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Sun Feb 2, 2020, 05:03 PM

When Debate Is Futile: Bertrand Russell's Remarkable Response to a Fascist's Provocation

https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/10/06/bertrand-russell-oswald-mosley/

“To approach someone else convincingly you must do so with open arms and head held high, and your arms can’t be open unless your head is high,” the Lebanese-born French writer Amin Maalouf wrote in his timeless, increasingly timely reflection on how to disagree. It is in times as divisive as ours and as sundered by conflicting perspectives that the mastery of such intelligent, kind-hearted, and considered disagreement emerges as a supreme art of living. To respond in a reactive culture, to marry firm moral conviction with a spirit of goodwill and the porousness necessary for appraising other perspectives in order to evolve one’s own, is a Herculean feat of character.

And yet there are instances in which it is unsound to engage with another whose values are so antithetical to one’s own that the collision is bound to shatter one’s sanity rather than build common ground. To recognize those rare instances and choose to stand down is an act of moral courage rather than moral weakness, and no one has articulated that difficult courage with more intellectual elegance and moral grace than the great English philosopher Bertrand Russell (May 18, 1872–February 2, 1970) — a formidable intellect animated by an extraordinary generosity of spirit, awarded the Nobel Prize for “his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought.”


In January of 1962, Russell received a series of letters from an unlikely correspondent — Sir Oswald Mosley, who had founded the British Union of Fascists thirty years earlier. Mosley was inviting — or, rather, provoking — Russell to engage in a debate, in which he could persuade the moral philosopher of the merits of fascism. Russell’s considered and morally unflinching response, included in Ronald Clark’s excellent biography The Life of Bertrand Russell (public library), stands as a manifesto for the right not to engage in a debate with a counterpart so morally misaligned with oneself as to guarantee not only the self-defeating futility of such engagement but its detrimental cost to one’s own sanity.

Shortly before his 90th birthday, Russell writes:

Dear Sir Oswald,

Thank you for your letter and for your enclosures. I have given some thought to our recent correspondence. It is always difficult to decide on how to respond to people whose ethos is so alien and, in fact, repellent to one’s own. It is not that I take exception to the general points made by you but that every ounce of my energy has been devoted to an active opposition to cruel bigotry, compulsive violence, and the sadistic persecution which has characterised the philosophy and practice of fascism.

I feel obliged to say that the emotional universes we inhabit are so distinct, and in deepest ways opposed, that nothing fruitful or sincere could ever emerge from association between us.

I should like you to understand the intensity of this conviction on my part. It is not out of any attempt to be rude that I say this but because of all that I value in human experience and human achievement.

Yours sincerely,


Bertrand Russell

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Arrow 35 replies Author Time Post
Reply When Debate Is Futile: Bertrand Russell's Remarkable Response to a Fascist's Provocation (Original post)
G_j Feb 2 OP
Phoenix61 Feb 2 #1
liberalmuse Feb 2 #2
kentuck Feb 2 #3
smirkymonkey Feb 2 #4
malaise Feb 2 #5
G_j Feb 2 #7
malaise Feb 2 #8
tblue37 Feb 3 #30
calimary Feb 3 #25
Brother Mythos Feb 2 #6
RussBLib Feb 2 #9
Nay Feb 2 #13
paleotn Feb 2 #17
Bob Loblaw Feb 3 #29
burrowowl Feb 3 #34
Hekate Feb 2 #10
underpants Feb 2 #11
Mr.Bill Feb 2 #12
wendyb-NC Feb 2 #14
chia Feb 2 #15
paleotn Feb 2 #16
dchill Feb 2 #18
OMGWTF Feb 2 #19
Prof.Higgins Feb 2 #20
G_j Feb 3 #23
PatSeg Feb 2 #21
crickets Feb 2 #22
Hortensis Feb 3 #24
Richard D Feb 3 #26
Hulk Feb 3 #27
LudwigPastorius Feb 3 #28
Orrex Feb 3 #31
Poiuyt Feb 3 #32
cp Feb 3 #33
Nitram Feb 3 #35

Response to G_j (Original post)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 05:08 PM

1. What an incredibly nice way to tell someone

they are such an effing POS there’s just no pointZ

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 05:13 PM

2. Beautiful.

And very appropriate for these times.

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 05:21 PM

3. Excellent read!

Thanks!

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 05:21 PM

4. +1000

A brilliant way to tell someone to go fuck themselves.

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 05:23 PM

5. K & R

Thank you

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Response to malaise (Reply #5)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 05:32 PM

7. happy to have stumbled on it

& I loved this in the introduction;



And yet there are instances in which it is unsound to engage with another whose values are so antithetical to one’s own that the collision is bound to shatter one’s sanity rather than build common ground. To recognize those rare instances and choose to stand down is an act of moral courage rather than moral weakness,

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Response to G_j (Reply #7)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 05:34 PM

8. I agree with him 100%

Standing down can be the best option

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Response to malaise (Reply #8)

Mon Feb 3, 2020, 01:25 PM

30. IOW, don't feed the trolls. nt

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Response to G_j (Reply #7)

Mon Feb 3, 2020, 10:34 AM

25. Good one!

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 05:29 PM

6. Thank you for posting this response.

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 05:39 PM

9. Russell is one of my heroes

His book "Why I Am Not A Christian" was very influential when I was a young-un.

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Response to RussBLib (Reply #9)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 06:39 PM

13. I've read that book a hundred times -- very influential, indeed. nt

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Response to RussBLib (Reply #9)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 06:52 PM

17. One of my favorites, too.

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Response to RussBLib (Reply #9)

Mon Feb 3, 2020, 01:23 PM

29. It guided my thinking for a long time

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Response to RussBLib (Reply #9)

Mon Feb 3, 2020, 04:34 PM

34. Mine too!

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 05:39 PM

10. Thank you

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 05:41 PM

11. Bertrand Russell shared the Earth when I did?

I had no idea.

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 06:34 PM

12. I think I will remove the first two sentences

and print that on cards and just hand them to people the moment they say anything positive about Trump.

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 06:44 PM

14. Very apt response, by Mr Russell.

Thank you, for that.

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 06:47 PM

15. I tried for over 3 years to reason with the MAGA crowd, before admitting defeat at the futility of

expecting them to see any reason whatsoever. I couldn't - wouldn't - believe for a long time they were that far gone.

But they are.

And now today this Bertrand Russell quote lights up the place where I am standing and I am so thankful for the truth of his words showing me the way forward from here.

Thank you for posting.

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 06:51 PM

16. One of my favorites.

That sums up my feelings far better than I can.

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 07:06 PM

18. Talk about genteel!

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 07:11 PM

19. P.S. And the horse you rode in on.

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 07:19 PM

20. G_j, can't thank you enough for posting Russell's sagacity. Brilliant! n/t

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Response to Prof.Higgins (Reply #20)

Mon Feb 3, 2020, 09:47 AM

23. absolutely

perfect for today

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 07:22 PM

21. K&R

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 09:44 PM

22. Love it. K&R

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Mon Feb 3, 2020, 10:20 AM

24. "cruel bigotry, compulsive violence, and the sadistic persecution"

that always characterize fascism. Yes. Always. Every fascist regime ever studied focuses on control of the populace, using ruthless and violent tactics as necessary, and persecutes groups too powerless to protect themselves to satisfy the hostilities of its "red in tooth and claw" base.

I think that's the most valuable message here because there's so much deliberate confusion about what fascism is. Yes, it can be fascism even if it doesn't follow the patterns of Nazi Germany and Musselini's Italy, themselves very different. If it walks like a fascist dog, talks like a fascist dog, and bites like a fascist dog, it is one.

That is, if it's an archconservative authoritarian government that is very actively and meanly controlling of the population -- as opposed to merely ruthless in maintaining control, venal and heartlessly neglectful -- and is ardently supported by people who've developed a taste for government meanness, it's going to be at least fascistic, and likely fascism for our era. No matter the label, and even if the economic structure is a universalist form typically seen as LW.

"Liberalism is the individual. Fascism is the state." Benito Mussellini, who began as a LW extremist and made the typical migration to (mostly) RW extremism, knew.

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Mon Feb 3, 2020, 10:45 AM

26. He's a much better person than am I . . .

. . . I just say "fuck off".

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Mon Feb 3, 2020, 01:19 PM

27. SUBPOENA THEM ALL !!!

Maybe they will never be able to get these corrupt, complicit and cowardly group to make a difference in getting this cancerous piles of Orange matter out of the White House for his incompetence and crimes, but at least it will be “on the record”!

On the record that this con artist and his cabal of an administration obstructed to the last minute, and was and is guilty of the second charge brought against him, “obstruction of justice”.

And should the succeed in getting one or more to appear before the House, it would FOREVER show the world the guilt the goPutin party refused to hear. It will place the scarlet letter of C cowardice and stamp them as party tools, so willing to put allegiance to their pathetic, dying party over country.

Subpoena them all. Don’t stop.

YES, many of us wanted impeachment from the day he began separating children from their parents and placing them in cages; from the day he gave out HUGE tax breaks to the wealthy and corporate greedy at the expense of our out-of-control deficit that the next President will have to deal with; the first day he denigrated people of color and different faith than the evangelical cult; from the first day we realized he was nothing more than a habitual liar and a disgusting bully and vulgar man child. Yes, we wanted him out of the White House by whatever means possible!

Subpoena them NOW!

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Mon Feb 3, 2020, 01:21 PM

28. Translation:


"Get the fuck outta here and go fuck yourself sideways. Sincerely, Bertie"

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Mon Feb 3, 2020, 01:40 PM

31. Russell is magnificent.

Everyone should also read his excellent Why I Am Not A Christian. Brilliant from first word to last.

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Mon Feb 3, 2020, 01:42 PM

32. I know someone I could send that to

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Mon Feb 3, 2020, 02:06 PM

33. Thank you for posting this today

Wisdom, indeed.

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Response to G_j (Original post)

Mon Feb 3, 2020, 04:43 PM

35. Thanks for this. I'll keep a copy for a time when I might be able to use it myself.

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