28 October 2009

Bertrand Russell on Nietzsche

He [Nietzsche] condemns Christian love because he thinks it is an outcome of fear: I am afraid my neighbour may injure me, and so I assure him that I love him. If I were stronger and bolder, I should openly display the contempt for him which of course I feel. It does not occur to Nietzsche as possible that a man could feel universal love, obviously because he himself feels almost universal hatred and fear, which he would fain disguise as lordly indifference. His ‘noble’ man – who is himself in day-dreams – is a being wholly devoid of sympathy, ruthless, cunning, cruel, concerned only with his own power. King Lear, on the verge of madness, says:

'I will do such things –
What they are yet I know not – but they shall be
The terror of the earth.'

This is Nietzsche’s philosophy in a nutshell.

It never occurred to Nietzsche that the lust for power, with which he endows his superman, is itself an outcome of fear. Those who do not fear their neighbours see no necessity to tyrannize over them. Men who have conquered fear have not the frantic quality of Nietzsche’s ‘artist-tyrant’ Neros, who try to enjoy music and massacre while their hearts are filled with dread of the inevitable palace revolution. I will not deny that, partly as a result of his teaching, the real world has become very like his nightmare, but that does not make it any the less horrible. (Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy*)

‘Those who do not fear their neighbours see no necessity to tyrannize over them.’ Bertrand Russell was brought up in a stately home with tutors paid for by his parents. He had very little reason to fear his neighbours, and any such ‘neighbours’ lived outside the boundaries of the desirable hotel environment in which he grew up. He was not exposed to the social hostility of even a fee-paying school environment.

Bertrand Russell is both unrealistic and unanalytical about the psychology of the ‘noble’ man as delineated by Nietzsche. Russell claims that Nietzsche endows his superman with a ‘lust for power’ which is ‘an outcome of fear’. He then gives a quotation from King Lear, which he uses to illustrate the motivations that he (not Nietzsche) ascribes to the ‘noble’ man. The quotation from King Lear, however, expresses Lear’s reaction to his helpless situation as a dethroned and infirm old man, cast out by his daughters, deprived of servants and exposed to the elements.

There is much more that could be said in criticism of this piece by Bertrand Russell. If the philosophy department of my unrecognised and suppressed independent university were not kept unjustifiably deprived of academic status and financial support, one of the things it would be able to do would be to publish analytical critiques of various writings by Bertrand Russell, among others.

* first published in 1946 by George Allen and Unwin, this edition published by Routledge, 2004 - from chapter on Nietzsche, p. 693

’We appeal for £1m as initial funding for a social science department in our unrecognised and unsupported independent university. This would enable it to publish analyses of the unexamined assumptions underlying utterances by philosophers, such as Russell's remarks discussed above.’ Charles McCreery, DPhil

’Any undergraduates or academics are invited to come to Cuddesdon in vacations as voluntary workers. They are expected to have enough money of their own to pay for accommodation near here, but would be able to use our canteen facilities. However, we cannot enter into correspondence about arrangements before they come. While here, they could gain information about topics and points of view suppressed in the modern world, as well as giving badly needed help to our organisation.’ Celia Green, DPhil