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.

The Bell Curve

September 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Bell Curve is a social science book on “intelligence and class structure in American life,” by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray. It was the subject of much controversy upon its publication in 1994.

No part of The Bell Curve received more attention than Chapter 13, on “Ethnic Differences in Cognitive Ability.”  It is from this chapter that I have taken the most quotations. Unlike this blog, The Bell Curve is not about race, and many interesting passages cannot be quoted without undermining the purpose of this blog.

My copy of this book, bought at Powell’s Books in Portland, is unmarked except for the infamous Chapter 13, where a cryptic “Who’s tests?” is written opposite its first page, and Chapters 4 and 5, which are about cognitive partitioning in education and employment. The following paragraph has been bracketed, with one word written in the outer margin: “ANGER”:

The United States is still very far from [perfect equality] at the extremes. If one thinks of babies growing up in slums with crack-addicted mothers, at one extreme, compared to children growing up in affluent, culturally rich homes with parents dedicated to squeezing every last IQ point out of them, then even a heritability of .6 leaves room for considerable change if the changes in environment are commensurably large…But those are, by definition, the extremes, the two tails of the distribution of environments. Moving a child from an environment that is the very worst to the very best may make a big difference. In reality, what most interventions accomplish is to move children from awful environments to ones that are merely below average, and such changes are limited in their potential consequences when heritability so constrains the limits of environmental effects. (109)

My edition was printed in 1996. When this comment was written, and by whom, is anyone’s guess. “ANGER” is a common reaction to this book. These quotes may help the reader decide if this anger is justified.

Nothing seems more fearsome to many commentators than the possibility that ethnic and race differences have any genetic component at all. This belief is a fundamental error. Even if the differences between races were entirely genetic (which they surely are not), it should make no practical difference in how individuals deal with each other. The real danger is that the elite wisdom on ethnic differences––that such differences cannot exist––will shift to opposite and equally unjustified extremes. Open and informed discussion is the one certain way to protect society from the dangers of one extreme view or the other. (270)

Ethnic differences in measured cognitive ability have been found since intelligent tests were invented. The battle over the meaning of these differences is largely responsible for today’s controversy over intelligence testing itself. (270)

There are differences between races, and they are the rule, not the exception…Races are by definition groups of people who differ in characteristic ways. Intellectual fashion has dictated that all differences must be denied except the absolutely undeniable differences in appearance, but nothing in biology says this should be so. (272)

Recall first that the American black population numbers more than 30 million people. If the results from the NLSY apply to the total black population…around 100,000 blacks fall into Class I of our five cognitive classes, with IQs of 125 or higher. (278)

External evidence of bias [in IQ tests] has been sought in hundreds of studies…Overwhelmingly, the evidence is that the major standardized tests used to help make school and job decisions do not underpredict black performance, nor does the expert community find any other general or systematic difference in the predictive accuracy of tests for blacks and whites. (281)

[The black-white IQ gap] is wider on items that appear to be culturally neutral than on items that appear to be culturally loaded. (282)

All [Gould’s ideas about race] can be true, and yet people who call themselves Japanese or Xhosa or Caucasians or Maori can still differ intellectually for genetic reasons. We may call them “ethnic groups” instead of races if we wish…but some ethnic groups nonetheless differ genetically for sure, otherwise they would not have differing skin colors or hair textures or muscle mass. They also differ intellectually on average. The question remaining is whether the intellectual differences overlap the genetic differences to any extent. (296-7)

It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences. What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on the issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not yet justify an estimate. (311)

It is possible to face all the facts on ethnic and race differences and not run screaming from the room. (315)

Much of the attack on The Bell Curve  has a purpose that occasionally has been stated explicitly, but more often tacitly: somehow, to put the genie back in the bottle, quelling discussion of topics that the book brought into the open…The trouble with this strategy is that it will backfire. My proposition is that the critics of The Bell Curve are going to produce the very effects that their attacks have been intended to avert. (556-7)

Abraham Lincoln

September 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States of America. Before his assassination in 1865, he led America through a Civil War and issued the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order which freed all American slaves, on January 1, 1863.

Race was a salient issue throughout Lincoln’s presidency. In his early career, Lincoln favored “colonization,” i.e. repatriating freed slaves to Liberia. He believed that the Declaration of Independence’s “all men are created equal” referred to equal rights, not abilities. Lincoln did not believe blacks could be “politically and socially” equal to whites, or that their presence in America, after emancipation, was in the nation’s best interests.

[Henry Clay] did not perceive, that on a question of human right, the negroes were to be excepted from the human race. And yet Mr. Clay was the owner of slaves. Cast into life where slavery was already widely spread and deeply seated, he did not perceive, as I think no wise man has perceived, how it could be at once eradicated, without producing a greater evil, even to the cause of human liberty itself. ––Eulogy on Henry Clay, July 6, 1852

If as the friends of colonization hope, the present and coming generations of our countrymen shall by any means succeed in freeing our land from the dangerous presence of slavery, and, at the same time, in restoring a captive people to their long-lost fatherland, with bright prospects for the future, and this too, so gradually, that neither races nor individuals shall have suffered by the change, it will indeed be a glorious consummation. ––ibid.

If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution [of slavery]. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, to their own native land. ––from a speech given in Peoria, Illinois, October 16, 1854.

If [the freed slaves] were all landed [in Liberia] in a day, they would all perish in the next ten days; and there are not surplus shipping and surplus money enough to carry them there in many times ten days. What then? Free them all, and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition?…What next? Free them, and make them politically and socially our equals. My own feelings will not admit of this, and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of whites will not. Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgment is not the sole question, if indeed it is any part of it. A universal feeling, whether well or ill founded, cannot be safely disregarded. We cannot then make them equals. ––ibid.

Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man’s nature––opposition to it, in his love of justice. These principles are an eternal antagonism; and when brought into collision so fiercely, as slavery extension brings them, shocks, and throes, and convulsions must ceaselessly follow. Repeal the Missouri Compromise––repeal all compromises––repeal the Declaration of Independence — repeal all past history, you still can not repeal human nature. It still will be the abundance of man’s heart, that slavery extension is wrong; and out of the abundance of his heart, his mouth will continue to speak. ––ibid.

How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy. ––letter to Joshua F. Speed, August 24, 1855.

I protest against that counterfeit logic which concludes that, because I do not want a black woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. I need not have her for either, I can just leave her alone. In some respects she certainly is not my equal; but in her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands without asking leave of any one else, she is my equal, and the equal of all others.  ––from a speech given in Springfield, Illinois, 1857.

I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men, but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal-equal in “certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This they said, and this meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon. ––ibid.

Judge Douglas is especially horrified at the thought of the mixing blood by the white and black races: agreed for once-a thousand times agreed. There are white men enough to marry all the white women, and black men enough to marry all the black women; and so let them be married. ––ibid.

It is worthy of note too, that among the free states those which make the colored man the nearest to equal the white, have, proportionably the fewest mulattoes the least of amalgamation. In New Hampshire, the State which goes farthest towards equality between the races, there are just 184 Mulattoes while there are in Virginia-how many do you think? 79,775, being 23,126 more than in all the free States together. These statistics show that slavery is the greatest source of amalgamation; and next to it, not the elevation, but the degeneration of the free blacks. Yet Judge Douglas dreads the slightest restraints on the spread of slavery, and the slightest human recognition of the negro, as tending horribly to amalgamation. ––ibid.

Let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man, this race and that race and the other race being inferior and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position. Let us discard all these things, and unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal. ––from a speech to Chicago Abolitionists, July 10, 1858

I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is physical difference between the two which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. ––from a speech given in Ottawa, August 21, 1858

While I was at the hotel to-day, an elderly gentleman called upon me to know whether I was really in favor of producing perfect equality between the negroes and white people…I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality…I will add to this that I have never seen, to my knowledge, a man, woman, or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and white men. ––from the fourth Lincoln-Douglas debate, September 18, 1858.

I have never had the least apprehension that I or my friends would marry negroes if there was no law to keep them from it, but as Judge Douglas and his friends seem to be in great apprehension that they might, if there were no law to keep them from it, I give him the most solemn pledge that I will to the very last stand by the law of this State, which forbids the marrying of white people with negroes. ––ibid.

Negro equality! Fudge!! How long, in the government of a God, great enough to make and maintain this Universe, shall there continue to be knaves to vend, and fools to gulp, so low a piece of demagogism as this? ––From Lincoln’s notes for speeches, September 1859.

Your race are suffering, in my judgment, the greatest wrong inflicted on any people. But even when you cease to be slaves, you are yet far removed from being placed on an equality with the white race. You are cut off from many of the advantages which the other race enjoy. The aspiration of men is to enjoy equality with the best when free, but on this broad continent, not a single man of your race is made the equal of a single man of ours. Go where you are treated the best, and the ban is still upon you. ––from a speech to five black ministers at the White House, August 14, 1862.

I have always thought that all men should be free; but if any should be slaves, it should be first those who desire it for themselves, and secondly, those who desire it for others. When I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally. ––from a statement to an Indiana regiment passing through Washington, March 17, 1865.

If these black soldiers of ours go back to the South, I am afraid that they will be but little better off with their masters than they were before, and yet they will be free men. I fear a race war, and it will be at least a guerilla war because we have taught these men how to fight. ––from a conversation with General Benjamin F. Butler, shortly before his death.

Thanks to Wikisource, the Miller Center and Robert Morgan.