The Rule of the Scientific Expert
originally posted: July 7, 2008
“Equality, like liberty, is difficult to reconcile with scientific technique, since this involves a great apparatus of experts and officials inspiring and controlling vast organizations. Democratic forms may be preserved in politics, but they will not have as much reality as in a community of small peasant proprietors. Officials unavoidably have power. And where many vital questions are so technical that the ordinary man cannot hope to understand them, experts must inevitably acquire a considerable measure of control.”
– Bertrand Russell, 1931 (p224)
The Expert Manipulator
From The Scientific Outlook: [Italicised text is original emphasis and bolded text is added by author.]
“When I speak of scientific government I ought, perhaps, to explain what I mean by the term. I do not mean simply a government composed of men of science. […] I should define a government as in a greater or less degree scientific in proportion as it can produce intended results: the greater the number of results that it can both intend and produce, the more scientific it is. […]
Owing to the increase of knowledge, it is possible for governments nowadays to achieve many more intended results than were possible in former times, and it is likely that before very long results which even now are impossible will become possible. […] Eugenics, except in the form of sterilization of the feeble-minded, is not yet practical politics, but may become so within the next fifty years. As we have already seen, it may be superseded, when embryology is more advanced, by direct methods of operating upon the foetus.
All these are things which, as soon as they become clearly feasible, will make a great appeal to energetic and practical idealists. Most idealists are a mixture of two types, which we may call respectively the dreamer and the manipulator. The pure dreamer is a lunatic, the pure manipulator is a man who cares only for personal power, but the idealist lives in an intermediate position between these two extremes. Sometimes the dreamer preponderates, sometimes the manipulator. William Morris found pleasure in dreaming of “News from Nowhere”; Lenin found no satisfaction until he could clothe his ideas in a garment of reality. Both types of idealist desire a world different from that in which they find themselves, but the manipulator feels strong enough to create it, while the dreamer, feeling baffled, takes refuge in fantasy.
It is the manipulative type of idealist who will create the scientific society. Of such men, in our own day, Lenin is the archetype.
The manipulator idealist differs from the man of merely personal ambition by the fact that he desires not only certain things for himself, but a certain kind of society. Cromwell would not have been content to have been Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in succession to Strafford, or Archbishop of Canterbury in succession to Laud. It was essential to his happiness that England should be a certain sort of country, not merely that he should be prominent in it. It is this element of impersonal desire which distinguishes the idealist from other men. For men of this type there has been in Russia since the Revolution more scope than in any other country at any other time, and the more scientific technique is perfected the more scope there will be for them everywhere. I fully expect, therefore, that men of this sort will have a predominant part to play in molding the world during the next two hundred years.
The attitude of what may be called practical idealists among men of science at the present day towards problems of government is very clearly set forth in a leading article in Nature (September 6, 1930), from which the following are extracts: “[…] In the modern world the dangers arising from mistakes caused by prejudice and neglect of impartial or scientific inquiry are infinitely more serious. In an age when nearly all the problems of [governmental and industrial] administration and development involve scientific factors, civilization cannot afford to leave administrative control in the hands of those who have no first-hand knowledge of science. …
Under modern conditions, therefore, more is required of scientific workers than the mere enlargement of the bounds of knowledge. They can no longer be content to allow others to take the results of their discoveries and use them unguided. Scientific workers must accept responsibility for the control of the forces which have been released by their work. Without their help, efficient administration and a high degree of statesmanship are virtually impossible.
The practical problem of establishing a right relationship between science and politics, between knowledge and power, or more precisely between the scientific worker and the control and administration of the life of the community, is one of the most difficult confronting democracy. The community is, however, entitled to expect from members of the British Association some consideration of such a problem and some guidance as to the means by which science can assume its place of leadership. …
It is significant that, in contrast to the relative impotence of scientific workers in national affairs, in the international sphere advisory committees of experts have since the War exerted a remarkable and effective influence even when devoid of all legislative authority. To committees of experts organized by the League of Nations, and exercising advisory functions only, is due the credit of the schemes which were successful in rescuing a European State from bankruptcy and chaos, and in handling an unemployment scheme which settled a million and a half refugees, following upon the greatest migration in history. These examples sufficiently demonstrate that, given the requisite stimulus and enthusiasm, the scientific expert can already exert an effective influence when normal administrative effort has failed, and when indeed, as in the case of Austria, the problem had been dismissed by statesmen as hopeless.
In truth, scientific workers occupy a privileged position in society as well as industry, and there are welcome signs that this is now recognized by scientific workers themselves. Thus, in his presidential address to the Chemical Society (at Leeds) last year, Professor Jocelyn Thorpe suggested that the age is at hand in which the changing majorities of governments will no longer be able to determine major policies, except in directions approved by organized industry, and, in advocating the closer organization of science and industry, stressed the political strength to be obtained thereby. […]
Whatever inspiration or encouragement the meetings of the British Association may give to scientific workers in the prosecution of their researches, there is no way in which the Association can more fittingly serve humanity than by calling scientific workers to accept those wide responsibilities of leadership in society as well as in industry which their own efforts have made their inevitable lot.”
It will be seen from the above that men of science are becoming conscious of the responsibility towards society conferred by their knowledge, and are feeling it a duty to take a larger part in the direction of public affairs than they have hitherto done.” – 227
The Society of Experts and the Oblivious Masses
“The society of experts which I am imagining will embrace all eminent men of science except a few wrong-headed and anarchical cranks. It will possess the sole up-to-date armaments, and will be the repository of all new secrets in the art of war. There will, therefore, be no more war, since resistance by the unscientific will be doomed to obvious failure. The society of experts will control propaganda and education. It will teach loyalty to the world government, and make nationalism high treason. The government, being an oligarchy, will instil submissiveness into the great bulk of the population, confining initiative and the habit of command to its own members.
It is possible that it may invent ingenious ways of concealing its own power, leaving the forms of democracy intact, and allowing the plutocrats to imagine that they are cleverly controlling these forms.
Gradually, however, as the plutocrats become stupid through laziness, they will lose their wealth; it will pass more and more into public ownership and be controlled by the government of experts.
Thus, whatever the outward forms may be, all real power will come to be concentrated in the hands of those who understand the art of scientific manipulation.” -236
This idea of concealing the real power structure from the masses was later described by Bertrand Russell in his book The Impact of Science on Society (1952):
“Although this science will be diligently studied, it will be rigidly confined to the governing class. The populace will not be allowed to know how its convictions were generated.
When the technique has been perfected, every government that has been in charge of education for a generation will be able to control its subjects securely without the need of armies or policemen […]” – 41