Why are most journalists small-l liberals? Russell might have some answers

I think most journalists — myself included — are small-l liberals. That’s not to say we’re small-l liberals in the political sense. Indeed, I’ve long held that journalists are like any other group: A bunch probably voted Conservative in the last election; a bunch voted New Democrat and a bunch voted Liberal. (In Quebec, some may even have voted for the BQ). But I and, I think, many journalists, like to conceptualize themselves as free thinkers who resist dogma, power, authority, arbitrariness, etc. and that would make us small-l liberals in a philosophical sense. For proof, I offer up the following 10 commandments, put forth by big-l Liberal philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1951 as 10 guides for teachers but I think they are all likely philosophical touch points for most Western (small-l liberal) journalists:

  1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
  2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
  3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
  4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
  5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
  6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
  7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
  8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
  9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
  10. 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.

What do you think? Do you agree with this approach to teaching? To journalism? To thinking?


7 thoughts on “Why are most journalists small-l liberals? Russell might have some answers”

  1. I heartily agree and sincerely hope that, at least, the majority of your fellow journalists would adhere to these principles. As an approach to teaching, each point is something against which someone can measure themselves. The truth is often harsh and ugly but always the best path – and we the great unwashed rely on it. For most it is our only window on the worlds outside of our own.
    Great piece.

  2. I think part of the answer lies in the relationship between identity and memory: Progressives ‘identify’ with change, while conservatives ‘identify’ with stability. Identity drives both while to be truly here now, there is no past nor future. In fact, there is no ‘identity’.
    Simply, perhaps too simply, progressives are the change they will make (often ideas) while conservatives are the things they have done (often material). This is not a idealist/realist divide however.
    And I think another component of the answer is one’s relationship with ‘the other’, also as how one identifies. Perhaps again too simplistic, but conservatives see the world as a zero sum game with winners and losers. Progressives understand and celebrate the need for diversity.
    Trying to understand these notions politically is far more complex.

  3. I guess the point is that Russell believed that rational argument is inevitably superior in teaching. From my perspective, this is no longer true, at least not for the majority of teachers. Students rate their teachers and good ratings keep them employed. Students will base their ratings on their grades (consequently the massive skewing of grades upwards in the last couple of decades) and how entertaining their instructor is.
    I am even more afraid that they no longer apply to politics where clearly emotion prevails over rational argument, and history is constructed through controlling communication. Rational argument may have worked with a literate audience but not in the land of reality TV. Try to apply Russell’s points to any of the GOP to see just how well that is working.

  4. I always enjoy reading C. Logue’s 1966 poem from the New Statesman. It was published just before Wilson’s majority, although I do not think it contributed to it.

    I shall vote Labour
    I shall vote Labour because
    God votes Labour.
    I shall vote Labour to protect
    the sacred institution of The Family.
    I shall vote Labour because
    I am a dog.
    I shall vote Labour because
    upper-class hoorays annoy me in expensive restaurants.
    I shall vote Labour because
    I am on a diet.
    I shall vote Labour because if I don’t
    somebody else will:
    I shall vote Labour because if one person
    does it
    everybody will be wanting to do it.
    I shall vote Labour because if I do not vote Labour
    my balls will drop off.
    I shall vote Labour because
    there are too few cars on the road.
    I shall vote Labour because I am
    a hopeless drug addict.
    I shall vote Labour because
    I failed to be a dollar millionaire aged three.
    I shall vote Labour because Labour will build
    more maximum security prisons.
    I shall vote Labour because I want to shop
    in an all-weather precinct stretching from Yeovil to Glasgow.
    I shall vote Labour because
    the Queen’s stamp collection is the best
    in the world.
    I shall vote Labour because
    deep in my heart
    I am a Conservative.

  5. I heartily agree with these principles for anyone in any position of leadership. If PM Harper were to follow these, we would have decent governance – even accountability and transparency!!

  6. Russel’s 10 commandments work equally well if read as descriptive sentences when preceded by the noun liberals… The essential point they make is to distinguish a thought based approach to matters rather than a fear based approach. My personal view is that conservative thought is most often intellect in pursuit of outcomes subconsciously chosen by the lizard brain, i.e. fear based. On the other hand, the more liberal approach would be to allow the conclusion to be derived through intellectual process alone.

  7. Wow, i’m in awe of such grand liberal pontification. Now like the other working stiff dummies I have to get up at 6 am, go and throw my back out (again), so I can pay the massive taxes to fund the genius social excrement of such ‘enlightened’ thought. Journalists? Try this one out: ‘For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.’

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