Bertrand Russell’s “Liberal Decalogue” first appeared at the end of the article “The best answer to fanaticism: Liberalism” with the subtitle: “Its calm search for truth, viewed as dangerous in many places, remains the hope of humanity.” in the New York Times Magazine (16/December/1951). It was then included in The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, Vol. 3, 1944-1967.
In the article, Russell writes that “Liberalism is not so much a creed as a disposition. It is, indeed, opposed to creeds.” He continues:
But the liberal attitude does not say that you should oppose authority. It says only that you should be free to oppose authority, which is quite a different thing. The essence of the liberal outlook in the intellectual sphere is a belief that unbiased discussion is a useful thing and that men should be free to question anything if they can support their questioning by solid arguments. The opposite view, which is maintained by those who cannot be called liberals, is that the truth is already known, and that to question it is necessarily subversive.
It shows the usual sharp mind and tongue of Bertrand Russell, never more at ease as when presenting his unconventional ideas.
“The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:
- Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
- Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
- Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
- When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
- Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
- Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
- Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
- Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent that in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
- Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
- Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.”