Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bertrand Russell on politics and power

A few weeks ago I was browsing the selection at the local library when I picked up a little book called Power by philosopher and noted anti-imperialist, Bertrand Russell. Though written in 1938, much of what Russell wrote remains timely today. Of particular note are his observations on the grandiose illusions of those who rule us, who in a just world would be considered just as insane as a crazy man on a street corner warning of the end of the world:
Men who allow their love of power to give them a distorted view of the world are to be found in every asylum: one main will think he is the Governor of the Bank of England, another will think he is the King, and yet another will think he is God. Highly similar delusions, if expressed by educated men in obscure language, lead to professorships of philosophy; and if expressed by emotional men in eloquent language, lead to dictatorships. Certified lunatics are shut up because of their proneness to violence when their pretensions are questioned; the uncertified variety are given the control of powerful armies, and can inflict death and disaster upon all sane men within their reach. The success of insanity, in literature, in philosophy, and in politics, is one of the peculiarities of our age. And the successful form of insanity proceeds almost entirely from the impulses towards power.
Russell also has some sage advice for those who have been seduced by a certain politician's message of "hope" and "change":
[E]loquence is inversely proportional to solid reason. To acquire immunity to eloquence is of the utmost importance to the citizens of a democracy.

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