Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell with pipe and books

The grandson of British Prime Minister Earl Russell, the curious and intellectually gifted Bertrand Russell was born on May 18, 1872. His early obsession was logic and mathematics, and as a Cambridge professor he advanced the field in two ways: by co-authoring a seminal book called Principia Mathematica that attempted to establish the certainty of the logical method, and by nurturing the talents of a young Austrian protege named Ludwig Wittgenstein whose brilliant formulations would demolish Russell's own achievement in the field of logic.

It is a testament to Bertrand Russell's peaceful temperament that he stood by his Wittgenstein even after his young friend proved his own theories wrong. Just as this philosophical mission reached its hot core, Europe exploded in the Great War, and Russell now stood by his Austrian friend even as Wittgenstein dutifully left Cambridge to join the Austrian navy to fight against England's allies. But Russell was one of the sane voices in England that refused to get caught up in war fever. His passionate pacifism cost him his job and then his freedom when he was jailed for six months in 1918 for speaking out against the war.

Russell remained a proud and influential pacifist through World War Two and beyond. As a voice for reasonable and mainstream pacifism, he lent much credibility to the cause, and even won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. In 1955 he collaborated with Albert Einstein on a nuclear disarmament manifesto. The dapper professor enjoyed a late-life resurgence in popularity in the 1960s among the beatniks, hippies and protestors whose peace marches he happily joined. He was sent to prison for his protest activities again in 1961, and didn't seem to mind the honor at all. This dignified and consistent great soul left the world he cared so deeply for on February 2, 1970.

KEY QUOTE: Before the end of the present century, unless something quite unforeseeable occurs, one of three possibilities will have been realized. These three are: —

  1. The end of human life, perhaps of all life on our planet.
  2. A reversion to barbarism after a catastrophic diminution of the population of the globe.
  3. A unification of the world under a single government, possessing a monopoly of all the major weapons of war.

I do not pretend to know which of these will happen, or even which is the most likely. What I do contend is that the kind of system to which we have been accustomed cannot possibly continue.
"The Future of Man", Atlantic Monthly, March 1951