Top positive review
In Praise of Russell
on 8 August 2017
This book is surprisingly prescient for having been written in the thirties/interwar years UK, I think perhaps because a lot of Russell writes about in "The Ancestry of Fascism" about reason and unreason would not be amiss today, or what he has to say about contemplative thinking contra vigorous action (a theme of a number of the essays) resembles what Carl Cederstrom, in The Wellness Syndrome, have had to say about life logging neo-liberal self-improv. culture.
The principle essay which the book is named for is what might, on the face of it, appear most absurd, until you realize that what Russell is talking about is what has been referred to more recently as being "time poor". As Russell puts it: "Modern technique has made it possible for leisure, within limits, to be not the prerogative of small privileged classes, but a right distributed throughout the community", further, "The morality of work is the morality of slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery" and further (to leave no doubt): "I think that these is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached".
What Russell suggests is that the "leisure class" has been a boon for civilization, the world is indebted to men of leisure for culture, so this condition should be extended to everyone via the medium of the four hour working day. Russell suggests that the inclusion of women in the workforce and modern technics had actually made for this during the war as it proved necessary to free up a portion of the labour force from their conventional work for fighting and munitions manufacturing. Besides this Russell makes some points about production and saving trumping spending and consuming, something he felt was wrong and largely attributable to superstition and legacies of earlier, out of date, thinking.
Russell considers contemplative thinking to be the best way to spend idle time, using examples such as thinking about the origin and history of apricots and peaches enriching the enjoyment of eating one. In this book Russell is writing in contradistinction to such thinking as that of Theodore Roosevelt in "The Strenuous Life", or communism and fascism's state of constantly mobilised industry and action.
In a number of the succeeding essays in this collection Russell returns to the criticism of fascism, communism, particularly in "The Ancestry of Fascism" and "Scylla and Charybdis, or Communism and Fascism", in "The Case for Socialism" Russell advocates socialism largely as the alternative to both totalitarian systems, the system most likely to result in a measure of the idleness advocated in the title essay and dealing with issues such as the power of finance and banking (which he deals with in "The Modern Midas", outlining a situation which sounds a lot like Britain before the "too big to fail" bailout and successive Conservative party victories).
The rest of the essays are a little like what you may expect someone who has been at liberty to engage in enough contemplating thinking would come up with, which is a distinctly mixed bag. In addition to idle time Russell's advocacy of a single world state and world bank feature quite heavily, as the introduction and preface state this does appear a little naive and I do think is largely to do with his rejection of nationalism. While I enjoyed all the essays in the book, enjoying Russell's unique style of writing for the most part, in particular "Modern Homogeneity", "Stoicism and Mental Health" and "On Comets" and "What is the Soul?" were my favourites, although this is probably largely a matter of personal taste.