Bertrand Russell the Passionate Skeptic: A Biography

By Alan Wood | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X
First World War

KEYNES, in his Memoir describing Cambridge thought before the First World War, wrote that ' Bertie in particular sustained simultaneously a pair of opinions ludicrously incompatible. He held that in fact human affairs were carried on after a most irrational fashion, but that the remedy was quite simple and easy, since all we had to do was to carry them on rationally.'

I do not know whether this was a fair representation of Russell's way of talking: probably it was. But it was certainly a surprising criticism to be made of Russell by Keynes. For Russell at least recognized, the moment the war broke out in August 1914, that a lot of his previous ideas were wrong, and that men were not so rational as he had believed. He radically altered his way of thinking and his way of life accordingly. But for Keynes and some of his friends in the 'Bloomsbury' group, the war meant no such crises of thinking or feeling. For Keynes himself it meant an interesting position at the Treasury, with exemption from military service. He obviously enjoyed the way the war had brought him up in the world, and had given him friends among important people, including Asquith when he was Prime Minister. Russell once asked Keynes how he could sympathize with conscientious objectors, and yet continue his work at the Treasury--which, according to Russell, consisted in showing how to kill Germans as cheaply as possible: 'the maximum slaughter at the minimum expense.' Keynes did not reply.

Though many of Keynes's Bloomsbury friends were conscientious objectors, they did not carry conscience so far as to go to prison for it; they secured exemption by such means as working on the land. They disliked the war, but did not bear the

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