5 APRIL 1963, Page 22

A Defeat of Intellect



ONE of the oddest of the many signs of degeneration in the left'-wing mind is the outburst of rage which greets any criticism of Bertrand Russell. He is put forward as an incar- nation of wisdom and of sanctity, in a fashion symptomatic of the degree to which cultism has replaced reason in circles which formerly prided themselves on thinking. One would have thought his whole line of teaching in the area in which he achieved prominence implied condemnation of such an attitude to authority. And one is surely in far better accord with the temper of his best period if one does not accept 'thus saith Russell' as an adequate or even a per- missible argument. (It can scarcely be his vener- able age which is supposed to preserve him from criticism, for in that case much that is said about Adenauer would have to be suppressed.) But naturally, if one criticises him it is because one does not regard him as either saintly or wise.

Just the same, in a movement where it would be wrong, though not very wrong, to say that those who are not adolescents are actors, a man with what is in its way a truly splendid mind is bound to be the centre of attention. But though Russell's mind is splendid, it has always suffered from one particular fault. Its strength is in analysis. It might be compared with a mag- nificent computer. The most magnificent com- puter ever built will give erroneous results if the material fed into it is erroneous. And it is hard not to conclude that the raw material Russell presents to his intellect is an inadequate, oversimplified and generally unsubtle selection. Genius in handling the grand abstractions, skill in the orchestration of the formal symbolisms of mathematics and logic, gives no guarantee of competence in the coarser and richer world of unquantisable fact.

Russell was wrong about Cuba. Many people here were confused by the sudden crisis last October—even though the Spectator was not— and they are scarcely to be blamed. But at least they do not present their erroneous views as gospel after the events which disproved them. Moreover, Russell was not wrong accidentally, as it were: his misevaluation was quite basic, and was due to a complete misunderstanding of politics—or at least of democratic politics. Haya de la Torre, the Peruvian revolutionary leader, who was staying with Russell when the crisis broke, has told of how Russell said to him that he knew the Americans were lying about the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. And even though he now has to admit the proven fact, he still, in his new book on the Caribbean and Himalayan crises,* prints and maintains the assumption from which his deductions emerged. The leaflet he put out at the time (printed by the Cuban Embassy) takes the line: 'You are to die. . . . Because rich Americans dislike the Government that Cubans prefer, and have used part of their wealth to spread lies about it.' In fact, from Russell's point of view, the Americans were prepared to use any means whatever to bring down Castro. It followed that they would —that they had—faked the evidence of missiles in order gratuitiously to risk atomic war in the service of that objective. Such conclusions can only have arisen from a wholly erroneous notion of the nature and possible actions of the American State.

If Russell's basic argument is fallacious, his handling of subsidiary points is only to be called absurd. One may find agreeably farcical his evi- dent conviction that his letters and telegrams had some effect on the leading figures in the crisis, and played a part in resolving it. But even some unilateralists have been unable to swallow the idea that the setting up of rocket bases in Cuba was not a threaf to the US and a dan- gerous gamble; nor do all of them feel that the world was saved solely by Khrushchev's sanity. Russell is so concerned to preserve the image of the innocent Khrushchev that he blames Zorin personally for the denial at the UN that the bases existed. But similar denials were printed in the Soviet press!

A few quotations will suffice to give the tone: Russia had made no attempt to conceal its nuclear installations in Cuba.

Americans said that nuclear weapons in Cuba were not defensive, although they have for many years maintained that American nuclear weapons are defensive wherever they may be

found. -

Khrushchev . . seemed to have a firmer grasp of the terrible issues at stake than was held in the US.

It is very doubtful whether the Chinese were the first aggressors.

India has ceased, in fact though not in form, to be neutral as between East and West, and has, thereby, increased the chance of world war.

Capitalism in Katanga has shown itself just as evil as Communism in Hungary.

The whole book is, in fact, a sottisier; as such it makes excellent reading. But it would be supererogatory to go through these—Often self-refuting—theses and points to expose them. And so, although the second half of the book, from which the Chinese predictably emerge as the leading Himalayan peacemongers, is in some ways even more ludicrous than the Cuban sec- tion, it seems that diagnosis will be more useful than further description of the symptoms.

Russell believes that the statesmen of the West are likely to start a nuclear war. This is not, of course, a real problem. But why he seems to think it is certainly connected with the fact that he himself urged a nuclear ultimatum against the Soviet Union some time ago. At that time the proposal was 'logical.' A simple cold- blooded look at the relation of forces might well have led to the view that a nuclear aggression should be undertaken. Western statesmen did not consider such a thing then for the same reason that they do not consider it now: it is not merely that a democratic politician is pretty well in- hibited from any such action by his whole moral background. It is also that he realises—as Russell evidently did and does not—that inter- national politics cannot be submitted to analysis so clear-cut that it could definitely establish by sheer logic the unavoidable necessity of so dan- gerous and deadly an act. Russell relies simply on pure reason: the 'rationalism' to which, in the non-tautological sciences, empiricism is the true retort.

Russell's consideration of preventive atomic war was confined to his private letters. But his willingness to face atomic war was not. In an article in Horizon, April, 1948, he hypothesises that if the Russians had an atomic bomb, and war broke out, `utter ruin will overtake the

* UNARMED VICTORY., By Bertrand Russell. (Pen- guin, 2s. 6d.) whole territory from Calais to Vladivostok,' and in England 'all the towns would be practically wiped out and much of the population would be killed,' yet goes on to say, 'I fear that we may have to seek victory rather than peace.'

In the context of atomic ultimata, these are cold-blooded words. It can, of course, be argued that circumstances then were quite different, that the Western monopoly of the atomic weapon would lead to immediate and decisive results, that weapon development since has re- placed the prospect of moderate slaughter bY one of intense slaughter. It can be argued—but not by Russell or the CND-ers who maintain that all nuclear weapons are absolutely wrong.

The fundamental fault in Russell's analyses is oversimplification. But the fundamental defect of temperament behind this fault is arrogance-- perhaps due to his having been educated pri- vately, in i rich household, and never going through even the rough and tumble of school. It has, lately in particular, been accompanied by anti-Americanism of a wholly irresponsible type. This anti-Americanism has been sometimeS balanced, or nearly balanced, by a countervail- ing dislike of the Soviet Union, particularly at the time when the Russians were representing him as a fascist philosopher. It has expressed itself in public absurdities—as when, some years ago, Russell gave his blessing to, and wrote the introduction for the English edition of, a book by the Communist-line Corliss Lamont (another of these rich and privileged leftists!) about civil liberty in America. (The book's main theme was an attack on the American socialist leader Norman Thomas.) Again, he accepted, without check, a book on the Rosenberg case shot through with error and misrepresentation.

Russell repeatedly asserts that he is not tirc" Communist, and in a certain sense this is true. Camus said of some of the French left, their motive is not that they love the totalitarians, but that 'they heartily detest part of the French.' Russell's anti-Americanism is so intense, though, that it does lead to a blurring of the facts, rot merely against the West in a negative sense, but actually in a positive misrepresentation of Soviet reality. For example, he ludicrously rernarks that in recent years 'there has been increasing freedom in the East and diminishing freedom in the West, with the result that, by this titn.e' the difference is not very notable.' Or, aga'n' he compares, as parallel, the Ivinskaya and Sobell cases. . . . Russell's lack of political skill (as oPli0se,e1 to political intelligence) may be seen in stiou things as his use of phrases like 'worse than Hitler' in referring to the leaders of the Labour and Conservative Parties, and to the President of the United States. For everyone immediatelY shrugs shoulders and says, 'Nonsense.' When he sneered last year at Gaitskell's and 0e0r,ge Brown's lack of skill as logicians, he was viting the obvious retort about his own knoWii ledge of politics. He would have been vve advised to avoid presenting us with the current!. saddening spectacle. But it is nothing rare to a great man—even a mathematician or a scielrf tist—to expend the energies of the last Part his life in worthless speculations. Newton dtt", and Swedenborg, and it will hardly be denie° that their current standing and their conteni; porary reputations were at least as high a Russell's. The blurb ends, 'One reads this account what one man did when the world was sw0011! aonnd thgeratbirtnindkeofonnutchleearcownatrrarwy,ithonaedinrciaradtsiit

with contempt, and pity.