Tag Archives: bertrand russell

Nietzsche on Women

I am currently engrossed in William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. It is a superbly well-written — and chilling — history of one of illiberalism’s purest expressions.

Nietzsche, the unthinking man’s favorite philosopher, had a large influence on Hitler’s thought. He contributed, among other things, to the National Socialists’ less-than-enlightened views on women. Discussing that influence in a footnote on page 100, Shirer gives two Nietzsche quotes worth repeating:

Men shall be trained for war and woman for the procreation of the warrior. All else is folly.

And, from Thus Spake Zarathustra:

Thou goest to woman? Do not forget thy whip!

Bertrand Russell, ever sharp of tongue, and knowing of Nietzsche’s lifelong aversion to the fairer sex, rebutted on p. 730 of his History of Western Philosophy:

[N]ine women out of ten would get the whip away from him, and he knew it, so he kept away from women, and soothed his vanity with unkind remarks.

Game, set, match.

Before Lawyers

Before there were lawyers, there were philosophers. The Sophists, given a bad name by Plato, earned their bread by teaching people how to plead their cases in court. There being no professional lawyers in 5th century B.C. Athens, people had to represent themselves. Witness this tale (probably too good to be true) of the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Protagoras:

It is said that [Protagoras] taught a young man on the terms that he should be paid his fee if the young man won his first law-suit, but not otherwise, and that the young man’s first law-suit was one brought by Protagoras for recovery of his fee.

Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy, p. 75.

Politics 101: Machiavelli and Public Choice

When Niccolo Machiavelli died in 1527, Washington, DC was still more than two and a half centuries away from being founded. But he understood perfectly how that dismal city would work, as Bertrand Russell reminds:

“In the absence of any guiding principle, politics becomes a naked struggle for power; The Prince give shrewd advice as to how to play this game successfully.”

-Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy, xxii-xxiii.

Machiavelli was, in many ways, the first modern public choice theorist. Had he lived in a post-Adam Smith world, he would have made a fine economist. A politician’s guiding principle is usually not ideology. It is to remain in power. So they behave accordingly. The first lesson of economics is that people respond to incentives. If someone’s incentive is to get re-elected, they will behave in a way conducive to achieving that goal. Morality and the greater good compete for a distant second.