The Triumph of Stupidity

russellThe following essay was written by Bertrand Russell in 1933. I have changed the names of the countries and made some minor amendments to make it applicable to today:

What has been happening in America is a matter of the gravest portent for the whole civilised world. Throughout the last hundred and fifty years, individual Americans have done more to further civilisation than the individuals of any other country; during the latter half of this period, Americans, collectively, have been equally effective in degrading civilisation. At the present day the most distinguished names in the world of learning are still American; a most degraded and brutal government is also American. Of the individual Americans whose work has caused America to be respected, some are in exile, some in hiding, and some have disappeared, their fate unknown. Given a few years of fascist rule, America will sink to the level of a horde of Goths.

What has happened? What has happened is quite simple. Those elements of the population which are both brutal and stupid (and these two qualities usually go together) have combined against the rest. By murder, by torture, by imprisonment, by the terrorism of armed forces, they have subjected the intelligent and humane parts of the nation and seized power with the view of furthering the glory of the Homeland.

What has happened in America may well happen elsewhere. The British Fascists are not as yet a large party, but they are growing rapidly, and if at any future time there should be danger of a Labour Government that meant business, they would win the support of most of the governing classes. …

Brute force plays a much larger part in the government of the world than it did before 2001, and what is especially alarming, force tends increasingly to fall into the hands of those who are enemies of civilisation. The danger is profound and terrible; it cannot be waved aside with easy optimism.

The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt. Even those of the intelligent who believe that they have a nostrum are too individualistic to combine with other intelligent men from whom they differ on minor points. This was not always the case. Two hundred years ago the philosophical radicals formed a school of intelligent men who were just as sure of themselves as the Trumpites are; the result was that they dominated politics and that the world advanced rapidly both in intelligence and in material well-being.

It is quite true that the intelligence of the philosophical radicals was very limited. It is, I think, undeniable that the best men of the present day have a wider and truer outlook, but the best men of that day had influence, while the best men of this are impotent spectators. Perhaps we shall have to realise that scepticism and intellectual individualism are luxuries which in our tragic age must be forgone, and if intelligence is to be effective, it will have to be combined with a moral fervour which it usually possessed in the past but now usually lacks.

In this gloomy state of affairs, the brightest spot is Europe. In Europe democracy still appears well established, and those in power deal with what is amiss by constructive measures, not by pogroms and wholesale imprisonment. … Perhaps Europe is destined to save America from the consequences of its excesses.

11 thoughts on “The Triumph of Stupidity

  1. Bonechilling…

    One can only hope Congress and the Supreme Court fulfill that highest duty the Founding Fathers charged it with; to hold the Executive in check. But I really do feel that there are a few von Papens among the GOP ranks.

  2. I read a comment the other day that the vote for Trump was a big F.U. to the powers that be by Americans who don’t like be told or expected to vote for someone. The phrase, cutting the nose off to spite the face came to mind. Australia’s no better, demagogues and mountebanks abound. The media only cares about sizzle, substance is ignored or reported to suit an angle to generate more sizzle……How long until we stumble into a world-war?

  3. Ye Gods! And look what the world of 1933 led to shortly thereafter. Big differences now in the ability of even small nations, let alone large, to wreak havoc on a global scale.

    I hope we are all wrong and that the fascists take a turn at power and everyone decides NOPE! but it isn’t looking good, is it.

  4. As a child in the Second World War I became aware of the horrors of Fascism and my one wish was that people would learn to live together in harmony – and never again ,,, ,,, but we never learn.

    Off we are going down the same road – only this time everyone had far more deadly weapons to destroy the imagined bogey men the Fascists believe at the root of all evil – because they are incapable of looking in a mirror and seeing the irrational hate in their own eyes.

  5. The bit that doesn’t translate so well is the last “there is hope in Europe”, which was America in the original. While Russell was right in his time, Europe is now more doubtful; Britain cutting off its nose to spite its face with Brexit, the worrying rise of Marine le Pen,and Merkel’s unpopularity in Germany (though I can’t see that a far right alternative has yet got to the point where it could lead a government, but there’s a year to go yet).

    Which is depressing.

  6. Potential colapse of the Italian banking system (fallout from a potential negative outcome consitutional referendum on 4th December 2016) is the nightmare, as it makes Greece look like a walk in the park.

    Swiftly followed by a National Front victory in France, starts to look like game over.

    The potential for lights to be turned off all over Europe has never seemed so close.

    Union of European states has been succesfull in keeping the peace since the 40’s.

    Just gotta hope the centre holds.

  7. “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

    Can take some small comfort that Yeats at his close appears to suggest prophecy is a retrospective activity.

    In the moment and without history, custom, law, its state is fragile, shapeless and unsightly.

    ‘mutum et turpe pecus’ as Horrace once framed it. One enlightenment philsophical perspective notes that Horraces line ‘contains the whole of human history as if in minature.’

    It certianly seems a question we are repeatedlly compelled to return to and examine.

    1. Yes. I think thats an example of self -fulfilling prophecy. The question is always, how much faith?. Cocksure or filled with doupt? The formula for popular medieval prophecy, know the geography or pick a known battle- site and predict accordingly.

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