What humans want most | Daily News

What humans want most

What is power? Where exactly lies power? Who is the most powerful person? What is the most powerful state in the world? Can power be sustained all throughout one’s lifetime? These are some of the common questions raised by the people around us. Most of those questions were addressed by the well known British philosopher and essayist Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) as far back as 1938 in a well-written work titled Power, a New Social Analysis.

The work came to be so popular that six editions came to be printed within one decade. On re-reading the work I found that the contents are more ‘modern’ than one seems to assume taking the time gap in which it is written. The work triggers off from the concept of the impulse to power, followed by a series of philosophical interpretations to such issues as leaders and followers, the forms of power, priestly power, kingly power, naked power, revolutionary power, economic power, power over opinion, creeds as sources of power, powers and forms of governments, power and moral codes, power philosophies, the ethics of power and taming of power etc.

Human desires

Initially, as Russell points out, ‘between man and other animals, there are various differences. Some intellectual and some emotional. One of the chief emotional differences is that some human desires unlike those of animals are essentially boundless and incapable of complete satisfaction with this as at the outset Russell takes the reader to realms of the social structure of his day that was torn between world wars. He culls an example from the history of kings, queens, ministers, statesmen, chieftains, rulers and their lackeys, interpreting the various rules and their functions as related to power.

He tries to explain the power systems the man has acquired in order to safeguard his own protection as well as dignity. The wonder is that as a philosopher cum pacifist, Russell shows signs of a daring critic of the power structure which he was surrounded. Despite passing mere sweeping judgments Russell attempt to clarify his standpoint as a social thinker whose voice is fresh for all times.

As such, as a conclusive measure he says that out of the infinite desires of man, the chief is the desires for power and glory. This paves the way for steps taken by the humans either for their well being or for their own disaster. Russell tries to explain the power impulse as twofold: explicit in leaders; and implicit in their followers. This is followed by an interpretation.

Courage and sagacity

“When men willingly follow a leader, they do so with a view to the acquisition of power by the group which he commands, and they feel that his triumphs are theirs. Most men do not feel in themselves the competence required for leading their group to victory and therefore seek out a captain who appears to possess the courage and sagacity necessary for the achievement of supremacy.”

It looks as if Russell has not left any stone unturned in the search analysis of power. He maintains that power is a characteristic of the men who are causally important. As such, the love of power is extended into our main categories that go as priestly power, kingly power, revolutionary power and economic power. Followed by the interpretation of each of the categories, Russell tries to explain the sense behind power and moral codes and power philosophies devoted mainly to the communicative factors that lay embedded within it. As Russell observes the power of priests is more obviously connected with morals than any other form of power. In Christian countries, as he states virtue consists in obedience to the will of God and it is priests who know what the will of God commands. There is a well-known dictum that goes as knowledge is power.

Perhaps Russell maintain the meaning of the dictum as taking into account four significant factors: power lying within a particular unit of execution, power over the members of an academic faculty who are constantly in search of knowledge, the power disseminated by a particular group of members as a conclusive measure pertaining to a particular area of study and the power of learning that over-pervades the existing pattern of thinking.

Naked power

Russell coins a new term: naked power. That seems to be limited to one’s own way of obtaining a new form of power.

“As the beliefs and habits which have upheld traditional power decay, it gradually gives way either o power based upon some, new belief, or to naked power, to the kind that involves no acquiescence on the part of the subject.”

With this view, some people over the years have exhibited one’s own power in a limitless manner, that denounces the powers. One of the most interesting interpretations is embedded in the chapter on revolutionary power. Russell takes into consideration four categories: early Christianity, the Reformation, the French Revolution and Nationalism, and Socialism and the Russian Revolution. By the elaboration of each category, the reader is made to know how the revolutionary power had been rooted in the countries that gave root to each revolutionary power.

The power of a stable state, as well as the power of the welfare measures in a country, depends on the economic power. Russell observes that the economic power, unlike military power, is not primary but derivative. Within one state, it depends on the law. In international dealings, it is only on minor issues that it depends on the law but when large issues are involved it depends upon war or the threat of war. It has been customary to accept economic power without analysis and this has led in modern times to an undue emphasis upon economies as opposed to war and propaganda in the causal interpretation of history.

Through the pages in ‘Power’, Russell comes closer and closer as a thinker than a mere teacher. All in all, Russell seems to believe that it is not ultimately by violence that men are ruled but by the wisdom of those who appeal to the common desires of mankind for happiness for inward and outward peace, and for the understanding of the world in which, by no choice of our own, we have to live.

This, I felt, is the type of book that needs more attention to local planners of education. Each chapter leads to a penetrative insight into the well of power and how it should be understood.

The structure of the work is not at all high flown, perhaps meant to be ready by the average literati. 



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