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Roads to Freedom: Socialism, Anarchism and Syndicalism – Bertrand Russell

25 Aug

Not Russelling SheepI love reading Bertrand Russell’s works, his being a historian, political activist, philosopher, logician, mathematician and Nobel Prize for Literature winner 1950 amongst other things, he manages to combine dry wit and convey big ideas with simple language that allows the lay person to understand his arguments succinctly.

My tastefully tatty old 1919 edition is from St Anne’s College Library Oxford and sadly has no dust jacket (of which more in a later post) and there seems to be a general lack of a decent blurb available online so here are some quotes from the great man to get you in the mood:

War does not determine who is right – only who is left.

The world is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.

Patriots always talk of dying for their country but never of killing for their country.

Hunting for a suitable cover image, I was perplexed to find that most of the modern editions are titled ‘Proposed Roads to Freedom’. I can only assume this is to differentiate it from John-Paul Sartre’s later series The Roads to Freedom which was a response to events in World War Two as Russell’s is, albeit for different reasons to World War One.

The book came about at a time of European reconstruction from the ashes of war, it was the perfect time to debate the relative strengths and deficiencies of three political systems for the good of nations.  It’s an excellent overview and accessible read that despite being out of date still retains some pertinent ideas, especially with today’s global political unrest.

Part one gives the reader a history of socialism, anarchism, and syndicalism, looking at the catalysts for each philosophy and the key players in turning each into the movement that it what at the time.  It acts both as a grounding for the casual reader in the pros and cons of each system (that is backed up by the history) and a handy reminder for the keener students.

Part two is a fascinating speculation on what the future could hold were these principles adhered to and what that would mean for work and pay, government and law, International relations and science and art.  Russell looks on this as less of a reconstruction but more as a regeneration of society as a whole, which would be a worthy experiment these days were our leaders to have the courage to try to fix some of the creaky and aging systems we have in place.

It is refreshing to see the author advocating Anarchism as perhaps the best form of rule, The Right Honourable, The Earl Russell’s logic shows clearly his reasons why he would choose such a system and I believe this makes it doubly pertinent when looking at the propaganda that has been aimed at it, especially from parties whose own ideologies have been and still are harmful to societies and world peace.  The book isn’t without its flaws, there are glossing over of technical details of making Anarchism work (but that promises to make for some interesting research for myself) and of course the world is a different place now so some of the ideas seem dated and perhaps a tad naive but this doesn’t detract from what is an interesting theoretical subject.

For people interested in the nature of ideas or like me just curious because the book was there for the reading, this is a satisfying introduction to the subject.  I really enjoyed it and despite expecting a challenging read I was pleasantly surprised with the light nature and clarity with which it was presented.  Understanding the thoughts of the time in the context of the monumental changes that have occurred since then not only makes for a compelling insight into the time but also allows us to understand how the past affects us today.

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31 Comments

Posted by on 25/08/2015 in Philosophy, Politics

 

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31 responses to “Roads to Freedom: Socialism, Anarchism and Syndicalism – Bertrand Russell

  1. Sheila

    25/08/2015 at 18:44

    It sounds like another one I’ll have to read since I love wondering about these things. Anarchism is appealing when you think about it since the politicians really don’t do very much. All we’d have to do is fill out a ballot along with our tax forms to say what percentage of our taxes we want to go toward health care, the environment, education, etc. (basically everything taxes are spent on now, but the people would get to decide what’s important). I’m guessing much more good would be done that way (and maybe we wouldn’t even get into unnecessary wars – imagine that).

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    • Ste J

      25/08/2015 at 18:52

      Yes needless wars to keep the capitalist machine running. Russell theorised that if we all worked in our own communities producing and trading, there would be less need for long working hours and we could probably get away with twenty hours a week for a comfortable lifestyle. I’d take that, at least I could get more blogging done! It must be difficult being a politician though with all that money and second homes to juggle, where do they find the time lol.

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  2. Jeff

    25/08/2015 at 20:22

    You make a good point about the present upheavals making this book relevant. Russell was quite the overview man. His intro to philosophy is still in print. It’s great for people like me who missed out on the ancients and started with the reformation period.
    If you’re interested in further arguments for anarchy, try out Jonathan Woolf’s Introduction to Political Philosophy. Better to order rather than wait for a highly unlikely secondhand copy to appear (though I’ve seen a couple in my time). Depends on how in a hurry you are, of course.
    Bertrand Russell, eh? You’re branching out these days (or is that branching in? Er!).

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    • Ste J

      25/08/2015 at 20:36

      I have a few of Russell’s other books lying around in various places, I like his style of simple logic and humour. Woolf is a name that has been mentioned to me before, I will certainly look at getting a copy as my focus has been fairly polarised from modern and usually existential to the classical philosophers. The thought of not pushing my boundaries makes me shudder, complacency bothers me.

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      • Jeff

        25/08/2015 at 21:02

        Yes, the popularity of modern philosophy could be a form of availability heuristic. Perhaps this is the gauntlet picked up by A. C. Grayling?
        You’re already pushing your boundaries by reading any philosophy – even its intros get nicher by the day – so I wouldn’t get too vexed.
        If you want something really interesting in political philosophy, try Gordon Graham’s The Case Against the Democratic State. Where Woolf is broad, methodical, fair and thorough to a fault, Graham is a crank who methodically argues for a political system that nobody would vote for (enlightened despotism). Great book. Does yer head in. Short too.

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        • Ste J

          25/08/2015 at 21:16

          There is something fascinating about the cranks, I remember laughing my way through Von Daniken years ago, Graham sounds right up my street. I tried tackling some maths books but the popular stuff aside it’s impenetrable but never mind, its trying these things and it is surprising what a bit of perseverance can do.

          Grayling popularises philosophy and I always appreciate an author who put things into simple perspectives, relevant to everyday life where possible. A springboard like Sophie’s world is always a pleasant diversion as well.

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          • Jeff

            26/08/2015 at 11:53

            Books like Sophie’s World do a public service that academics tend not to. On the other hand, figures like Von Daniken play on ignorance (you’re right to laugh). I like Carl Sagan’s comment:
            ‘That writing as careless as von Däniken’s, whose principal thesis is that our ancestors were dummies, should be so popular is a sober commentary on the credulousness and despair of our times. I also hope for the continuing popularity of books like Chariots of the Gods? in high school and college logic courses, as object lessons in sloppy thinking.’
            What Sagan assumes here is that all readers will uncritically accept these books as factual rather than choke on their beers every few pages.

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            • Ste J

              26/08/2015 at 19:38

              Academics to tend to assume some prior knowledge, it’s good to get the basic overview though in a simple medium to give us laypeople a chance.

              It is amazing how people do accept the ‘evidence’ for such things despite wide spread and sane debunkings but there you go, escapism and speculation are great but to take seriously these interpretations at face value without one’s own research speaks for our lazy ways. I do owe a debt to such books though as they did turn me onto history before I stared my critical journey.

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  3. shadowoperator

    25/08/2015 at 21:09

    You sweet, fuzzy bunny, you! I always knew there was an anarchist hiding in that pub-crawling, gentle-demeanored, photo-bugging, intellectual somewhere! Seriously, though, I mean Bertrand Russell! I’m impressed–I’ve never read anything of his, for which I should be ashamed. Good going!

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    • Ste J

      25/08/2015 at 21:22

      Well I’ve never been referred to as a sweet fuzzy bunny before but I like to think I have the large floppy ears for it, anarchy does make sense the more one reads about it, gentle demeanoured…you really are making me blush now. Russell is great, so diverse in his subjects and has a fascinating biography, I know you will be a fan when you get to him.

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  4. Resa

    25/08/2015 at 21:14

    Sounds very interesting. As you mentioned that it’s not that hard to understand, I might give it a try. I’ve only read a few social – political books as 1 page can take me a week. I read a book by Jean-Paul Sartre once. I picked the most thin one I could find. It took me all summer & I was unemployed!
    You write excellent reviews!

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    • Ste J

      25/08/2015 at 21:25

      That is usually my tactic when tackling philosophy, pick the thin ones in case I can’t get my head round it. Sartre’s Existentialism and Humanism was a very good read. Yes give it a try, it’s a good book, I found the history part more interesting purely because it was something real, the future speculation was fascinating but somewhat redundant in these times. Nevertheless well worth a read and makes one look intellectual when read in public places lol.

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      • Resa

        25/08/2015 at 21:35

        “LOL” I was reading it in public places! “Hahaha”

        Liked by 1 person

         
  5. Andrea Stephenson

    25/08/2015 at 21:16

    You’ve reminded me of a band I once liked when I was a teenager, called Crass, an ‘anarchist collective’. I liked the idea of anarchy at the time, You have very eclectic reading habits Ste!

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    • Ste J

      25/08/2015 at 21:31

      Anarchy is usually seen as some bikers with axes pillaging, if classic Sly Stallone film Cobra is anything to go by but I like the idea of an actual experiment to see if it would actually be viable to live like that…perhaps the time is right for a band like Crass to come back around again. I hope to keep mixing up the reading and finding more obscure and different books with which to intrigue you.

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  6. clarepooley33

    26/08/2015 at 00:28

    I think I might like this book. I really enjoyed reading the quotes you chose!

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    • Ste J

      26/08/2015 at 19:20

      Russell was an intelligent and very dry with his sense of humour, he spoke sense though and is well worth a read, he makes learning easy.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  7. readinpleasure

    26/08/2015 at 18:20

    Serious stuff my friend. 🙂

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    • Ste J

      26/08/2015 at 19:22

      indeed and very fascinating to boot as well. I look forward to reading more of his books.

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  8. macjam47

    29/08/2015 at 00:51

    Another one of your wonderful reviews. Though we read different genres, I am fascinated by the books you review.
    Sorry I haven’t read before today, I am behind in everything, and it will only get worse as we are leaving for vacation in a couple of days.
    Keep these coming, my friend. You do not disappoint.

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    • Ste J

      05/09/2015 at 16:50

      I have been away for a while for a while as well, working nights has meant I don’t have the energy to think about writing sigh. Still that’s over now. I think dabbling in different genres or even just the reviews provides new subjects to muse upon, it’s good for the mind. Enjoy your jollies my friend!

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      • macjam47

        09/09/2015 at 04:06

        Glad to see you are back. Tons of stuff to catch up on, but that’s the price we pay when we go on R & R. Hugs, my dear friend.

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        • Ste J

          09/09/2015 at 20:35

          The blogging world is relentless and there are around 90 blogs I try to keep up with, it’s a mad rush to catch up but also immenely pleasurable.

          Liked by 1 person

           
          • macjam47

            09/09/2015 at 21:38

            I agree. Sometimes it is overwhelming, but friendships made make it worthwhile.

            Liked by 1 person

             
  9. Theanne aka magnoliamoonpie

    29/08/2015 at 16:18

    I always enjoy the diversity of reading material that you tantalize us with Ste J. You’ve piqued my interest about Bertrand Russell…so…perhaps I’ll check him out 🙂

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    • Ste J

      05/09/2015 at 16:31

      Excellent! I do enjoy mixing it up, if I don’t learn in some form I get sulky and there are so many wonderful writing techniques that I need to discover, it’s a compulsion! He’s a good read as well, drier wit than my tongue after a night out at the pub.

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  10. Aquileana

    07/09/2015 at 23:52

    Dear Ste… A wonderful post, indeed… So interesting to learn about Rusell´s thoughts on Political Issues… I much enjoyed the reading… Oh and this quote spoke out to me… “War does not determine who is right – only who is left”… Great!… All my best wishes. Aquileana ⭐

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    • Ste J

      09/09/2015 at 20:43

      His quick, dry wit is one of the things that made me pick his book after reading a few quotes, that and a recommendation from one of my good friends. I wish I was as quotable! best wishes backatchya!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  11. leapingtracks

    12/09/2015 at 17:07

    This sounds like a perfect read for current times given all the political upheavals going on in with the Labour Party today/SNP at the general election etc!

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    • Ste J

      12/09/2015 at 20:09

      There seems little doubt that something seismic has to happen for our governments to evolve into parties for the people again. It is a very good read and makes you wonder about what other paths we could have/still can take(n).

      Liked by 1 person

       

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