Thursday, November 09, 2006


About intellectuals' attitudes towards religion and Christianity in particular, Bertrand Russell wrote,
"The majority of intellectually eminent men disbelieve in Christian religion, but they conceal the fact in public, because they are afraid of losing their incomes"

Some critics, including Paul Johnson in his Intellectuals, an include-all unabashed excoriation of intellectuals, accuse Russell of being an opportunist, continually writing books throughout his lifetime from which he could always be assured royalties because of their massive popularity. Johnson condemns Russell for capitalising on his proven selling potential. The same criticism has been hurled at Noam Chomsky (who not surprisingly has a large portrait of Russell hung in his office)

For a moment, let's leave aside the fact that there's nothing wrong about capitalising on your selling potential; it would be hard to find an author (including Johnson) who does not do that.
But now, when I read the above statement, I think that Russell learnt from his realization, and he knew exactly what he needed to do to avoid pitfalls other intellectuals might face, which would force them to stay politically correct. Russell was nothing if not a shrewd man, and early on, he must have realised that he would come under fire for his controversial views. The evidence supports his belief; in world war 1, he was first fined, then lost his professorship at Trinity college, and then was put in jail. He was declared "morally unfit' to teach at City College in New York after public outcry condemned his writings on sexuality. Even in the best of times, he must have been a liability to at least some influential British officials who could turn the wheels of his fortune. With such a tumultuous and unpredictable public life with no sure and consistent income, Russell surely must have realised that he would need to have some other source of income if he was to remain outspoken about his worldview. If that was the case, then there was nothing wrong in capitalising on his unique ability to convey his views to the public in the most effective manner; if anyone, it was the public who benefited from his books, most of which were exceptional. If Russell becomes an opportunist because of this, then so does Johnson, who is trying to capitalise on the shock value of his Russell criticism.

In fact, Bertrand Russell was an extremely shrewd man, who knew exactly what he needed to do in order to maximize the impact of his words, and to make himself secure for doing that.


Anonymous Anirudh said...

Which books by Russell do you like? I read some of his articles and am reading 'The Conquest Of Happiness'. I didn't like either much.

11:29 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Rather than complete books, I will recommend his essays. Try the book "The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell" in which you can choose from his essays. It's available in India. Among my favourite essays are 'Why I am not a Christian' and 'An outline of intellectual rubbish'

1:43 PM  

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