McMaster University



A New Speech by Bertrand Russell: Comments to the Cultural Committee at the Congress of Europe, 8 May 1948

I wish to make a few observations of a somewhat general character; I hope that they are not unduly general. I observe in this report what I have observed in various other places in recent times and what is contrary to historical truth, i.e. the building up of an idea of Western European man as different from the rest of the world.

From the report one would gather that Western Europeans have been exceptional in their devotion to toleration and liberty, whereas down to the end of the seventeenth century they have been more intolerant, more persecuting than any people in any other part of the world. We have learned tolerance with very great difficulty, whereas in other parts of the world—in China, India, among Mahometans—you find a much greater readiness for tolerance.

What has distinguished us is the pursuit of knowledge, of scientific truth, which we got from the Greeks and then from the scientific renascence. That has been our distinctive peculiarity, not any of those large moral ideas, which I find equally prevalent in other regions.

Now if we are going to start trying to envisage a unity in the West, we should do it not by stressing our superiority to other parts of the world—because we shall then only be creating a new Western European nationalism—but by minimizing the difference between the different parts of Western Europe, which are indeed not very important or profound.

Finally I would just like to say that I do support the idea of a Cultural Centre. Of course there are financial difficulties, but they can be overcome. And it is extremely important that men of the different countries of Western Europe should come closely in contact with each other to learn each others' points of view and develop a unity on which co-operation can be based.

(Source: Congress of Europe—May 1948—Verbatim Report, IV Cultural Committee [The Hague: 1949], pp. 6-7; reprinted as Congress of Europe [Strasbourg: Conseil de l'Europe, 1999], pp. 332-3.)

Last revised 10 October 2014 by Kenneth Blackwell.