Bertrand Russell the Passionate Skeptic: A Biography

By Alan Wood | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
Berlin and Marxism

BERTRAND RUSSELL did not simplify the task of any future student or biographer by dividing his career neatly into distinct phases concerned with different subjects. He always had the confusing habit of being interested in any number of different things at once: the diversity of his interests was almost as great as the complexity of his character. He himself once summed up his career by the characteristic remark that when he became too stupid for mathematics he took to philosophy,and that when he became too stupid for philosophy he turned to history. It is true that, between the ages of eleven and thirty- eight, his greatest interest was in the foundations of mathematics; and that he abandoned any further work in this field when he was about sixty-five. But his overriding interest in mathematics and philosophy did not stop him working on economics in Berlin the year after his marriage, and his first published book was political.

He often described an occasion in March 1895, walking through melting snow in the Tiergarten in Berlin, when he resolved to write a series of books--one beginning with the most abstract subjects like mathematics, and becoming more and more concrete; the other beginning with politics and economics, and becoming more and more abstract. They were to meet in a complete synthesis, combining theory and practice. He wrote the books; but, since he had ceased to be a Hegelian, no final synthesis emerged.

Russell's family background ensured his interest in politics, and there were few important figures in British public life, from Gladstone to Churchill, with whom he was not familiar. He described in Unpopular Essays his most vivid recollection of

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