It is not easy to tell the true picture of those people held with high regard in society. These people are usually considered virtuous and held in very high esteem. Russell, in his work, opens the curtain behind which such people hide.
Russell sets off the argument by describing some kind of universal perception of a ‘good’ man; one who does not drink or smoke, avoids bad language, attends church regularly and holds correct opinions on all subjects.
Rusell feels that such a perception is subversive. He criticizes Bentham’s definition of a ‘good’ man as one who does good (Russell, 2004).
The Harm that Good Men Do
The argument is whether ‘good’ men on average do more good than ‘bad’ men. Russell reveals that ‘bad’ people could be more honest than ‘good’ men could. For instance, it is ironical for ‘good’ men to pretend to vouch for peace yet they keep arming themselves by the day.
This can even be seen in our present-day states. The ones that ‘preach’ peace are the ones that have the most sophisticated weapons. Russell says that a ‘bad’ person wonders why one who desires for peace ends up preparing for war. If you desire for peace prepare for peace!
Can politicians be classified as ‘good’ men? Russell feels that they form ‘…a smoke-screen behind which others carry on their activities unsuspected’ (Russell, 2004). We are told, it is not easy for a ‘good’ man to suspect his friends with shady deals as this forms part of his (‘good’ man’s) goodness.
Here Russell could be suggesting that the so-called ‘good’ men overlook what is perceived inappropriate in the eyes of the public provided that it is not known.
And in most cases, should an issue come to this level, what the ‘good’ men will do is either publicly opt to shame the ‘wrongdoer’ in public; decide to blackmail one by way of demanding cash or else he be exposed.
This is quite true with those many scandals covers- ups that only get strong criticism only once exposed (Russell, 2004).
Many, who are always aware of such, just keep quiet only to open their mouths when they discover that their names could be besmirched if they do not distance themselves publicly. In fact what Russell feels good men use the ‘tag’ to suppress their competitors as well as hoodwink the masses.
Through blind support for ‘good’ men, a lot of havoc can be caused. For example, due to the death of a supposedly ‘good’ man, Archduke Ferdinand, who was murdered in Sarajevo, the whole world went to war.
It is only after the atrocities for the war were found to be enormous that the world realized its folly. It was now necessary to establish institutions that could guard against war by highly discouraging militarism such as the United Nations.
Being economical with information is another harmful thing that the ‘good’ men do. Russell gives the example of venereal disease.
Instead of the so-called good men disseminating the right in information through simple precautionary measures, they wait until many contracts it so that they learn from their own mistakes (Russell, 2004).
This could play itself in the modern world as the public has insufficient information as discovered by experts. It is only after a disaster has occurred that you may hear of many saying how effects emanating from that disaster could have been averted.
In a nutshell, Bertrand Russell in this essay tries to redefine what is expected of ideal good men. He feels that a good person should do everything with an open heart to genuinely benefit the masses.
One should not feel great through exploiting the masses, however their ignorance. It is only by that happiness for all can be achieved.
Russell, B., (2004) Skeptical Essays. New York: Routledge