Chapter V
On Human Nature and Politics
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was a British philosopher
and logician. He was one of the outstanding figures of
20th Century British philosophy, especially important for
his work in mathematical logic. He published a vast
number of books on logic, theory of knowledge, and
many other topics.
On Human Nature and Politics
Undoubtedly the desire for food has been, and still is,
one of the main causes of great political events.
But man differs from other animals in one very
important respect, and that is that he has desires
– which are, so to speak(可谓), infinite,
– which can never be fully gratified, and
– which would keep him restless even in Paradise.
On Human Nature and Politics
The boa constrictor (巨蟒), when he has had an
adequate meal, goes to sleep, and does not wake until
he needs another meal.
Human beings, for the most part (绝大部分人), are not
like this.
When the Arabs, who had been used to living
sparingly(节俭) on a few dates, acquired the riches
of the Eastern Roman Empire and dwelt in palaces of
almost unbelievable luxury, they did not, on that
account (为此), become inactive(现居不动).
On Human Nature and Politics
Hunger could no longer be a motive, for Greek slaves
supplied them with exquisite viands (精美的食物) at the
slightest nod.
But other desires kept them active: four in particular,
which we can label (可以称之为) acquisitiveness, rivalry,
vanity and love of power.
Acquisitiveness (占有欲) - the wish to possess as much
as possible of goods, or the title to (所有权) goods - is a
motive which, I suppose, has its origin in a combination
of fear with the desire for necessaries.
On Human Nature and Politics
I once befriended two little girls from Esthonia, who had
narrowly escaped death from starvation in a famine (在
They lived in my family, and of course had plenty to eat.
But they spent all their leisure visiting neighbouring
farms and stealing potatoes, which they hoarded (贮藏).
On Human Nature and Politics
Rockefeller, who in his infancy had experienced great
poverty, spent his adult life in a similar manner.
Similarly the Arab chieftains could not forget the desert,
and hoarded riches far beyond any possible physical
No one can deny that it is one of the great motives especially among the more powerful, for, as I said
before, it is one of the infinite motives.
On Human Nature and Politics
However much you may acquire you will always wish
to acquire more; satiety is a dream which will always
elude you (满足是个你永远实现不了的梦 ).
But acquisitiveness is by no means the most
powerful of the motives that survive the conquest of
hunger (征服饥饿).
Rivalry (竞争) is a much stronger motive.
On Human Nature and Politics
Over and over again in Muhammadan (伊斯兰教史上)
history, dynasties have come to grief (遭难)
because the sons of a sultan(苏丹) by different
mothers could not agree,
and in the resulting civil war universal ruin resulted
The same sort of thing happens in
modern Europe.
On Human Nature and Politics
When the British Government very unwisely allowed the
Kaiser(德皇) to be present at a naval review(海军检阅
式)at Spithead,
the thought which arose in his mind was not the one
which we had intended.
What he thought was, “I must have a Navy as good as
And from this thought have sprung all our subsequent
On Human Nature and Politics
The world would be a happier place than it is if
acquisitiveness were always stronger than rivalry.
But in fact, a great many men will cheerfully face
impoverishment if they can thereby secure complete
ruin for their rivals.
On Human Nature and Politics
Vanity(虚荣心)is a motive of immense potency(巨大潜
Anyone who has much to do with children knows how
they are constantly performing some antic(滑稽动作)
and saying "Look at me".
"Look at me" is one of the most fundamental desires of
the human heart.
It can take innumerable forms, from buffoonery
(讲粗俗的笑话)to the pursuit of posthumous
On Human Nature and Politics
There was a Renaissance Italian princeling(文艺复兴
时期的意大利王公) who was asked by the priest on his
deathbed(临终前)if he had anything to repent of(忏
“Yes, ” he said. “There is one thing. On one occasion
I had a visit from the Emperor and the Pope(教皇)
I took them to the top of my tower to see the view,
and I neglected the opportunity to throw them both
down, which would have given me immortal fame(获
On Human Nature and Politics
History does not relate whether the priest gave him
absolution(免罪). One of the troubles about vanity is
that it grows with what it feeds on(随着鼓励的增加而增
The more you are talked about, the more you will wish
to be talked about.
The condemned murderer(判了刑的杀人犯)who is
allowed to see the account of his trial(审判他的报导)
in the Press is indignant(气愤)if he finds a
newspaper which has reported it inadequately(没作充
On Human Nature and Politics
And the more he finds about himself in other
newspapers, the more indignant he will be with
those whose reports are meagre(报导少的).
Politicians and literary men are in the same case.
And the more famous they become, the more
difficult the presscutting agency(剪报机构) finds it
to satisfy them.
On Human Nature and Politics
It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the influence of
vanity throughout the range of human life .
Mankind have even committed the impiety of
attributing similar desires to the deity, whom they
imagine avid for continual praise.
On Human Nature and Politics
But great as is the influence of the motives
we have been considering, there is one
which outweighs them all.
Power, like vanity, is insatiable (无法得到满足).
Nothing short of omnipotence could satisfy it
completely (只有无限权力才能使它满足).
On Human Nature and Politics
It is, indeed, by far the strongest motive in the
lives of important men.
Love of power is greatly increased by the experience of
power, and this applies to petty power as well as to that
of potentates(至尊的当权者).
In the happy days before 1914, when well-to-do ladies
could acquire a host of servants,
On Human Nature and Politics
their pleasure in exercising power over the
domestics steadily increased with age(行使权力的快
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.
On Human Nature and Politics
If you ask your boss for leave of absence
from the office on some legitimate occasion
(正当理由), his love of power will derive
more satisfaction from refusal than from
If you require a building permit, the petty official
(小负责人)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.
On Human Nature and Politics
It would be a complete mistake to decry (贬
低) love of power altogether as a motive.
Whether you will be led by this motive to actions
which are useful, or to actions which are pernicious
depends upon the social system, and upon your
capacities. (这个动机是引导你去做有益的事
On Human Nature and Politics
I come now to other motives which, though
in a sense less fundamental than those we
have been considering, are still of
considerable importance.
The first of these is love of excitement(寻求刺激).
Human beings show their superiority to the brutes
(优于牲畜)by their capacity for boredom,
On Human Nature and Politics
though I have sometimes thought, in
examining the apes at the Zoo, that they,
perhaps, have the rudiments of this
tiresome emotion (厌倦情感的萌芽).
However that may be, experience shows that escape
from boredom(摆脱厌倦)is one of the really powerful
desires(强烈愿望) of almost all human beings.
On Human Nature and Politics
When white men first effect contact with some unspoilt
race of savages (野蛮民族), they offer them all kinds of
benefits, from the light of the Gospel(基督教福音)to
pumpkin pie.
These, however, much as we may regret it(冷冷地接受),
most savages receive with indifference.
What they really value among the gifts that we bring to
them is intoxicating liquor (令人陶醉的酒),
which enables them, for the first time in their lives, to have
the illusion, for a few brief moments,
that it is better to be alive than dead.
On Human Nature and Politics
Red Indians, while they were still unaffected by
white men, would smoke their pipes, not calmly as
we do, but orgiastically, inhaling so deeply that they
sank into a faint(发狂地猛吸直至陷入昏厥).
And when excitement by means of nicotine failed, a
patriotic orator(爱国演说者)would stir them up (煽
动)to attack a neighbouring tribe,
which would give them all the enjoyment that we
derive from(从…获得)a horse race or
a General Election.
On Human Nature and Politics
It is not altogether easy to decide what is the root
cause of the love of excitement.
I incline to(倾向于)think that our mental make-up(心
理构成)is adapted to the stage when men lived by
– When a man spent a long day with very primitive
weapons in stalking a deer(跟踪一头鹿)with the
hope of dinner
– and when, at the end of the day, he dragged the
carcase triumphantly(胜利)to his cave, he sank
down in contented weariness, while
his wife dressed and cooked the meat.
On Human Nature and Politics
He was sleepy, and his bones ached, and the smell of
cooking filled every nook and cranny of his
At last after eating, he sank into deep sleep. In such a
life there was neither time nor energy for boredom.
But when he took to(从事)agriculture, and made his
wife do all the heavy work in the fields, he had time to
reflect upon the vanity of human life,
to invent mythologies and systems
of philosophy, and to dream of the
life hereafter.
On Human Nature and Politics
Our mental make-up is suited to a life of very severe
physical labour(非常重的体力劳动).
I used, when I was younger, to take my holidays
walking. I would cover 25 miles a day, and when the
evening came I had no need of anything to keep me
from boredom, since the delight of sitting amply
But modern life cannot be conducted on these physically
strenuous principles(消耗体力的原则). A great deal of
work is sedentary(坐着)and most manual
work exercises only a few specialized muscles.
On Human Nature and Politics
When London crowds assemble in Trafalgar Square to
cheer to the echo an announcement that the government
has decided to have them killed(欢呼政府决定让他们去送死
的声明), they would not do so if they had walked 25
miles that day.
This cure for bellicosity(用步行医治好战问题)is, however,
impracticable, and if the human race is to survive
other means must be found for securing an innocent
outlet(无危害的途径)for the unused physical energy
(发泄多余的体力)that produces love of excitement.
On Human Nature and Politics
This is a matter which has been too little considered,
both by moralists (道德家)and by social reformers.
The social reformers are of the opinion (认为)that they
have more serious things to consider.
The moralists, on the other hand, are immensely
impressed with (产生极大兴趣)the seriousness of all the
permitted outlets of the love of excitement;
the seriousness, however, in their minds is that of Sin.
On Human Nature and Politics
I find myself unable to be in entire agreement with the
grave men (严肃的人)who utter these warnings.
The devil has many forms, some designed to (企图)
deceive the young, some designed to deceive the old
and serious.
If it is the devil that tempts(引诱)the young to enjoy
themselves, is it not the same personage that
persuades the old to condemn(谴责)
their enjoyment?
On Human Nature and Politics
What is serious about excitement is that so many of its
forms are destructive.
– It is destructive in those who cannot resist excess in
alcohol or gambling(不能自控饮酒、赌博的人).
– It is destructive when it takes the form of mob
– And above all it is destructive
when it leads to war.
On Human Nature and Politics
It is so deep a need that it will find harmful outlets(有
害的发泄途径)of this kind unless innocent outlets (无危
害的 )are at hand(现成的).
There are such innocent outlets at present
in sport, and in politics so long as it is kept in
constitutional bounds(只要在宪法规定范围之内) .
But these are not sufficient, especially as the kind of
politics that is most exciting is also the kind that does
most harm.
On Human Nature and Politics
Civilized life has grown altogether too tame(沉闷),
and, if it is to be stable(稳定), it must provide
harmless outlets for the impulses(冲动)which our
remote ancestors(远祖)satisfied in hunting.
In Australia, where people are few and rabbits are
many, I watched a whole populace(一群老百姓)satisfying
the primitive impulse (冲动)in the primitive manner by
the skilful slaughter(屠杀)of many thousands of
But in London or New York, where people are many and
rabbits are few,
On Human Nature and Politics
some other means must be found to gratify primitive
I think every big town should contain artificial
waterfalls(人造瀑布) that people could descend in very
fragile canoes(独木舟), and they should contain bathing
pools full of mechanical sharks(机械鲨鱼).
Any persons found advocating a preventive war (鼓吹打
一场防御战)should be condemned to two hours a day
with these ingenious monsters(巧妙的怪物).
1. Esthonia — a constituent republic of the Soviet Union.
2. Rockefeller—John D.Rockefeller(1839-1937),American
industrialist who was foremost among the men who
created the modern petroleum industry in the U.S.
3. The Kaiser—German title,equivalent to emperor,
derived from the Roman title ‘‘Caesar” and first
associated with the Germans from 962 when their
kings became Holy Roman emperors.
4. Spithead—a port in Southern England,it is the eastern
part of the channel between Hampshire,on the
mainland,and the Isle of Wight.It has been an
anchorage for the Royal Navy for centuries.
5. Valhalla—from Germanic mythology,the home of the
gods, used in a commendatory sense as roughly the
equivalent of heaven.
6. Trafalgar Square—a square in London,named in
memory of a naval battle fought off Cape Trafalgar
between the British fleet under Nelson and the
combined French and Spanish fleets under Villenenve
and Gravina.The British won an overwhelming victory.

On Human Nature and Politics