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Bertrand Russell’s Liberal Decalogue

I was simply going to post a pointer to this item in the next Odd Lots, but I’d really like it to get more attention than it has. Bertrand Russell published the following list of ten precepts at the end of an article called “The Best Answer to Fanaticism: Liberalism” in the New York Times Magazine in 1951, and it was later published in Volume 3 of his autobiography. It meshes well with my upcoming entries on tribalism, which is indeed a species of group fanaticism. There’s no need to comment that “liberal” means something different in current discussion than it did in 1950. So does “conservative.” What the man was talking about is freedom, which is both more difficult and more valuable than waving a flag on the left or on the right. How free are you? Who owns you? Those are the questions you should ask yourself every morning before breakfast.

Note well that I am not a Bertrand Russell fanboy, and I do not endorse all or even most of his positions. However, I do endorse what he wrote below:

  1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
  2. Do not think it worthwhile to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
  3. Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.
  4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband of your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent on authority is unreal and illusory.
  5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
  6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
  7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
  8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
  9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
  10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.


  1. Aki says:

    Didn’t know Dirty Bertie’s darker side until read this book.

    1. His reputation was bad largely because of his appetite for sex with other men’s wives, including T. S. Eliot’s. Today I doubt he’d cause a ripple, either for his ideas or for his affairs. He was definitely his own man, which I respect, though I freely grant that some of his ideas excurse beyond the bounds of my subtlety grasper, which is my fault, not his.

  2. I have to agree. Logic dictates that. It would be good for all of the candidates to read understand and adhere to these ten points. In fact allow us to demand that EVERY government official, elected or not, adhere to those ten points.

    Anyway, I have to wake (WoL) two computer that are 128 miles away.

  3. Rich Rostrom says:

    What constitutes “[using] power to suppress opinions”?

    If I have a blog or Web forum with commenting, do I have to allow Pearl Harbor conspiracists, 9/11 Truthers, anti-vacciners, neo-Confederates, warmists, Scientologists, and Birthers to post their lies? Can I use my power to delete their posts and block them?

    What about excluding their books from public libraries?

    A lot of these vermin are very persistent. Some are well-funded and will saturate any medium that is open to them.

    There’s a blog called the Augean Stables. It’s dedicated to exposing and refuting the enormous piles of dung that fill the mass media regarding Israel. (This problem is much worse in Europe than in the U.S.) The progenitors of this material have no compunctions about using their financial and political power to propagate it.

    Should opponents of lies disarm unilaterally?

    1. Erbo says:

      Rich, I will tell you what I have to say about it in the “Policies and Notices” page on my blog (kindly linked in Jeff’s blogroll):

      “Comments on posts at this site are allowed at my discretion, and my discretion only. This is not a democracy. The First Amendment applies to the government, not to me. I operate on somewhat different principles, which may be summed up as follows: ‘There may be free speech, but there is no free lunch. You want to make a speech, get your own blog; I run and pay for this one.’ I reserve the right, at all times, to delete any comment if I choose not to want it here.”

      There’s more to it, but that’s the basics. Note that I am not “suppressing opinions” as a result; I just choose not to want said opinions published on my server space. In a world where anyone can go to Blogger or WordPress and have their own blog up and running for free in 5 minutes, nobody is without options in that regard.

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