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February 24th, 2012

Bertrand Russell's Liberal Decalogue

I was simply going to post a pointer to this item in the next Odd Lots, but I'd really like it to get more attention than it has. Bertrand Russell published the following list of ten precepts at the end of an article called "The Best Answer to Fanaticism: Liberalism" in the New York Times Magazine in 1951, and it was later published in Volume 3 of his autobiography. It meshes well with my upcoming entries on tribalism, which is indeed a species of group fanaticism. There's no need to comment that "liberal" means something different in current discussion than it did in 1950. So does "conservative." What the man was talking about is freedom, which is both more difficult and more valuable than waving a flag on the left or on the right. How free are you? Who owns you? Those are the questions you should ask yourself every morning before breakfast.

Note well that I am not a Bertrand Russell fanboy, and I do not endorse all or even most of his positions. However, I do endorse what he wrote below:

  1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
  2. Do not think it worthwhile to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
  3. Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.
  4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband of your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent on authority is unreal and illusory.
  5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
  6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
  7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
  8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
  9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
  10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool's paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.