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In times of Alternative Facts - a 1935 Bertrand Russell Quote worth Mulling Over


LALIT’s editorial team would like, in these times of lies and manipulation, of alternative facts and pure inventions, to invite you to read a paragraph Bertrand Russell wrote in 1935, when Hitler had been in power for two years, and was still being given the benefit of the doubt rather too widely *:

 “I think that what we mean in practice by reason can be defined by three characteristics. In the first place, it relies upon persuasion rather than force; in the second place, it seeks to persuade by means of arguments which the man who uses them believes to be completely valid; and in the third place, in forming opinions, it uses observation and induction as much as possible and intuition as little as possible. The first of these, rules out the Inquisition; the second rules out such methods as those of British war propaganda, which Hitler praises on the ground that propaganda ‘must lower its intellectual level in proportion to the numbers of the masses it intends to control’**; the third forbids the use of such a major premise as that of President Andrew Jackson apropos of the Mississippi, ‘the God of the Universe intended this great valley to belong to one nation,’ which was self-evident to him and his hearers, but not easily demonstrated to one who questioned it.’  – From Bertrand Russell in “The Ancestry of Fascism”, 1935, reproduced in most recent edition of The Spokesman.

 Bertrand Russsell was philosopher, mathematician, historian, political activist and writer.


 * Winston Churchill, as Christopher Hitchens pointed out, in that very same year of 1935, in an essay from his book Great Contemporaries, was not yet, even that late, prepared to pass judgment on Hitler: “It is not possible to form a just judgment of a public figure who has attained the enormous dimensions of Adolf Hitler until his life work as a whole is before us. Although no subsequent political action can condone wrong deeds, history is replete with examples of men who have risen to power by employing stern, grim, and even frightful methods, but who, nevertheless, when their life is revealed as a whole, have been regarded as great figures whose lives have enriched the story of mankind. So may it be with Hitler.”

 ** We have paraphrased the translation Russell used of Hitler’s German because it made the paragraph hard to understand. In fact, Russell’s version of the quote reads, ‘must sink its mental elevation deeper in proportion to the numbers of the mass whom it has to grip’.