Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Russell, Bertrand (1872–1970)

British philosopher, writer, social commentator, and antiwar activist. Born on 18 May 1872 in Ravenscroft, Wales, to an aristocratic family, Bertrand Russell was first educated by private tutors. He then studied mathematics, logic, and philosophy at Trinity College, Cambridge University, where he excelled so rapidly that after earning his BA in three years (1893), he was named a Trinity fellow in 1895. He first achieved international renown as the coauthor of the Principia Mathematica (1910) and wrote prolifically in the fields of logic and philosophy.

Russell worked from the ivory tower during much of his life, pursuing causes that brought him in turn fame and infamy. He was an atheist, a pacifist, an advocate of sexual permissiveness, a socialist, a radical educator, and a peace activist. During World War I he opposed conscription, lost his lectureship at Cambridge because of it, and spent five months in jail in 1918 for participating in antiwar protests.

Russell succeeded to his seat in the House of Lords in 1931 as the third Earl Russell of Kingston. In the interwar period he wrote extensively, lectured, and taught. A frequent visitor to the United States, he was not always well received there. In 1940 he was fired from a teaching post at the City College of New York for his liberal views on adultery. During World War II he abandoned his pacifist stance in the face of fascist aggression.

After the war, he campaigned constantly against the perils of the atomic bomb. In 1955 the Einstein-Russell Manifesto against nuclear weapons laid the foundations for the annual Pugwash conferences that brought together scientists from East and West to debate and discuss international security and the perils of nuclear war. Russell founded the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1958, and in 1960 he formed the Committee of 100, which advocated civil disobedience against the bomb. In 1961 he was briefly jailed in Britain for inciting the public to civil disobedience during an antinuclear demonstration.

Although he was a socialist, Russell was by no means a supporter of Soviet-style communism. Nevertheless, he could sometimes be politically naive. He once claimed that President John F. Kennedy and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan were "worse than Hitler" because, he argued, Hitler only wanted to kill Jews, whereas the British and American leaders might kill everybody in a nuclear war. Russell intervened in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis via personal letters to Washington and Moscow but in the end seemed to blame Kennedy more than Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev for the showdown. In 1966, when Russell established the self-styled International War Crimes Tribunal, some criticized it as being more concerned with American war crimes in Vietnam than with criminal acts perpetrated by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV, North Vietnam). Russell received the 1950 Nobel Prize for Literature, whose inscription aptly reads: "In recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought." Russell died in Penrhyndeudraeth, Wales, on 2 February 1970.

Paul Wingrove


Further Reading
Monk, Ray. Bertrand Russell: The Ghost of Madness, 1921–1970. New York: Free Press, 2001.; Monk, Ray. Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude, 1872–1921. New York: Free Press, 1996.; Russell, Bertrand. The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell. Vol 3. London: Allen and Unwin, 1969.
 

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