RE: virus: Prisoners my Derrida!

carlw (
Fri, 19 Mar 1999 11:11:52 -0600

Denon, this is a really nice, useful and informative post, albeit a little off the direct line of "reason as a refuge".

I think that the whole issue turns on the fact that Russell advocated "World Government," and saw this as the only way to prevent nuclear proliferation and disaster. To this end he advocated some rather strange ideas, including the idea of "forcing" the USSR into joining such an organization (as I said, he first seems to have proposed this idea in late 1945), while the USA was the only major power holding nuclear arms. I don't think that he saw this as involving a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the USSR at the time that he first proposed it, although he did realize later (and acknowledged) that an ultimatum without the willingness to implement it, is not very useful.

By 1949 the Cold War was in full swing, with the Berlin blockade and Communist governments seizing control throughout Eastern Europe. At the same time the US was going mad, attacking its own citizens in an orgy of fear of communism. On August 29 the first Soviet atomic bomb, code named RDS-1 and called Joe 1 by US intelligence, was exploded breaking the US nuclear weapon monopoly. As soon as he heard about that, Russell seems to have distanced himself from the idea of the idea of "forcing" and began to look at persuasion - a change which sounds to me to be rational and pragmatic. It probably did not hurt his thinking that after Stalin's death, Russia seemed to become more liberal at the same time as the USA was plummeting into full blown paranoia, xenophobia, adventurism and McCarthyism.

I would suggest that depending on how the questions were asked, Russell would have replied quite differently. The difference between proposing a world government (even enforced through the threat of war) in order to prevent nuclear proliferation and proposing a "preventive war" or precautionary first strike seems to require less didactic obfuscation than the recent angst and debates held in the USA over what is really implied by "having sex" or the meaning of "is".

I am at a loss to understand what his wives had to do with the issue* I am still trying (and failing) to connect his marriages with the "less than honest" appellation. I fail to see where "less than honest" came from. Is it alleged that he stole money? That he failed to credit colleagues for their contributions? That he cheated in exams? That he was fundamentally immoral (whatever that means) because he was not a Christian? Ralph Waldo Emerson once observed that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Whatever mud people may deem appropriate to cast in Bertrand Russell's direction, I doubt that accusations of his having a "little mind" would stick. Perhaps it is just the unfortunate sentiment that seems to mean the greater the "Roman" the greater the public desire to see them mud-wrestling?


*Yes I know what his detractors are trying to do, but generally choose to try to ignore it. I do not see how the sex life of a philosopher is relevant to his or her philosophy. In my opinion, this kind of slur is as invalid as pointing to Ayn Rand's sex life to show the invalidity of her philosophy, or at Clinton's little cock-suckers, rather than at his lies, to indicate his fundamental "immorality". Can you spell private? Personally, I think I prefer friendly fucking to marriage - I find it less stressful - but reserve the right to change my mind. Does this make me better or worse than the people who prefer a multiplicity of simultaneous lovers, or those who marry all the people they sleep with? I wonder if the people pointing at other's sex lives or marriages are as without blemish as they imagine themselves to be?

> -----Original Message-----
> From:
> []On Behalf
> Of Sodom
> Sent: Friday, March 19, 1999 7:42 AM
> To:
> Subject: RE: virus: Prisoners my Derrida!
> That is pretty cool, and somewhat enlightening. Thanks Deron.
> I can see how
> someone would make that advocation before the Soviet Union
> had the ability
> to retaliate. I can also understand how Russell might deny
> it, he was only
> human after all. Nonetheless, ill start looking into those
> years to see what
> else there is to know about him. The man was married 4 times,
> and is known
> for sometimes being a little less than honest.
> Bill Roh
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From:
> > []On Behalf
> > Of Deron Stewart
> > Sent: Friday, March 19, 1999 2:07 AM
> > To: ''
> > Subject: RE: virus: Prisoners my Derrida!
> >
> >
> > In light of Carl's impressive post, I guess I should provide
> > more detail than I did previously about Russell's position on
> > preventive war. I had to dig Poundstone's book out of a box,
> > but I've found a number of relevant citations from it.
> >
> > Keep in mind here that the point is not to demonize Russell.
> > This topic started as a discussion about whether reason can
> > be just as much a refuge from fear and irrationality as
> > faith. Russell lived to be almost 100 years old (1872-1970),
> > which is more than enough time for a rational person to
> > change their beliefs many times.
> >
> > So here's what Poundstone (and Russell) have to say. From
> > _The Prisoner's Dilemma_, Doubleday, 1992 hardcover. There
> > are many references to this issue in the book...I'll just
> > provide the first, the last, and a denial.
> >
> > Cheers,
> >
> > Deron
> >
> >
> > The first Poundstone reference:
> > __________________________
> >
> > Russell, one of the mainsprings of the preventive war
> > movement, spoke in favor of an ultimatum threatening the
> > Soviet Union with nuclear devastation unless it surrendered
> > sovereignty to a US dominated world state. In a 1947 speech,
> > Russell said, "I am inclined to think that Russia would
> > acquiesce; if not, provided this is done soon, the world
> > might survive the resulting war and emerge with a single
> > government such as the world needs."
> >
> > Von Neumann took a harder line yet, favoring a surprise
> > nuclear first-strike. Life magazine quoted Von Neumann as
> > saying, "If you say why not bomb them tomorrow, I say why not
> > today? If you say today at 5 o'clock, I say why not one o'clock?"
> >
> > Neither man had any love of the Soviet Union. But they
> > believed preventive war was foremost a matter of logic, the
> > only rational solution to the deadly dilemma of nuclear
> > proliferation. As Russell put it in an article advocating
> > preventive war in the January 1948 issue of "New
> > Commonwealth": "The argument that I have been developing is
> > as simple and as unescapable as a mathematical demonstration."
> >
> > -- p.4
> >
> >
> > Russell's denial:
> > ______________
> >
> > In late 1950 the Cambridge University Labor Club passed a
> > resolution censoring its own president, Bertrand
> > Russell....Russell responded curtly, "I have never advocated
> > a preventive war, as your members would know if they were to
> > ascertain facts."
> >
> > This was the first in a long string of denials that continued
> > for most of the decade. In a letter published in the October
> > 1953 issue of the "Nation", Russell credited the whole thing
> > to a Communist plot:
> >
> > "The story that I supported a preventive war against Russia
> > is a Communist invention....<snip details>"
> >
> > -- p. 195
> >
> >
> > The last Poundstone reference:
> > ___________________________
> >
> > In a 1959 BBC broadcast, Russell finally admitted his former
> > stand on preventive war. Interviewer John Freeman asked, "Is
> > it true or untrue that in recent years you advocated that a
> > preventive war might be made against communism, against
> > Soviet Russia?"
> >
> > Russell answered, "It's entirely true, and I don't repent of
> > it. It was not inconsistent with what I think now. What I
> > thought all along was that a nuclear war in which both sides
> > had nuclear weapons would be an utter and absolute
> > disaster....<snip details of proposal to internationalize
> > nuclear weapons, the "Baruch" proposal> that the world should
> > accept; not that I advocated a nuclear war, but I did think
> > that great pressure should be put upon Russia to accept the
> > Baruch proposal, and I did think that if they continued to
> > refuse it might be necessary actually to go to war. At that
> > time nuclear weapons existed only on one side, and therefore
> > the odds were the Russians would have given way...."
> >
> > What if push came to shove: would Russell really have favored
> > bombing the Soviets, Freeman asked. "I should", Russell
> > answered, adding that "you can't threaten unless you're
> > prepared to have your bluff called."
> >
> > -- p. 196
> >
> >
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: Deron Stewart []
> > Sent: Thursday, March 18, 1999 11:30 AM
> > To: ''
> > Subject: RE: virus: Prisoners my Derrida!
> >
> >
> > [Bill Roh]
> > >If you by chance have a source for
> > >Russell's pro nuke stance, I would be interested in seeing it.
> >
> > I am a huge Russell fan myself. As far as the proactive
> > strike positions that Russell took, my knowledge of it comes
> > from Poundstone's book which has all the appropriate references.
> >
> > Russell apparently (and understandably) later said that he
> > never supported such a thing, but Poundstone makes it pretty
> > clear that he did at one point.
> >
> > Russell lived an incredibly long life -- you could say he
> > lived many lives. In one of them he wanted to preemptively
> > nuke the ruskies. In another he went to jail for pacifism.
> > It's a funny, wonderful world!
> >
> > Cheers,
> >
> > Deron
> >
> >