Nice People Explained: Bertrand Russel

I first read Bertrand Russell’s essay collection Why I am not a Christian In the early 70’s. One essay that affected me in particular, and that still intrigues me is Russell’s “Nice People.”

Skeptics Guide to the Universe Forum excerpt:

— Quote from: “Mike Foster” —I’ve been reading Why I Am Not A Christian, And Other Essays by Bertrand Russell. In it, he launches a fairly sarcastic – even scathing – attack on ‘nice people’ in a c1931 essay called . . .’Nice People’! He talks about people who think they are nice as often indirectly selfish, unappreciative, aloof, deceptive and inclined to exercise power indirectly through gossip etc.

It’s been a few years since this essay was published, but I am quite humbled at its timeliness. A great touchstone indeed.

Bertrand Russell

“Nice People” rather reminds me of Jonathan Swift’s bombastic apologist in Gulliver’s Travels. Swift’s finely pompous character is merrily describing the land of his birth. His pride at its prowess is figuratively exceptional: sufficient to pop his vest buttons, had he been wearing a vest. Let’s imagine they are gold buttons to polish the metaphor. So he extols the virtue of his beloved British Empire at considerable length. Russell waits, as did Swift, until the very end of his writing before telling us the salient distinguishing feature of these very nicely described Nice People. Unfortunately they have nasty minds.

Nice people may also be found among those affecting membership in “The Silent Majority.”

5 thoughts on “Nice People Explained: Bertrand Russel”

  1. From personal observation: the worst kind of people are those who are convinced they are nice. Nice people are those who never think of themselves as being nice, or good or exceptional in any way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Ellen! Thank you for this kind comment. Bertrand Russell had a way with essay titles written to irk the entitled— “In Praise of Idleness” remains timeless, the test for a touchstone. Richard Nixon coined “silent majority” in 1969, the year I graduated from university. The rhetoric that appeals to the Tea Party, America First, or simply “Republicans” remains the same. Ayn Rand’s “The Virtue of Selfishness” still appeals to the very nicest folks. As the 1970s morphed into Reaganism and Thatcherism, I recall seeing ominous books at bookstores: such gentle titles as Robert Ringer’s Winning Through Intimidation — a bellwether, unfortunately. I’ve just discovered that Sinclair Lewis wrote “It Can’t Happen Here” in the same year that Bertrand Russell wrote “Nice People.” Gads!

      Liked by 1 person

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