Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Wittgenstein and the Cambridge spy-circle

Recently I was wondering about the potential connection between Wittgenstein and the Cambridge spy-ring. I'm not the first person to suggest it. Reviewing Cornish's controversial book, Antony Flew said:

Chapter 2 concerns "The Spies of Trinity" (College, Cambridge). Mr Cornish opens by pressing a question never previously asked:  "What is the explanation for the fact that Wittgenstein was in 1935 offered the Chair of Philosophy in the University of Kazan?" An explanation is needed since Wittgenstein was very far from being a Marxist philosopher. And the Great Terror, which had been signalled by the assassination of S.M. Kirov in late 1934, was during 1935 in full swing.  Mr Cornish contends that the reason why the government of the USSR treated Wittgenstein with such peculiar generosity was that he had been the recruiter of all the Cambridge spies. 
The question whether or not this hypothesis is true or false can be definitively settled only if and when the relevant Soviet archives are examined. But I am myself as confident as without such knock-down decisive verification it is possible to be that Mr Cornish is right. For people who during the crucial years between Wittgenstein's return to Cambridge in 1929 and that 1935 offer were attending his classes and/or enjoying other personal contacts with him have given me accounts both of the extraordinary and overwhelming force of Wittgenstein's personality and of the absoluteness in those years of his Stalinist commitment. 

My theory is different. Is there a homosexual connection? Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt were homosexual. So was Wittgenstein. Indeed, they were part of a homosexual subculture at Cambridge that also included John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster, and  Alan Turing. 

I'm not suggesting Wittgenstein was a spy or KGB recruiter, although that's possible, I suppose. But you have several mutually reinforcing elements in play. 

The Cambridge Apostles and Bloomsbury Circle reveled in a sense of intellectual superiority and contempt for average men and women. Both cultivated a libertine lifestyle and attitude. Homosexuality fostered sense of alienation from the general culture. Finally, atheism and homosexuality both foster a carpe diem attitude. Youth is fleeting. There is no afterlife. 

It becomes a question of sharing a common outlook on life. All you have are friendships. No sense of solidarity with humanity in general. Or the wellbeing of future generations. So your ultimately loyalties will be subversive. 

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