Bertrand Russell

September 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Bertrand Russell was an English philosopher, mathematician, historian and social critic. He is best known for his work in analytic philosophy and mathematical logic. He wrote widely on a great number of subjects, including education, western philosophy, sexual morality, politics and the assassination of JFK.

Bertrand Russell’s life spanned almost a century, from 1872 to 1970. His last public statement, read the day after his death, condemned Israeli bombardment in the Middle East. A lifelong liberal and atheist, Russell’s views on race changed during his lifetime, as can be seen by the quotes below.


Bolshevism is a close tyrannical bureaucracy, with a spy system more elaborate and terrible than the Tsar’s, and an aristocracy as insolent and unfeeling, composed of Americanised Jews. No vestige of liberty remains, in thought or speech or action. I was stifled and oppressed by the weight of the machine as by a cope of lead…[The Russians] are a nation of artists, down to the simplest peasant; the aim of the Bolsheviks is to make them industrial and as Yankee as possible. Imagine yourself governed in every detail by a mixture of Sidney Webb and Rufus Isaacs, and you will have a picture of modern Russia. ––from a letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell, about his trip to Russia, June 25, 1920.

An honest politician will not be tolerated by a democracy unless he is very stupid . . . because only a very stupid man can honestly share the prejudices of more than half the nation. ––”The Need for Political Scepticism,” 1923

The white population of the world will soon cease to increase. The Asiatic races will be longer, and the negroes still longer, before their birth rate falls sufficiently to make their numbers stable without help of war and pestilence…. Until that happens, the benefits aimed at by socialism can only be partially realized, and the less prolific races will have to defend themselves against the more prolific by methods which are disgusting even if they are necessary. ––The Prospects of Individual Civilization, 1923

[G]overnment opposition to birth-control propaganda gives a biological advantage to stupidity, since it is chiefly stupid people who governments succeed in keeping in ignorance. Before long, birth-control may become nearly universal among the white races; it will then not deteriorate their quality, but only diminish their numbers, at a time when uncivilized races are still prolific and are preserved from a high death-rate by white science.  This situation will lead to a tendency––already shown by the French––to employ more prolific races as mercenaries. Governments will oppose the teaching of birth-control among Africans, for fear of losing recruits. The result will be an immense numerical inferiority of the white races, leading probably to their extermination in a mutiny of mercenaries. ––”Icarus or the Future of Science,” 1924

In extreme cases, there can be little doubt of the superiority of one race to another. North America, Australia and New Zealand certainly contribute more to the civilisation of the world than they would do if they were still peopled by aborigines. It seems on the whole fair to regard Negroes as on the average inferior to white men, although for work in the tropics they are indispensable, so that their extermination (apart from the question of humanity) would be highly undesirable. ––Marriage and Morals, 1929

Racial eugenics is merely an excuse for Chauvinism. ––ibid.

Wherever diverse races mix, the feeling of race hatred is apt to grow up. ––”On Race Hatred,” May 24, 1933.

I think myself that what is instinctive in race hatred is fear: fear of anything strange, fear of anything threatening our established way of living. When there is no occasion for fear, race hatred does not arise. If the world were stable and everyone’s economic positions were secure, I do not for a moment believe that the different races of the world would hate each other. ––ibid.

Race hatred is one of the most cruel and least civilised emotions to which men in the mass are liable, and it is of the utmost importance for human progress that every possible method of diminishing it should be adopted. ––ibid.

To think is difficult, but to repeat phrases is easy. The man who invents telling phrases barbed with contempt for some unpopular section of the human race is therefore sure of a following…their cosmos acquires a unity and order which is intellectually restful and a uniform emotional tinge which is temperamentally satisfying. All theories of the universe, from the most scientific to the most superstitious, have a twofold purpose: intellectually, to prevent surprise and thereby give us a sense of being at home in the world; emotionally, to persuade us that our dominant mood is the key to the purpose of creation. ––”On Orthodoxies,” August 23, 1933.

In the painful age in which we live, hardly anything is more horrible or more discouraging than the renewed persecution of the Jews. The sufferings which are inflicted upon them wherever the Nazis have power are, in one respect, worse than those of former ages, for, in the past, it was, at least nominally, the religion, not the race, that was persecuted. ––”The Persecution of the Jews,” The Berwick Mercury, June 9, 1938.

Many Germans, perhaps a majority, no doubt, deplore the more extreme cruelties perpetrated against Jews; nevertheless most of them support the government which not only officially inflicts intolerable legal disabilities, but encourages unofficial sadistic outrages on the part of its criminal partisans. ––ibid.

Whatever grievances the Germans in [parts of Czechoslovakia] may have, they are utterly insignificant in comparison with the misery which the Nazis would, if they could, inflict upon Jews, Socialists, and Communists who now profit by the liberality of the Prague government…That millions should have to put up with slight political disabilities is not so grave an evil as that hundreds should suffer the extreme of torture and agony. So long as Germans treat their Jewish minority as they do at present, they have no ri ght to make demands on the behalf of German minorities in other countries. ––ibid.

The oppression of a minority by a majority is no better, except numerically, than the oppression of a majority by a minority. ––ibid.

In the course of defeating the Nazis in war, we shall acquire much o f the Nazi mentality, and even if they are defeated their philosophy will triumph. It is only in peace, by propaganda and by readiness for economic cooperation wherever possible, that the outlook of the Nazis can be defeated. ––ibid.

At the time of the Tokyo earthquake, the inhabitants of that city turned upon the Koreans living there and massacred them, not because they supposed these harmless folk had caused the disaster, but because terror and misery made them wish to massacre somebody. We [i.e. the British] and the French spread terror and misery throughout Germany in the years after the armistice; they could not massacre us, so they turned upon the Jews. It was a gesture of insanity––but if, as I firmly believe, terror and misery caused the insanity, it will not be cured by a further dose of the same poison. ––ibid.

In former days, men sold themselves to the Devil to acquire magical powers. Nowadays they acquire those powers from science, and find themselves compelled to become devils. There is no hope for the world unless power can be tamed, and brought into the service, not of this or that group of fanatical tyrants, but of the whole human race, white and yellow and black, fascist and communist and democrat; for science has made it inevitable that all must live or all must die. ––Power: A New Social Analysis, 1938

Among white men, it is held that white men are by nature superior to men of other colors, and especially to black men; in Japan, on the contrary, it is thought that yellow is the best color. In Haiti, when they make statues of Christ and Satan, they make Christ black and Satan white. Aristotle and Plato considered Greeks so innately superior to barbarians that slavery is justified so long as the master is Greek and the slave barbarian. The Nazis and the American legislators who made the immigration laws consider the Nordics superior to Slavs or Latins or any other white men. But the Nazis, under the stress of war, have been led to the conclusion that there are hardly any true Nordics outside Germany; the Norwegians, except Quisling and his few followers, have been corrupted by intermixture with Finns and Laps and such. Thus politics are a clue to descent. The biologically pure Nordic loves Hitler, and if you do not love Hitler, that is proof of tainted blood. ––”An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish,” 1943.

In schools in America, children of the most diverse origins are subjected to the same educational system, and those whose business it is to measure intelligence quotients and otherwise estimate the native ability of students are unable to make any such racial distinctions as are postulated by the theorists of race. In every national or racial group there are clever children and stupid children. It is not likely that, in the United States, colored children will develop as successfully as white children, because of the stigma of social inferiority; but in so far as congenital ability can be detached from environmental influence, there is no clear distinction among different groups. ––ibid.

The whole conception of superior races is merely a myth generated by the overweening self-esteem of the holders of power. It may be that, some day, better evidence will be forthcoming; perhaps, in time, educators will be able to prove (say) that Jews are on the average more intelligent than gentiles. But as yet no such evidence exists, and all talk of superior races must be dismissed as nonsense. ––ibid.

There is a special absurdity in applying racial theories to the various populations of Europe. There is not in Europe any such thing as a pure race. Russians have an admixture of Tartar blood, Germans are largely Slavonic, France is a mixture of Celts, Germans, and people of Mediterranean race, Italy the same with the addition of the descendants of slaves imported by the Romans. The English are perhaps the most mixed of all. There is no evidence that there is any advantage in belonging to a pure race. The purest races now in existence are the Pygmies, the Hottentots, and the Australian aborigines; the Tasmanians, who were probably even purer, are extinct. They were not the bearers of a brilliant culture. The ancient Greeks, on the other hand, emerged from an amalgamation of northern barbarians and an indigenous population; the Athenians and Ionians, who were the most civilized, were also the most mixed. The supposed merits of racial purity are, it would seem, wholly imaginary. ––ibid.

In Russia…A “proletarian” came to mean a supporter of the government; Lenin, though born a Prince, was reckoned a member of the proletariat. On the other hand, the word “kulak,” which was supposed to mean a rich peasant, came to mean any peasant who opposed collectivization. This sort of absurdity always arises when one group of human beings is supposed to be inherently better than another. In America, the highest praise that can be bestowed on an eminent colored man after he is safely dead is to say “he was a white man.” A courageous woman is called “masculine”…All these ways of speaking come of unwillingness to abandon foolish generalizations. ––ibid.

I am persuaded that there is absolutely no limit to the absurdities that can, by government action, come to be generally believed. Give me an adequate army, with power to provide it with more pay and better food than falls to the lot of the average man, and I will undertake, within thirty years, to make the majority of the population believe that two and two are three, that water freezes when it gets hot and boils when it gets cold, or any other nonsense that might seem to serve the interest of the State. Of course, even when these beliefs had been generated, people would not put the kettle in the ice-box when they wanted it to boil. That cold makes water boil would be a Sunday truth, sacred and mystical, to be professed in awed tones, but not to be acted on in daily life. What would happen would be that any verbal denial of the mystic doctrine would be made illegal, and obstinate heretics would be “frozen” at the stake. No person who did not enthusiastically accept the official doctrine would be allowed to teach or to have any position of power. Only the very highest officials, in their cups, would whisper to each other what rubbish it all is; then they would laugh and drink again. ––ibid.

Beliefs begin in the higher social strata, and then, like mud in a river, sink gradually downward in the educational scale; they may take 3,000 or 4,000 years to sink all the way. You may find your colored help making some remark that comes straight out of Plato––not the parts of Plato that scholars quote, but the parts where he utters obvious nonsense, such as that men who do not pursue wisdom in this life will be born again as women. ––ibid.

I have come gradually to see that, in a dangerous and largely hostile world, it is essential to Jews to have some country which is theirs, some region where they are not suspected aliens, some state which embodies what is distinctive in their culture. ––”Zionism and the Peace Settlement,” from Palestine –– A Jewish Commonwealth in Our Time, July 1943.

It is sometimes maintained that racial mixture is biologically undesirable. There is no evidence whatever for this view. Nor is there, apparently, any reason to think that Negroes are congenitally less intelligent than white people, but as to that it will be difficult to judge until they have equal scope and equally good social conditions. ––New Hopes for a Changing World, 1951

I never held Negroes to be inherently inferior. The statement in Marriage and Morals refers to environmental conditioning. I have had it withdrawn from subsequent editions because it is clearly ambiguous. ––letter, March 17, 1964, from Dear Bertrand Russell…a selection of his correspondence with the general public, 1950-1968.
We are frequently told that we must sympathize with Israel because of the suffering of the Jews in Europe at the hands of the Nazis. I see in this suggestion no reason to perpetuate any suffering. What Israel is doing today cannot be condoned, and to invoke the horrors of the past to justify those of the present is gross hypocrisy. ––”Bertrand Russell’s Last Message,” January 31st, 1970, delivered on February 3, the day after his death.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Bertrand Russell at Great Minds on Race.


%d bloggers like this: