Book Review: ‘Russell Remembered’
The sage of Merioneth
‘Russell Remembered’, by Rupert Crawshay-Williams, OUP. 40s.
The author was a close neighbour and friend of “Bertie” in his plushy retreat in deepest Merioneth and although he goes through the motions of noticing some of the great man’s faults (his vanity, bad temper, monumental conceit, etc), he does not attempt to hide his hero-worship and clearly regards himself as supremely fortunate to have been able to cultivate the friendship of this intellectual paragon. Most of the book consists of small talk reported à la Boswell. But there is no rival to Dr. Johnson here; not a word that is worth remembering in fact. (Sample of the humour: Good, better, best, Bertie. This sort of thing, it seems, had the great Earl wiping his eyes with helpless laughter. Of such stuff is greatness made.)
The one thing that should have struck the author he clearly never even considered. The great philosopher occupied the public stage for the better part of a century. And at the end of it all, the books, the speeches, the lectures, what remained that was worth remembering Russell for? Even a cursory glance at Russell’s career makes it obvious that his influence merely served to spread confusion in matters that concern human society. The contradictions are crass and speak for themselves. A pacifist in the first world war. A belligerent in the second. An advocate of a pre-emptive atomic strike by America before Russia got the Bomb (for which he was dubbed Atom-Bomb Russell by the Daily Worker). And finally a founder of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, that great mass of “sound and fury, signifying nothing”. He cheerfully lent his name to organisations which backed one side against the other in Vietnam (like so many “intellectuals”, he became pathologically anti-American; which of course had nothing whatever to do with anti-capitalism). And to supporting vicious dictatorships like that of Nkrumah.
The evil side of all this is rendered worse when one thinks of the good that someone like Russell could have done had he been concerned to learn what was wrong with society and using his immense influence with whole generations of idealistic young people to taking the road towards ending the evil system of capitalism. But he preferred the road of easy fame and helped to lead the students and others into the hopeless blind alleys of movements like CND. So for that he must share the blame for the disillusion that inevitably followed. And which has left capitalism as securely entrenched now as on the day he first came into the world.
L. E. Weidberg