An Exchange of Letters Between Bertrand Russell and Oswald Mosley

Source: Open Culture, February 23

Bertrand RussellIn 1962 the Nobel-winning philosopher Bertrand Russell “received a series of letters from an unlikely correspondent – Sir Oswald Mosley, who had founded the British Union of Fascists thirty years earlier” writes Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova. “Mosley was inviting — or, rather, provoking — Russell to engage in a debate, in which he could persuade the moral philosopher of the merits of fascism. Even at the age of 89, with little time and much else to do, Russell declined with the utmost force and clarity.”

Dear Sir Oswald,

Thank you for your letter and for your enclosures. I have given some thought to our recent correspondence. It is always difficult to decide on how to respond to people whose ethos is so alien and, in fact, repellent to one’s own. It is not that I take exception to the general points made by you but that every ounce of my energy has been devoted to an active opposition to cruel bigotry, compulsive violence, and the sadistic persecution which has characterised the philosophy and practice of fascism.

I feel obliged to say that the emotional universes we inhabit are so distinct, and in deepest ways opposed, that nothing fruitful or sincere could ever emerge from association between us.

I should like you to understand the intensity of this conviction on my part. It is not out of any attempt to be rude that I say this but because of all that I value in human experience and human achievement.

Yours sincerely,

Bertrand Russell

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2 responses to “An Exchange of Letters Between Bertrand Russell and Oswald Mosley

  1. Michael Gundy

    Considering what a horror Sir Oswald was, I am struck by the level of civility as well as conviction shown by The Right Honourable The Earl Russell.

  2. mike holliday

    This is a brilliant letter that is as pertinent today as it was when it was written.
    Bertrand Russell’s belief that the vileness that is inherent in Fascism totally obliterates any benefits the system might bring.
    He then lists the vileness as cruel bigotry, compulsive violence and sadistic persecution, the last two stemming no doubt from the cruel bigotry.
    A great many political groups are flourishing today which have at their core the Fascist ideals even if they don’t claim the title.
    As with Fascism, the first evil, the one from which all others spring, is cruel bigotry. Does that ring any bells and cause discomfort within a lot of people who support or are thinking about supporting such parties.
    They might explain it away by focussing on the `benefits.’
    They can’t ignore the fallout should that bigotry become policy.