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I'm reading Political Ideals (1917) by Bertrand Russell. Today, I reached this sentence in chapter 4:

One fact which emerges from these considerations is that no obstacle should be placed in the way of thought and its expression, nor yet in the way of statements of fact.

Now, I'd like to know what he means by 'statements of fact', and how that differs from the meaning of 'expression of thought'.

I already asked this in the English Language Learners's site. Some gentleman commented that he guessed this isn't a 'simple' English question. But nowhere in the book Russell defines 'statements of fact' or any term like that.

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Russell is speaking of Individual Liberty and Public Control.

Thus, "thought and its expression" refers to freedom of speech.

"Statements of fact" has a similar meaning; we can relate it to scientific research :

vested interests are the principal source of anger against novelties in thought. If this were the case, intellectual progress would be much more rapid than it is.

The instinct of conventionality, horror of uncertainty, and vested interests, all militate against the acceptance of a new idea. And it is even harder to think of a new idea than to get it accepted; most people might spend a lifetime in reflection without ever making a genuinely original discovery.


Considering the fact that the book was written in 1917, we can appreciate a quasi profetic aspect of Russell's statment : totalitarian states, like e.g. Nazi Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union, made impressive and unprecedented usage of propaganda as a tool to manage power, to the point of denying "matters of fact" and produce false historical records.

See an example from Joseph Goebbels's speech to representatives of the press, 15 March 1933:

"There is nothing on earth that is not tendentious. Things that are not tendentious are sexless and therefore worthless. Everything is tendentious, whether overtly or covertly. I already believe that it is better if we admit to an overt rather than a covert tendentiousness.

In addition, there is no such thing as absolute objectivity [emphasis added]."

See also Alternative facts.

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