It is the last in a long line of attempts by Russell to sum up his life and its importance. Possibly the first was in 1930, when, in a letter to the writer Hayden Church, Russell wrote: 'There seem to me to be four different factors by which I should judge the success or failure of my life: (1) work in philosophy and mathematical logic; (2) work on social questions; (3) the success or otherwise of my children; (4) personal influence on people I have known.' Not long after this he began to write his autobiography, which he prefaced with this summary: 'Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.'
During the last years of his life he began to see things differently. Everything became subordinated to the campaign to prevent mankind from destroying itself with nuclear weapons. There was now just one criterion: had he done anything to make the threatened destruction of all mankind less likely?
The urgency of this question and Russell's complete absorption in it gives this document a deeply personal intensity that belies its apparent preoccupation with public events. In 1952, as he was approaching his 80th birthday, Russell had written about the fear of death: 'The best way to overcome it - so at least it seems to me - is to make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life The man who, in old age, can see his life in this way, will not suffer from the fear of death, since the things he cares for will continue.'
It is a moot point whether the ego of a man who identifies his own personal successes and failures with those of humanity at large has receded or enlarged - perhaps the limiting case would be that of someone whose ego was so large it encompassed everything else and, therefore, ceased to exist as a separate entity. This, it seems, was Russell's goal. There are two ways of describing it: one can say either that he wished for world peace and international harmony, or that he wished to escape the 'prison', the lonely isolation, of his own ego. 'Imprisoned' inside each one of us, he says at the end of the document, is an artist: 'Let him loose to spread joy everywhere.' Letting this artist loose, breaking down the walls of the ego that imprisons him, becomes, then, at one and the same time, the way to prevent mankind from killing itself and the way to overcome the fear of one's own individual death. In that one image are combined Russell's hopes for the world at large and an indication of what he personally had hoped all his life to achieve.
The manuscript reproduced here has a rather odd history. Unlike most of Russell's papers, it did not go to McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, when the Russell Archives were set up in 1968. Nor did it go with the residue of Russell's papers, now known as the 'Second Russell Archives', when that was sent on to McMaster after Russell's death. Kenneth Blackwell, the Russell archivist who is generally taken by scholars in the field to be omniscient on the subject, did not even know that this manuscript existed until he saw a copy of The Life of Bertrand Russell in Pictures and in His Own Words, a book of photographs published to mark Russell's centenary in 1972. One of the pictures was of Russell's study at Plas Penrhyn, his home in north Wales. It showed his desk set out as if ready for him to begin work, with his pen, some books, some unanswered correspondence and a manuscript. This last, Blackwell noticed, was dated 1967 and began: 'The time has come to review my life as a whole.' It was not a manuscript he had seen before and he knew it was not in his collection. He asked Russell's widow about it and in 1977, a year before she died, Edith handed it over to the archives. Last week Blackwell wrote to me about it. The reason for making it known now, he said, was to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the archives, to demonstrate that, though much of the material in his care has been explored and published, 'much remains untouched'.
The Russell document is the copyright of McMaster University.
Ray Monk is working on a new life of Bertrand Russell.
The time has come to review my life as a whole, and to ask whether it has served any useful purpose or has been wholly concerned in futility. Unfortunately, no answer is possible for anyone who does not know the future. Modern weapons make it practically certain that the next serious war will exterminate the human race. This is admitted by all competent authorities, and I shall not waste time in proving it. Any man who cares what the future may have in store therefore has to choose between nothingness and conciliation, not once, but throughout future ages until the sun grows cold.
Unfortunately, our politicians are not accustomed to such a choice. However hard they try, their minds inevitably slide back to the court room and the criminal world. If, out of kindness, the last man foresees the murder of the last man but one, the whole law-enforcement campaign imagines all the apparatus of police, Scotland Yard, judges and wigs ready to catch and punish him. But this is not how the scene will be. There will be first the death of nearly all the inhabitants of New York or London or Peking or Tokyo, then a gradual extension of deaths to the country, then famine due to failure of trade, and at last gasping, horrifying lonely death in the mountains, and then eternal silence.
If the Great Powers continue their present policies, some such end as this is inevitable. When two or more powers disagree, what can they do? A can yield to B, or B can yield to A, or they can reach a compromise, or they can fight. If either yields, it is thought pusillanimous: either it loses caste, or, next time, it must fight; or it must secure an ally. Since the number of states is finite, this process must soon come to an end. We have seen all the steps in this development since the end of the Second War. Consider what happened in the Cuba crisis. Both sides were willing to fight, but at the last possible moment Khrushchev's nerve failed and he allowed the world to live till the next crisis. But it turned out that Russia would have preferred death, and Khrushchev fell.
Can we count on this always happening?
What is the present system?
When there is a quarrel, a conference is summoned, each side debates, they reach two compromises, one favoured by one side, the other by the other. If each contains disarmament clauses, each is aware that they may be infringed. Each considers the tiniest chance of infringement a greater misfortune than the end of the human race. And so nothing is done. The powers must learn that peace is the paramount interest of everybody. To cause this to be realised by governments should be their supreme aim.
What has been achieved towards this end, and what have I personally contributed?
Publicly, in the relations between states, very little, but still something. Russia has expressed willingness to transform Nato by joining it; but China is a new threat. The Vietnam war seems likely to end in negotiation. Generally, the powers (except the US) show a reluctance to go to war. France is uncertain, but leaves room for hope. At any rate, the stark opposition of Communist and non-Communist is breaking down. If peace can be preserved for the next 10 years, it will be possible to hope.
What can private persons do meanwhile? They can agitate, by pointing out the effects of modern war and the danger of the extinction of Man. They can teach men not to hate peoples other than their own, or to cause themselves to be hated. They can value, and cause others to value, what Man has achieved in art and science. They can emphasise the superiority of co-operation to competition.
Finally, have I done anything to further such ends?
Something perhaps, but sadly little in view of the magnitude of the evil. Some few people in England and USA I have encouraged in the expression of liberal views, or have terrified with knowledge of what modern weapons can do. It is not much, but if everybody did as much this earth would soon be a paradise. Consider for a moment what our planet is and what it might be. At present, for most, there is toil and hunger, constant danger, more hatred than love. There could be a happy world, where co-operation was more in evidence than competition, and monotonous work is done by machines, where what is lovely in nature is not destroyed to make room for hideous machines whose sole business is to kill, and where to promote joy is more respected than to produce mountains of corpses. Do not say this is impossible: it is not. It waits only for men to desire it more than the infliction of torture. There is an artist imprisoned in each one of us. Let him loose to spread joy everywhere.
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