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Political Ideals (Great Books in Philosophy)

Political Ideals (Great Books in Philosophy)

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Originally published in 1917, this early work by Bertrand Russell still offers much thought-provoking material on the subject of political philosophy. Russell criticizes both capitalism and socialism based on his strong conviction that everything of value comes ultimately from the individual. The only true aim of politics, he says, is to give free play, as far as possible, to every person's natural creativity. This means that political systems should be designed to curb the deadening forces of acquisition, power, and convention, all of which tend to stifle individual creative impulses.

Russell names four main goals that an ideal political system should accomplish: the greatest possible production of goods and technical progress; securing distributive justice; ensuring security against destitution; and, most importantly, the liberation of creative impulses and the limiting of possessive impulses. While capitalism efficiently accomplishes the first goal—producing goods and fostering technological innovation—it does little to guarantee the remaining goals. On the other hand, socialism offers little incentive to creativity and is notoriously inefficient in the production of goods and in technological progress, even though it goes a long way toward ensuring equitable distribution of wealth and eliminating the specter of destitution. But individual liberty is subordinated to the demands of the state. Russell suggests that in an ideal system there would be autonomy within each politically important group and the principle of employee-ownership and self-governance within businesses would be the norm. Government would serve only as a neutral authority to decide questions between the various self-governing groups. Vintage Russell, this collection of concise essays should be on the bookshelf of everyone interested in political science or the relation of the individual to society.