Originally I started writing a piece on T.S Eliot, but then after finding out a little fun-fact* – that Bertrand Russell got kinky with Eliot’s first wife Vivienne – I got distracted and read a whole heap of Russell’s essays and political commentary (*its not exactly a fun-fact for Eliot, but T.S)
Bertrand Russell (1873 – 1970) was a revered British academic, analytic philosopher, and mathematician, who was particularly well known for his stance on pacifism and later for nuclear disarmament. He was also granted the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950.
During WWI, Russell was fired from his lecturing position at Trinity Cambridge due to his outspoken views on pacifism and conscription. Later in 1918 – the final year of the war, he spent six months in prison for an article, because he had pointed this out:
“unless peace comes soon there will be starvation throughout Europe….men will fight each other for possession of the bare necessities of life”
Although Russell’s views on pacifism dramatically shifted during WWII; the hydrogen bomb’s creation deeply worried him, as it did many other prominent scientists of the time. He spent the rest of his life committed to the fight for nuclear disarmament and was one of the founders of the ‘Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’ in 1958.
Russell wrote several pieces on his fears for mankind’s future without nuclear disarmament, however arguably his most poignant piece of writing on the subject was the speech he gave on BBC Radio London on December 30th 1954 ‘Shall we Choose Death?’ In which he begged as “a member of the species man”,
“Is all this to end in trivial horror because so few are able to think of Man rather than of this or that group of men? Is our race so destitute of wisdom?”
Russell’s writing however was not limited to nuclear weapons or mathematics. He wrote numerous essay where he’d stress the beauty and worth of every field of knowledge. In Praise of Be Idle and Useless Knowledge in particular discuss the ‘contemplative habits of the mind’ and how they are as humans, a necessity for coping with fears and the struggles of everyday life.
In other words, his work makes you stop and think about how truly beautiful it is to have access to knowledge and creative works.