists were achieved.

My own opinion–which I may as well indicate at the outset–is that pure Anarchism, though it should be the ultimate ideal, to which society should continually approximate, is for the present impossible, and would not survive more than a year or two at most if it were adopted. On the other hand, both Marxian Socialism and Syndicalism, in spite of many drawbacks, seem to me calculated to give rise to a happier and better world than that in which we live. I do not, however, regard either of them as the best practicable system. Marxian Socialism, I fear, would give far too much power to the State, while Syndicalism, which aims at abolishing the State, would, I believe, find itself forced to reconstruct a central authority in order to put an end to the rivalries of different groups of producers. The BEST practicable system, to my mind, is that of Guild Socialism, which concedes what is valid both in the claims of the State Socialists and in the Syndicalist fear of the State, by adopting a system of federalism among trades for reasons similar to those which are recommending federalism among nations. The grounds for these conclusions will appear as we proceed.

Before embarking upon the history of recent movements In favor of radical reconstruction, it will be worth while to consider some traits of character which distinguish most political idealists, and are much misunderstood by the general public for other reasons besides mere prejudice. I wish to do full justice to these reasons, in order to show the more effectually why they ought not to be operative.

The leaders of the more advanced movements are, in general, men of quite unusual disinterestedness, as is evident from a consideration of their careers. Although they have obviously quite as much ability as many men who rise to positions of great power, they do not themselves become the arbiters of contemporary events, nor do they achieve wealth or the applause of the mass of their contemporaries. Men who have the capacity for winning these prizes, and who work at least as hard as those who win them, but deliberately adopt a line which makes the winning of them impossible, must be judged to have an aim in life other than personal advancement; whatever admixture of self-seeking may enter into the detail of their lives, their fundamental motive must be outside Self. The pioneers of Socialism, Anarchism, and Syndicalism have, for the most part, experienced prison, exile, and poverty, deliberately incurred because they would not abandon their propaganda; and by this conduct they have shown that the hope which inspired them was not for themselves, but for mankind.

Nevertheless, though the desire for human welfare is what at bottom determines the broad lines of such men’s lives, it often happens that, in the detail of their speech and writing, hatred is far more visible than love. The impatient idealist–and without some impatience a man will hardly prove effective–is almost sure to be led into hatred by the oppositions and disappointments which he encounters in his endeavors to bring happiness to the world. The more certain he is of the purity of his motives and the truth of his gospel, the more indignant he will become when his teaching is rejected. Often he will successfully achieve an attitude of philosophic tolerance as regards the apathy of the masses, and even as regards the whole-hearted opposition of professed defenders of the status quo. But the men whom he finds it impossible to forgive are those who profess the same desire for the amelioration of society as he feels himself, but who do not accept his method of achieving this end. The intense faith which enables him to withstand persecution for the sake of his beliefs makes him consider these beliefs so luminously obvious that any thinking man who rejects them must be dishonest, and must be actuated by some sinister motive of treachery to the cause. Hence arises the spirit of the sect, that bitter, narrow orthodoxy which is the bane of those who hold strongly to an unpopular creed. So many real temptations to treachery exist that suspicion is natural. And among leaders, ambition, which they mortify in their choice of a career, is sure to return in a new form: in the desire for intellectual mastery and for despotic power within their own sect. From these causes it results that the advocates of drastic reform divide themselves into opposing schools, hating each other with a bitter hatred, accusing each other often of such crimes as being in the pay of the police, and demanding, of any speaker or writer whom they are to admire, that he shall conform exactly to their prejudices, and make all his teaching minister to their belief that the exact truth is to be found within the limits of their creed. The result of this state of mind is that, to a casual and unimaginative attention, the men who have sacrificed most through the wish to benefit mankind APPEAR to be actuated far more by hatred than by love. And the demand for orthodoxy is stifling to any free exercise of intellect. This cause, as well as economic prejudice, has made it difficult for the “intellectuals” to co-operate practically with the more extreme reformers, however they may sympathize with their main purposes and even with nine-tenths of their program.

Another reason why radical reformers are misjudged by ordinary men is that they view existing society from outside, with hostility towards its institutions. Although, for the most part, they have more belief than their neighbors in human nature’s inherent capacity for a good life, they are so conscious of the cruelty and oppression resulting from existing institutions that they make a wholly misleading impression of cynicism. Most men have instinctively two entirely different codes of behavior: one toward those whom they regard as companions or colleagues or friends, or in some way members of the same “herd”; the other toward those whom they regard as enemies or outcasts or a danger to society. Radical reformers are apt to concentrate their attention upon the behavior of society toward the latter class, the class of those toward whom the `”herd” feels ill-will. This class includes, of course, enemies in war, and criminals; in the minds of those who consider the preservation of the existing order essential to their own safety or privileges, it includes all who advocate any great political or economic change, and all classes which, through their poverty or through any other cause, are likely to feel a dangerous degree of discontent. The ordinary citizen probably seldom thinks about such individuals or classes, and goes through life believing that he and his friends are kindly people, because they have no wish to injure those toward whom they entertain no group-hostility. But the man whose attention is fastened upon the relations of a group with those whom it hates or fears will judge quite differently. In these relations a surprising ferocity is apt to be developed, and a very ugly side of human nature comes to the fore. The opponents of capitalism have learned, through the study of certain historical facts, that this ferocity has often been shown by the capitalists and by the State toward the wage-earning classes, particularly when they have ventured to protest against the unspeakable suffering to which industrialism has usually condemned them. Hence arises a quite different attitude toward existing society from that of the ordinary well-to-do citizen: an attitude as true as his, perhaps also as untrue, but equally based on facts, facts concerning his relations to his enemies instead of to his friends.

The class-war, like wars between nations, produces two opposing views, each equally true and equally untrue. The citizen of a nation at war, when he thinks of his own countrymen, thinks of them primarily as he has experienced them, in dealings with their friends, in their family relations, and so on. They seem to him on the whole kindly, decent folk. But a nation with which his country is at war views his compatriots through the medium of a quite different set of experiences: as they appear in the ferocity of battle, in the invasion and subjugation of a hostile territory, or in the chicanery of a juggling diplomacy. The men of whom these facts are true are the very same as the men whom their compatriots know as husbands or fathers or friends, but they are judged differently because they are judged on different data. And so it is with those who view the capitalist from the standpoint of the revolutionary wage-earner: they appear inconceivably cynical and misjudging to the capitalist, because the facts upon which their view is based are facts which he either does not know or habitually ignores. Yet the view from the outside is just as true as the view from the inside. Both are necessary to the complete truth; and the Socialist, who emphasizes the outside view, is not a cynic, but merely the friend of the wage-earners, maddened by the spectacle of the needless misery which capitalism inflicts upon them.

I have placed these general reflections at the beginning of our study, in order to make it clear to the reader that, whatever bitterness and hate may be found in the movements which we are to examine, it is not bitterness or hate, but love, that is their mainspring. It is difficult not to hate those who torture the objects of our love. Though difficult, it is not impossible; but it requires a breadth of outlook and a comprehensiveness of understanding which are not easy to preserve amid a desperate contest. If ultimate wisdom has not always been preserved by Socialists and Anarchists, they have not differed in this from their opponents; and in the source of their inspiration they have shown themselves superior to those who acquiesce ignorantly or supinely in the injustices and oppressions by which the existing system is preserved.

This entry was posted in Not An Edgy Essay by Z. Bookmark the permalink.

About Z

Z is a 50-something cosmopolitan anarcho-philosopher, and previously was a tenured full professor of philosophy at a public university somewhere in North America, but still managed to escape with his life.