Peter Sedgwick

Reason in Revolt

(Spring 1962)

From International Socialism (1st Series), No.8, Spring 1962, p.32 (review)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Has Man A Future?
Bertrand Russell
George Allen & Unwin, 10s 6d. (Also as a Penguin. 2s 6d.)

About half of this little book is a treasure. In that half Russell presents the essential facts about nuclear weapons and the Powers that possess them. This is done superbly, and with the constant undertone (present in so much of his writing) of a luminous individual intelligence defiantly naming the idiocies of Fate and society. The unilateralist reader will feel a gratifying sense of fitness that a cause so great has been stated at last in language so piercingly beautiful.

In the book’s later section Russell presents the case for World Government, conceived as a federal arrangement of the status quo. Here Russell’s rationalism is exposed as a distinctly weak instrument for positive purposes. From Immanuel Kant down to some of the New Left, the response of liberal idealists confronted by a staggering problem has traditionally been to frame an equally staggering Plan or blueprint. The fact that the actual forces obtaining in the world simply are not such as to be capable of implementing the Plan is never considered. Russell, for example, here quite casually advocates the international public ownership of oil resources without pausing to recall the fate of Dr Mossadegh. For Russell, it seems, all the obstacles to human progress arc thrown up by individual unreason; hence, incidentally, his speeches on civil disobedience treat it purely as a method of gaining publicity for the rational case.

“Remember your humanity”. Russell has appealed, “and forget the rest”. His book is a testimony to the impossibility of any man’s “forgetting the rest” of his ideas in the struggle against nuclear war.

Peter Sedgwick

Last updated on 21 February 2010