From the grave

What Bertrand Russell thinks about Mubarak’s address.

Exactly 41 years ago to the day the great British philosopher Bertrand Russell died. Among the countless works that will continue to bring him posthumous recognition, are his various treatises on human psychology and the one thing he considered the principle driving force in social life – power.

As Hosni Mubarak addressed the millions of Egyptian people, marching, protesting, bursting with revolutionary fervour intent on seeing him vacate a Presidential seat he’s occupied for 30 years, I pondered over what Russell would think of Mubarak, and his address, wherein he promised to step down – eventually. 

Below are extracts from Russell’s articles on political power and the book, “The Conquest of Happiness”, offset with extracts of Mubarak’s latest speech:

BR: The statesman who has gradually concentrated all power within himself in order that he may be able to carry out the high and noble aims which have led him to eschew comfort and enter the arena of public life, is amazed at the ingratitude of the people when they turn against him. 


HM: “Those protests were transformed from a noble and civilised phenomenon of practising freedom of expression to unfortunate clashes, mobilised and controlled by political forces that wanted to escalate and worsen the situation. They targeted the nation’s security and stability through acts of provocation theft and looting and setting fires and blocking roads and attacking vital installations and public and private properties and storming some diplomatic missions.”

BR: It never occurs to him that his work may have had anything but a public motive, or that the pleasure of controlling affairs may have in any degree inspired his activities. The phrases which are customary on the platform and in the Party Press have gradually come to him to seem to express truths, and he mistakes the rhetoric of partisanship for a genuine analysis of motives.

HM: “I have never, ever been seeking power and the people know the difficult circumstances that I shouldered my responsibility and what I offered this country in war and peace, just as I am a man from the armed forces and it is not in my nature to betray the trust or give up my responsibilities and duties…Hosni Mubarak who speaks to you today is proud of the long years he spent in the service of Egypt and its people. This dear nation is my country, it is the country of all Egyptians, here I have lived and fought for its sake and I defended its land, its sovereignty and interests and on this land I will die and history will judge me and others for our merits and faults.

BR: Power, like vanity, is insatiable. Nothing short of omnipotence could satisfy it completely. And as it is especially the vice of energetic men, the causal efficacy of love of power is out of all proportion to its frequency. It is, indeed, by far the strongest motive in the lives of important men.

HM: “My primary responsibility now is security and independence of the nation to ensure a peaceful transfer of power in circumstances that protect Egypt and the Egyptians and allow handing over responsibility to whoever the people choose in the coming presidential election.”

BR: In any autocratic regime, the holders of power become increasingly tyrannical with experience of the delights that power can afford. Since power over human beings is shown in making them do what they would rather not do, the man who is actuated by love of power is more apt to inflict pain than to permit pleasure. If you ask your boss for leave of absence from the office on some legitimate occasion, his love of power will derive more satisfaction from a refusal than from a consent. If you require a building permit, the petty official concerned will obviously get more pleasure from saying ‘No’ than from saying ‘Yes’. It is this sort of thing which makes the love of power such a dangerous motive.

HM: “I am now absolutely determined to finish my work for the nation in a way that ensures handing over its safe-keeping and banner … preserving its legitimacy and respecting the constitution.

“I will work in the remaining months of my term to take the steps to ensure a peaceful transfer of power.

“I will entrust the new government to perform in ways that will achieve the legitimate rights of the people and that its performance should express the people and their aspirations of political, social and economic reform and to allow job opportunities and combating poverty, realising social justice.

“I also demand the judicial and supervisory authorities to take immediately the necessary measures to continue pursuing outlaws and to investigate those who caused the security disarray and those who undertook acts of theft, looting and setting fires and terrorising citizens.

“This is my pledge to the people during the last remaining months of my current term: I ask God to help me to honour this pledge to complete my vocation to Egypt and its people in what satisfies God, the nation and its people.”

BR: Disgusted and disillusioned, he retires from the world after the world has retired from him, and regrets that he ever attempted so thankless a task as the pursuit of the public good.

HM: “I say in all honesty and regardless of the current situation that I did not intend to nominate myself for a new presidential term. I have spent enough years of my life in the service of Egypt and its people.”

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