Why Men Fight

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Not many intellectuals paid the price for their pacifism as dearly as Russell did. Once, he was a social pariah for this reason only. Yet he composed these lectures in the hope of talking some sense into the young minds of Europe.

A core axiom of these lectures is the idea that humans are intuitive and impulsive. If the impulses cannot run their courses creatively, then tend to be destructive. This, to me, feels like a partial truth, or a truth that is too simple for the complex world we live in.

Even if the axiom is partially correct, the reasoning following this axiom can at least reduce destruction if not eradicate it. This is why these lectures are still relevant.

Russell explored the various forms of social institutions, their merits-demerits, and relevance to modern society in most of the lectures to understand what was wrong with WWI Europe. With a syndicalist, freedom-loving outlook his reasoning culminated in a call to create a better political theory as such:

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In seeking a political theory which is to be useful at any given moment, what is wanted is not the invention of a Utopia, but the discovery of the best direction of movement. The direction which is good at one time may be superficially very different from that which is good at another time. Useful thought is that which indicates the right direction for the present time. But in judging what is the right direction there are two general principles which are always applicable.

  1. The growth and vitality of individuals and communities is to be promoted as far as possible.
  2. The growth of one individual or one community is to be as little as possible at the expense of another.
Thought Provoking

Notes and Highlights
About Why Men Fight by Bertrand Russell

Also published under the title of Principals of Social Reconstruction, and written in response to the devastation of World War I, Why Men Fight lays out Bertrand Russell's ideas on war, pacifism, reason, impulse, and personal liberty. He argues that the individualistic approach of traditional liberalism has reached its limits and that when individuals live passionately, they will have no desire for war or killing. Conversely, excessive restraint or reason causes us to live unnaturally and with hostility toward those who are unlike ourselves. This formidable work greatly contributed to Russell’s fame as a formidable social critic and anti-war activist.