Wittgenstein found Russell’s philosophical work silly and glib, and he ridiculed the very idea of a League for Peace and Freedom. “I suppose you would prefer a League for War and Slavery,” Russell retorted, and Wittgenstein replied “eher noch!” – “much rather, much rather!” He was not entirely serious, of course: it is blindingly obvious that peace is better than war, and freedom preferable to slavery, just as health is better than disease, and happiness preferable to depression. But he was not joking either: genuine political differences, he thought, are not going to be resolved by statements of the obvious. In any case he respected the virtues of old-fashioned statesmanship: circumspection, diplomacy and proper caution about the unintended consequences of political action. Presenting oneself as a supporter of “Peace and Freedom” was an exercise in smugness and self-advertisement rather than a heroic act of moral or political virtue, or a substantial contribution to the common good. Russell might be an atheist in theory, but he seemed to be conducting himself like a self-righteous parson. “Russell and the parsons,” as Wittgenstein would put it, “have done infinite harm, infinite harm.” (…)
If the prospect of nuclear extermination has receded since the time when Russell was prophesying it, the explanation lies less in campaigns for peace and freedom than in the unexpected consequences of developments that no one could have foreseen – the calculations and miscalculations of Mikhail Gorbachev, for instance, or the accidental canniness of Ronald Reagan. Irony is a force of history as well as a figure of speech, and in politics you need to be prepared for surprises, even if you are as clever as Bertrand Russell.