Bertrand Russell? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent intellectual Bertrand Russell apparently expressed in a private letter a deeply cynical viewpoint about humanity. He suggested that the oppressed simply wished to become the oppressors, and the populace competed to become criminals instead of victims. Would you please help me to find a citation?
Quote Investigator: On December 17, 1920 Bertrand Russell sent a letter to his lover Ottoline Morrell. He was dispirited because the recent independence of Poland achieved via the Versailles Treaty had been followed by warfare between Polish and Ukrainian forces. In addition, his opinion of Bolsheviks and other groups had soured. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1
But I think all mankind utterly vile. The Bolsheviks, till I knew them, seemed better; now they don’t.
Russell’s dejection facilitated a belief that the moral distinctions between groups were transitory and illusory:
People seem good while they are oppressed, but they only wish to become oppressors in their turn: life is nothing but a competition to be the criminal rather than the victim. The world is rushing down into barbarism, and there seems nothing to do but keep alive civilization in one’s corner, as the Irish did in the 7th and 8th centuries.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 2002, The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell, Volume 2: Public Years 1914-1970, Letter To: Ottoline Morrell, Letter From: Bertrand Russell, Letter Date: December 17, 1920, Start Page 213, Quote Page 214, Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, London and New York. (Verified with Kindle Edition) ↩