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The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, Volume 3 (1944-1969)

Updated: Jul 26, 2019

Volume 3

Simon and Schuster 1969

This third and last volume of Bertrand Russell’s autobiography covers the last two decades of Russell's life through 1969. He died on 2 February, 1970.

In the preface to this last volume Russell states that he has tried to make the world a better place, but fears he has not succeeded, and hopes that other generations will do better. The volume is divided into four parts. A few highlights follow.

Part 1 : Return to England

Russell predicts the future:

« Some ideals are subversive and cannot well be realized except by war or revolution. The most important of these is at present economic justice…Consider the vast areas of the world where the young have little or no education and where adults have not the capacity to realize elementary conditions of comfort. These inequalities rouse envy and are potential causes of great disorder. Whether the world will be able by peaceful means to raise the conditions of the poorer nations is, to my mind, very doubtful, and is likely to prove the most difficult governmental problem of coming centuries.» p 16

Russell's Ten Commandments:

A Liberal Decalogue by Bertrand Russell first appeared in his article, « The Best Answer to Fanaticism – Liberalism, » The New York Times Magazine, December 16, 1951.

1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything

2. Do not think it worthwhile to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.

4. When you meet with opposition…endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.

7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement…

9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

Part 2 : At Home and Abroad

Bertrand Russell and Edith Finch

Russell marries fourth wife Edith Finch, with whom he finally finds happiness. They travel together so Russell can warn the world of the danger of nuclear war, summarized in these words from a BBC radio broadcast : « There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels?...remember your humanity and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise ; if you cannot, nothing lies before you but universal death.»

Part 3 : Trafalgar Square

I didn’t mark many pages here, except for the corresponding « letters» section at the end, which includes several interesting texts :

From The Observer, 13 May 1962

Pros and Cons of Reaching Ninety by Bertrand Russell

I highly recommend you read this, here is a short excerpt explaining one of the advantages of old age :

« …a long retrospect gives weight and substance to experience…the lives of movements come, with time, to form part of personal experience and to facilitate estimates of probable success or failure. Communism, in spite of a very difficult beginning, has hitherto continued to increase in power and influence. Nazism, on the contrary, by snatching too early and too ruthlessly at dominion, came to grief. To have watched such diverse processes helps to give an insight into the past of history and should help in guessing at the probable future. P 185

See also, in this section, Russell’s text On Civil Disobedience. In it Russell states, regarding Herman Kahn, author of the book On Thermonuclear War (1960) :

« He is remarkably cold-blooded and makes careful arithmetical estimates of probable casualties. He believes that both America and Russia could more or less survive a nuclear war and achieve economic recovery in no very long time. Apparently…they are both to set to work at once on preparations for another nuclear war…All this has shocked liberal-minded Americans who have criticized Mr. Kahn (the writer verify US) with great severity, not realizing, apparently, that he is only expounding official American policy.

From Russell’s speech against nuclear war in Trafalgar Square, 29 October, 1961

He fears that America is actually in favor of a nuclear war, and gives as evidence a policy statement from the time by the Air Force Association, calling it « the most terrifying document that I have ever read…I quote : « Freedom must bury Communism or be buried by Communism. Complete eradication of the Soviet system must be our national goal, our obligation to all free people, our promise of hope to all who are not free.» But then he points out that while promising to save the Eastern countries, « the noble patriots who make this pronouncmeent omit to mention that Western populations also will be exterminated. »

Part 4 : The Foundation

More on Russell’s work against Nuclear War.

« At first I imagined that the task of awakening people to the dangers should not be very difficult…I thought that people would not like the prospect of being fried with their families and their neighbours and every living person that they had heard of. I thought it would only be necessary to make the danger known and that, when this had been done, men of all parties would unite to restore previous safety. I found that this was a mistake. There is a motive which is stronger than self-preservation : it is the desire to get the better of the other fellow.» p 221

Reference to the JFK assassination and the research of New York lawyer Mark Lane which showed serious discrepancies in official accounts of what had actually happened. Read Russell’s 16 Questions on the Assassination (p 289 or easily found on internet).

Russell also worked against what he called « sordid and cruel » US policies in the Vietnam War.

Russell says his views on the future are expressed in the lines of this poem by Shelley :

Oh, cease ! must hate and death return ?

Cease ! must men kill and die ?

Cease ! drain not to its dregs the urn

Of bitter prophecy.

The world is weary of the past,

Oh, might it die or rest at last !

-Hellas, lines 1096-1101

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