Notes from Why Men Fight

Also known as:

Why Men Fight

Russell, Bertrand


Page: 13 (8.50%) @ 23 Dec 2023 04:24:57 PM

The war poet Arthur Graeme West expressed this admiration eloquently. A few months before he was killed on the Western Front in June 1917 he wrote to Russell from the trenches near the Somme after reading Principles of Social Reconstruction:
It is only on account of thoughts such as yours that it seems worth while surviving the war … what we feared until your book came was that we would find no one in England who would build with us. Remember, then, that we are to be relied upon to do twice as much as we have done during the war, and it is after reading your book that the determination grew intenser than ever; it is for you that we would wish to live on.



Page: 16 (10.46%) @ 24 Dec 2023 01:56:42 PM

Unfounded beliefs are the homage which impulse pays to reason;


Page: 19 (12.42%) @ 25 Dec 2023 12:57:15 PM

It is not the weakening of impulse that is to be desired, but the direction of impulse towards life and growth rather than towards death and decay.

Quotable/Concept/General Idea

Page: 19 (12.42%) @ 25 Dec 2023 12:58:49 PM

Industrialism and organization are constantly forcing civilized nations to live more and more by purpose rather than impulse. In the long run such a mode of existence, if it does not dry up the springs of life, produces new impulses, not of the kind which the will has been in the habit of controlling or of which thought is conscious. These new impulses are apt to be worse in their effects than those that have been checked.

Thought Provoking

Page: 19 (12.42%) @ 25 Dec 2023 12:59:39 PM

man’s impulses are not fixed from the beginning by his native disposition: within certain wide limits, they are profoundly modified by his circumstances and his way of life. The nature of these modifications ought to be studied, and the results of such study ought to be taken account of in judging the good or harm that is done by political and social institutions.

Thought Provoking

Page: 20 (13.07%) @ 25 Dec 2023 01:04:30 PM

In spite of all the destruction which is wrought by the impulses that lead to war, there is more hope for a nation which has these impulses than for a nation in which all impulse is dead. Impulse is the expression of life, and while it exists there is hope of its turning towards life instead of death; but lack of impulse is death, and out of death no new life will come.


Page: 21 (13.73%) @ 25 Dec 2023 01:26:04 PM

The conventional conception of what constitutes success leads most men to live a life in which their most vital impulses are sacrificed, and the joy of life is lost in listless weariness. Our economic system compels almost all men to carry out the purposes of others rather than their own, making them feel impotent in action and only able to secure a certain modicum of passive pleasure. All these things destroy the vigour of the community, the expansive affections of individuals, and the power of viewing the world generously.

Quotable/Concept/General Idea

Page: 26 (16.99%) @ 25 Dec 2023 04:08:49 PM

is no use to attempt any bolstering up of institutions based on authority, since all such institutions involve injustice, and injustice once realized cannot be perpetuated without fundamental damage both to those who uphold it and to those who resist it.


Page: 28 (18.30%) @ 25 Dec 2023 05:11:21 PM

If men’s natural growth is to be promoted and not hindered by their environment, if as many as possible of their desires and needs are to be satisfied, political institutions must, as far as possible, embody common purposes and foster instinctive liking. These two objects are interconnected, for nothing is so destructive of instinctive liking as thwarted purposes and unsatisfied needs, and nothing facilitates co-operation for common purposes so much as instinctive liking. When a man’s growth is unimpeded, his self-respect remains intact, and he is not inclined to regard others as his enemies. But when, for whatever reason, his growth is impeded, or he is compelled to grow into some twisted and unnatural shape, his instinct presents the environment as his enemy, and he becomes filled with hatred. The joy of life abandons him, and malevolence takes the place of friendliness. The malevolence of hunchbacks and cripples is proverbial; and a similar malevolence is to be found in those who have been crippled in less obvious ways. Real freedom, if it could be brought about, would go a long way towards destroying hatred.


Page: 30 (19.61%) @ 25 Dec 2023 05:17:28 PM

In any serious attempt at political reconstruction, it is necessary to realize what are the vital needs of ordinary men and women. It is customary, in political thought, to assume that the only needs with which politics is concerned are economic needs. This view is quite inadequate to account for such an event as the present war, since any economic motives that may be assigned for it are to a great extent mythical, and its true causes must be sought for outside the economic sphere. Needs which are normally satisfied without conscious effort remain unrecognized, and this results in a working theory of human needs which is far too simple. Owing chiefly to industrialism, many needs which were formerly satisfied without effort now remain unsatisfied in most men and women. But the old unduly simple theory of human needs survives, making men overlook the source of the new lack of satisfaction, and invent quite false theories as to why they are dissatisfied. Socialism as a panacea seems to me to be mistaken in this way, since it is too ready to suppose that better economic conditions will of themselves make men happy. It is not only more material goods that men need, but more freedom, more self-direction, more outlet for creativeness, more opportunity for the joy of life, more voluntary co-operation, and less involuntary subservience to purposes not their own. All these things the institutions of the future must help to produce, if our increase of knowledge and power over Nature is to bear its full fruit in bringing about a good life.

Thought Provoking


Page: 41 (26.80%) @ 25 Dec 2023 06:02:45 PM

And although law is better than force, law is still not the best way of settling disputes. Law is too static, too much on the side of what is decaying, too little on the side of what is growing. So long as law is in theory supreme, it will have to be tempered, from time to time, by internal revolution and external war.

Thought Provoking


Page: 52 (33.99%) @ 25 Dec 2023 07:39:44 PM

But security, once achieved, brings a Nemesis of ennui.


Page: 62 (40.52%) @ 27 Dec 2023 01:16:33 AM

We have learnt gradually to free our God from the savagery with which the primitive Israelites and the Fathers endowed Him: few of us now believe that it is His pleasure to torture most of the human race in an eternity of hell-fire. But we have not yet learnt to free our national ideals from the ancient taint. Devotion to the nation is perhaps the deepest and most widespread religion of the present age. Like the ancient religions, it demands its persecutions, its holocausts, its lurid heroic cruelties; like them, it is noble, primitive, brutal, and mad. Now, as in the past, religion, lagging behind private consciences through the weight of tradition, steels the hearts of men against mercy and their minds against truth. If the world is to be saved, men must learn to be noble without being cruel, to be filled with faith and yet open to truth, to be inspired by great purposes without hating those who try to thwart them. But before this can happen, men must first face the terrible realization that the gods before whom they have bowed down were false gods and the sacrifices they have made were vain.

Thought Provoking


Page: 65 (42.48%) @ 27 Dec 2023 11:36:54 AM

Men’s souls have exchanged the wilderness for the drawing-room: they have become cramped and pretty and deformed, like Chinese women’s feet.


Page: 75 (49.02%) @ 27 Dec 2023 12:38:55 PM

The whole wage-earning system is an abomination, not only because of the social injustice which it causes and perpetuates, but also because it separates the man who does the work from the purpose for which the work is done.

Thought Provoking


Page: 117 (76.47%) @ 28 Dec 2023 11:26:41 AM

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

Page: 121 (79.08%) @ 28 Dec 2023 11:43:52 AM

The State and Property are the great embodiments of possessiveness; it is for this reason that they are against life, and that they issue in war. Possession means taking or keeping some good thing which another is prevented from enjoying; creation means putting into the world a good thing which otherwise no one would be able to enjoy.