Russell’s life seems to have been inexorably drawn towards disaster, determined on its course by two fundamental traits of character: a deep-seated fear of madness and a quite colossal vanity

Ray Monk spent more than 10 years on his two volume biography of Bertrand Russell. He comments:

Another reason – perhaps the main one – that this has been a difficult book to write has been my growing realisation of the tragedy of Russell’s life . . .I do not just mean that there was sadness in Russell’s life, though, to be sure, the degree of suffering he endured – and caused – has been one of the hardest revelations of my work on this book…what I mean when I speak of tragedy is principally that Russell’s life seems to have been inexorably drawn towards disaster, determined on its course by two fundamental traits of character: a deep-seated fear of madness and a quite colossal vanity…He was, it sometimes seems, simply not capable of loving another human being.  Russell had what he considered to be an exalted conception of love — which he expressed in Marriage and Morals and in numerous other places — according to which love takes the form of ‘merging’ one ego with another.  In many of his political writings this notion reappears as the duty to love humanity in the sense of regarding all humanity as, in some sense, coextensive with one’s ego.  One might regard this as a harmlessly fanciful way of urging people to empathise with each other, but Russell’s relations with those close to him suggest another interpretation: that he was unable to conceive of loving another person unless he could regard that person as part of himself.  In other words, loving another was, for him, inconceivable. He was, as it were (as, indeed, his epistemology maintains we all are), trapped inside the boundaries of his own ego. He could imagine — and frequently did imagine — extending those boundaries, but what he could not imagine doing was reaching out beyond them. Would that this was only a theoretical problem, but the experience of Russell’s wives, children and friends suggests that, on this point, theory and practice combined in the most devastating manner.

Ray Monk, Bertrand Russell: The Ghost of Madness: 1921-1970 (xi-xii)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: