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The Prospects of Industrial Civilisation (Bertrand Russell Paperbacks) [Hardcover]

Bertrand Russell , Dora Russell
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Book Description

1 Jan 1959 Bertrand Russell Paperbacks
The Prospects of Industrial Civilization provides a rare glimpse into areas of Russell's political thought which are often ignored. Written with Dora Black (who became Russell's second wife) on a trip to China in 1920, it is revealing both as a period piece and as a book for our times. Russell criticises his own age, and demonstrates how humanity perpetually struggles against the centralising forces of industrialism and nationalism.
He views industrialism as a threat to human freedom, as it creates large populations which have to be subject to controls and he likens Bolshevik Russia to Cromwell's England, asserting that both were dictatorships designed to force an essentially feudal society to adopt industrialism. He sees industrialism and nationalism as fundamentally linked and proposes one government for the whole world as a solution.
Russell is not blind to the positive side of industrialism; without machines an economy of subsistence would be the best for which society could hope, but argues that the global village and prevailing political democracy should be its eventual results.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (1 Jan 1959)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415136024
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415136020
  • Product Dimensions: 2.9 x 13.4 x 20.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,360,729 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970). Philosopher, mathematician, educational and sexual reformer, pacifist, prolific letter writer, author and columnist, Bertrand Russell was one of the most influential and widely known intellectual figures of the twentieth century. In 1950 he was awarded the Noble Prize for Literature in 1950 for his extensive contributions to world literature and for his "rationality and humanity, as a fearless champion of free speech and free thought in the West."

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THE movement of human society, viewed throughout the period known to history, is partly cyclic, partly progressive; it resembles a tune played over and over again, but each time louder and with a fuller orchestration than before. Read the first page
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Bertrand Russell and Dora Russell 1923 - The Prospects of Industrial Civilization

Not a popular book by Russell. A second edition was published in 1959, with a preface attributed to Dora Russell (they married in 1921, for a while). It's not clear what differences were made from the first edition - the preface is worthless trivia and amusingly comments on the 'communist block' and 'spirit of free enterprise' despite the fact that book shows that even in 1918 there were huge American trusts. I'm pretty sure I once read the first edition - I remember a phrase something like 'men desire sexual intercourse with all women', which is missing from this version. Unfortunately, Russell was not averse to a bit of editing of his own past - his book 'Which Way To Peace?' published just before 1939 was never reprinted. Dora Black, 'daughter of a senior civil servant', studied Greek, Latin and German, before going to Cambridge where she got a first in Modern Languages. The details seem hard to find - but anyway after her degree she researched in France, so one assumes French was one of her languages. It's not clear to me whether she knew Russian. One has to assume she had something like zero awareness of science, technology, and industry, and I'll assume in what follows that Russell wrote most of the book, despite the claims that it was a joint effort. It seems she loved the Bolsheviks, but, with almost insane hypocrisy, disliked the 'machine age'.

First, the title and presentation. It's necessary to spend a little time on these. The title in fact is misleading. The book is in two parts, roughly speaking (1) a retrospective view of industrialism so far, and (2) a theoretical look at ethics and what a good society should be. There's a certain amount on prospects, but not much.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Inconclusive Brew - 'Great War', USSR under Jews, Chinese Civilization, Factories... 28 Nov 2011
By Rerevisionist - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Bertrand Russell and Dora Russell 1923 - The Prospects of Industrial Civilization

Not a popular book by Russell. A second edition was published in 1959, with a preface attributed to Dora Russell (they married in 1921, for a while). It's not clear what differences were made from the first edition - the preface is worthless trivia and amusingly comments on the 'communist blaock' and 'spirit of free enterprise' despite the fact that book shows that even in 1918 there were huge American trusts. I'm pretty sure I once read the first edition - I remember a phrase something like 'men desire sexual intercourse with all women', which is missing from this version. Unfortunately, Russell was not averse to a bit of editing of his own past - his book 'Which Way To Peace?' published just before 1939 was never reprinted. Dora Black, 'daughter of a senior civil servant', studied Greek, Latin and German, before going to Cambridge where she got a first in Modern Languages. The details seem hard to find - but anyway after her degree she researched in France, so one assumes French was one of her languages. It's not clear to me whether she knew Russian. One has to assume she had something like zero awareness of science, technology, and industry, and I'll assume in what follows that Russell wrote most of the book, despite the claims that it was a joint effort. It seems she loved the Bolsheviks, but, with almost insane hypocrisy, disliked the 'machine age'.

First, the title and presentation. It's necessary to spend a little time on these. The title in fact is misleading. The book is in two parts, roughly speaking (1) a retrospective view of industrialism so far, and (2) a theoretical look at ethics and what a good society should be. There's a certain amount on prospects, but not much. Russell unfortunately made little attempt to knit his essays together or signpost them. Thus a number of chapters are subdivided - I, II, and III style - but it's left to the reader to try to deduce the reasons for these subdivisions. So this book leans towards being an atomised collection of essays rather than a unified argument - his 'Human Society in Ethics and Politics' a quarter of a century later has the same rather bitty style.

Although I have a high opinion of Russell, this book is so bad that I wonder whether it has any value at all. There are some acute-ish comments, for example comparing cells of a body with individual single-celled creatures (p34 - pagination taken from the Routledge edn) though obviously this sounds Hobbesian. There's a good comparison of Calvinism with industry- for example with inheritance as something like predestination. But a lot is very weak. I'll go through bullet-point fashion---

[1] One of Russell's tricks, perhaps taken from set theory, or from Marx on classes, is to start on some topic - generally a buzzword of the time - and then, rather than define it in sufficient detail to be useful, to split it into two parts, and describe those instead, generally in some mutually hostile way. Thus (p18) two growing forces 'stand out .. Industrialism and Nationalism'. He doesn't say why these 'stand out'. He was writing soon after the 'Great War'; one might have thought that Militarism would 'stand out'. Or, in view of the Empire, race issues. Anyway, he describes 'Industrialism' as something like (p19) an extension of normal tools - Russell means the use of huge, expensive, temporarily unproductive factories and installations. He then says 'Industrialism' must be, or is, of two types - 'capitalist' or 'socialist'. And 'Nationalism' has two forms (p25) - one for the bosses, Imperialism; one for the underdogs - Self-determination. This technique is often Russell's way of smuggling in various assumptions.

[2] Russell had little feeling for technology and science; and Dora presumably even less so. Russell never quite got the feeling for the difference between description and analysis. All his material on 'Industry' was based on Britain, the USA, and Europe, including steam-powered engines, the cotton cloth industry, coal, and iron. Why did he pick these? He had no predictive technique - if he'd been born in 1700 he could have predicted none of these. His material relies on other peoples' having decided to try these things, and get them to operate. This means all his pontification is somewhat pointless, because he seems to have no way to suggest how it ought to have been different. His mental model of 'Industrialism' is of spoil heaps, muck, sweat, labourers, huge factories, and top-hatted capitalists. (Stalin had a different scheme - on behalf of his foreign controllers, to import factories and arm the USSR for all-out war against Europe. This is 'industrialism' of a sort, too.) Apart from the aims oligrachs might have, there's the issue of techniques: for all Russell knew, simple methods for extracting food and water and heating and clothing, and making tools, might have been on the point of being invented. This thread runs through the entire book, as does his view that there are significant numbers of 'idle rich'. He dislikes these as much as militarists who want to kill people cheaply.

[3] Russell tended to regard ideas, and groups of ideas, as purely psychological, and independent of the physical world. To use his own style of commentary, we might divide ideas, or ideologies, into two parts. One part is the set of ideas imposed by ruling groups. The other part is ideas which reflect the actual world. For example, on sexual attitudes, Russell says little about the realities of pregnancy and disease and economics, but treats beliefs purely as though they are tokens which can be altered. A very important mistake in Russell is the assumption that religious beliefs are pure superstitions. He has no feel for the way Christianity may have acted as a 'politically correct' glue binding together assorted groups, as were found in the Roman Empire. This may apply to the Russian Orthodox Church after about 1600 - I don't know; but nor does Russell. And he has no feel for the way tribal cults, notably Judaism and Islam, and also Hinduism, don't permit instant change or conversion.

[4] Russell included quite a few Darwinian themes as evidence for some aspects of human behaviour. He thought people had genuine spontaneous friends becuse they were people who would help the befriended person have a maximum number of children. (p151) - 'Our instincts, in the main, are such as would be likely to achieve [a large number of descendants] in a rather uncivilized community.' This contrasts oddly with his comments on nearly-static white populations. He thought there is an instinct of hostility to remote people - and yet how could an instinct evolve in any creature, for creatures so far away it couldn't even know they existed?

[5] Russell was rather naive about newspapers. Continuing the previous theme, how can anyone know about faraway places, other than by being told about them? If a genuine instinct for war exists, why is there any need for propaganda at all?

[6] Russell had no idea of the influence of Jews, or, if he did, it shows in none of his books. He doesn't mention the 'Federal Reserve'. He notes President Wilson and the 'American' (meaning USA's) entry into the Great War (p180), but has no mention of the Balfour Declaration. He quotes from a 1918 investigation into US meat packing (pp 176-81) - on similar lines to Upton Sinclair's 'The Jungle' - but not on US credit and money.

[7] Quite an important part of Russell - which I hadn't understood until I read this book - is how Freud's idea of the unconscious was used by Russell to excuse Jews and others. This is how it works: Russell knew the USSR after the Jewish coup was run by Jews - he met a number of them, in fact. They told him they were bringing about socialism, or some other lie, correctly perceiving Russell as a stupid goy. (Russell in this book quotes quite a chunk of writings by Lenin (Ulyanov), pp 92ff, and Trotsky (Bernstein - p74 in a 1922 newspaper letter) In both cases Russell shows no awareness they might be lying.) Russell writes that Bolsheviks, and other more or less autocratic types, are 'unconscious' of the fact that their idea of the State just happens to give them a key position in it! How could this possibly apply to a group that spent years of planning against the Tsar?

[8] Russell's idea of 'justice' is spelt out (p 233): '.. no one will inherit money, no one will own more land than he can cultivate himself, no one will be supported in voluntary idleness if he is physically fit for work. ....' It's clear that, though Russell expects progress, he has no reliable way to ensure it will happen, or happen in the right direction. However he says (pp 234-5) '.. Socialism.. is only possible .. if the population is stationary... the less prolific races will have to defend themselves against the more prolific by methods which are disgusting even if they are necessary. In the meantime our aspirations .. have to be confined to the white races.. perhaps with the inclusion of the Japanese and Chinese..' The second part of the book is clearly largely rhetorical. Incidentally this book was published only about a year after his 'The Problem of China' - in my view a better book. Russell found the Chinese loveable, and civilized, and part of his idealism section in this book was clearly based on traditional China, then in its transitional state.

[9] Throughout the book there are flickers of such problems as 'the crisis of overproduction' and whether capital equipment should be exported to areas which currently have cheap labour. Russell quotes a book by Lord Leverhulme (who controlled manufacture of soap and other products; his 1918 book was 'The Six Hour Day') and Myers 'Mind and Work' (1900). The first says that, provided there's machinery, six hours a day is enough. The second drew attention to fatigue and stated in effect that productivity was pretty much the same with shorter hours, a lesson reinforced by wartime arms production. It seems to follow that strenuous people would end up running unproductive bureaucracies, fake charities, or frauds of the NASA type, but Russell only notices weapons production in this theoretical result of industrialism. Rather oddly he says nothing of the possibility that 'developed' industrial countries could help other countries build their own machines, something the Bolsheviks were in effect secretly funded to do.

The 1996 edition has an introduction by Louis Greenspan, who unfortunately appears to be involved with the large team editing Russell's papers. He comments that Russell's book was published in same year the 'Frankfurt School' was established by Horkheimer. He presumably thinks he's a Jew; the introduction is a disgraceful piece of hackery ignoring the mass murders by 'Jews' in the Soviet Union regime of so-called 'socialism'. The bias is so extreme it casts doubt on the accuracy of the entire McMasters University project on Russell.
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