How Much Government?

After nursing a slight headache, I decided it was time to get off the computer.  So what would I do with myself?  Headaches are the worst.  They really limit what you can do with yourself.  I decided to grab a book off my bookshelf called The Future Of Science, written in 1959 by Bertrand Russell.  It’s a small little book and made for a perfect diversion.

I came to small blurb on the role of government which I thought I’d share.

“The dispute between anarchism and bureaucracy at present tends to take the form of one side maintaining that we want no organization, while the other maintains that we want as much as possible.  A person imbued with the scientific spirit would hardly even examine these extreme positions.  Some people think that we keep our rooms too hot for health, others that we keep them too cold.  If this were a political question, one party would maintain that the best temperature is the absolute zero, the other that it is the melting point of iron.  Those who maintained any intermediate position would be abused as timorous time-servers, concealed agents of the other side, men who maintained any intermediate position cause by tepid appeals to mere reason.  Any man who had the courage to say that our rooms ought to be neither very hot nor very cold would be abused by both parties, and probably shot in No Man’s Land.  Possibly some day politics may become more rational but so far there is not the faintest indication of a change in this direction.

To a rational mind, the question is not:  Do we want organization or do we not?  The question is:  How much organization do we want, and where and when and of what kind?”

– Bertrand Russell, The Future Of Science

A little later he got to talking about a one world government, predicting that once communications technologies matured, power could more easily be centralized and we’d see the birth of transnational corporations.  People who controlled the natural and economic resources would battle it out, the victor setting the rules for the one world government.  He believed that people in these sorts of positions are indifferent to money, mainly because they have so much of it.  To them, it’s a sort of game – a rivalry.  Once one of them “wins” the game, they would at first be terrible tyrants and life would hard for those under them.  However, with all their rivals defeated, they would eventually grow bored with it all and release their grip on the populace.  Then things would get a lot better.  An interesting way to see world domination, to say the least.  I don’t think it was an idea he loved, but he seemed to believe that we would soon destroy ourselves fighting with one another with advanced weapons, and this was the only alternative he could think of.

“The planet is of finite size, but the most efficient size for an organization is continually increased by new scientific inventions.  The world becomes more and more of an economic unity.  Before very long the technical conditions will exist for organizing the whole world as one producing and consuming unit.  If, when that times comes, two rival groups contend for mastery, the victor may be able to introduce that single world-wide organization that is needed to prevent the mutual extermination of civilized nations.  The world which would result would be, at first, very different from the dreams of either liberals or socialists; but it might grow less different with the lapse of time.  There would be at first economic and political tyranny of the victors, a dread of renewed upheavals, and therefore a drastic suppression of liberty.  But if the first half-dozen revolts were successfully repressed, the vanquished would give up hope, and accept the subordinate place assigned to them by the victors in the great world-trust.  As soon as the holders of power felt secure, they would grow less tyrannical and less energetic.  The motive of rivalry being removed, they would not work so hard as they do now, and would soon cease to exact such hard work from their subordinates.  Life at first might be unpleasant, but it would at least be possible, which would be enough to recommend the system after a long period of warfare.  Given a stable world-organization, economic and political, even if, at first, it rested upon nothing but armed force, the evils which now threaten civilization would gradually diminish, and a more thorough democracy than that which now exists might become possible.  I believe that, owing to men’s folly, a world-government will only be established by force, and will therefore be at first cruel and despotic.  But I believe that it is necessary for the preservation of a scientific civilization, and that, if once realized, it will gradually give rise to other conditions of a tolerable existence.”

One thought on “How Much Government?”

  1. Russell’s anarchy versus bureaucracy argument is a false dichotomy because there’s more options. “Anarchy” in dumbed-down mainstream culture means “chaos”, but in the context used by anarcho-capitalists (aka AnCaps), anarchy means “lack of rulers but not lack of rules”; i.e., capitalism in the Robinson Crusoe Economics context provides all the rules needed. Of course if we humans are ever to get there, it will at least take several generations from now.

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