Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), central figure of philosophy of the 20th century, he was not a one-dimensional man. In addition to knowledge, he was also concerned with the political and social issues of his time. He dedicated the last years of his life to fighting nuclear weapons, boost the Court against War Crimes and oppose the United States intervention in Vietnam. Your activism anti-believer and feministmoreover, it caused him many problems: he was arrested twice (1918 and 1961), expelled from Trinity College, Cambridge, and accused of lust and even of inducing suicide. He didn’t care: he responded only to his conscience.
Was a freethinker. In 1920, he traveled to Russia and met Lenin, who disappointed him. Back, spared no criticism of the new communist regime, which did not imply praise for the West. When asked what he had against the “free world”, he immediately replied: “That it is not free”.
And he was a very early thinker. As a teenager, he started a research on three issues that afflicted him: God, immortality and free will. He concluded that “there was no reason to believe” in any of them.
Free love and the struggle against the rigor of the prevailing morality marked his trajectory. In 1957, the Bishop of Rochester wrote to him: “In his book, Marriage and Morals, the cleaved paws of lust cannot be hidden (…). Sometimes memories of murders, suicides and the incalculable pain caused by the experiments of young people together outside of marriage must be harassed ”. It was not the only criticism. But much of what was attributed to him was not in the book. He in fact defended the equality of rights (political and sexual) between men and women, and described as “Christian superstition” the idea that sex was impure, an inheritance, he said, from Paulo de Tarso: “If they do not have the gift of continence, get married. For it is better to get married than to burn. ” He added that Christian ethics degrades women, who had begun to be free when the notion of sin declined, helped by contraceptives and their incorporation into work, which gave her independence. He proposed sex education and deepening equality: “Maintaining the old requires that the education of young women seeks to make them stupid, superstitious and ignorant; requirement fulfilled by the schools where the Church intervenes “, because” ignorance can never foster right conduct, nor can knowledge hinder it “. In addition, he suggested “test marriages” and argued that extramarital relationships did no harm to anyone.
Marriage and Morals came out in 1929 and was a success. But it caused him a thousand problems, especially in the United States, where he traveled in 1938 and where he had to stay, forced by the war. I was going to teach a course at the University of Chicago and I was thinking The Words and the Facts, connecting with the perspective of logical atomism, which suggested analyzing philosophical problems by breaking them down into their minimal linguistic elements. The title seemed too clear for the academy and was renamed as Correlation between Oral and Somatic Driving Habits. The University’s dean, a neotomist, did not like him and did not renew his contract.
Nor was he welcomed at the University of California. He was already without income (the war prevented him from receiving money from the United Kingdom) when an invitation from the City College of New York appeared to him. His arrival at the institution provoked a massive protest by Catholic clergy. A student’s mother (not enrolled in Russell’s classes) complained that her presence was “dangerous to her daughter’s virtue.” Before the court, his works were described as “lustful, libidinous, luxurious, venereal, erotomaniac, aphrodisiac, irreverent, partial, false and deprived of moral fiber”. Without work, he started to write History of Western Philosophy and survived thanks to an anticipation for the work.
A student’s mother complained because her presence threatened “her daughter’s virtue”
O secularism came to him almost by inheritance. When he was orphaned, at the age of four, it was discovered that his father, Viscount Amberley, had left it established that he was not educated by the family, but by other people, who were atheists and could protect him from the “evils of a religious formation ”. The grandparents threatened to file a lawsuit, which prompted the guardians to hand over custody to them.
As a teenager, he decided that marriage was harmful, and that the rationale was free love. It was the end of the 19th century. He discovered sex and masturbation, a practice he maintained until the 1920s, when he fell in love with Alys Pearsall Smith, who would be his first wife. In those years I was already working on the three volumes of Principia Mathematica, to be published between 1910 and 1913, written jointly with Alfred North Whitehead. With them they illuminated the analytical philosophy, one of the main currents of the 20th century.
Marriage, he said, provided him with stability. Later, he would recommend his students (men and women) to pre-marital coexistence to escape the sexual urges of age. With Pearsall, he covered one of his passions (“the longing for love”) and could dedicate himself to the other two: “The search for knowledge and piety for the suffering of humanity”.
His philosophical activity was at times subordinated to politics. Even so, its influence increased, with the help of the Vienna Circle, which boosted linguistic analysis as a method to address (and dissolve) philosophical problems. Also from one of his disciples: Ludwig Wittgensteinwhose Tractatus preface, facilitating its publication. Russell describes him as “passionate, deep, intense, dominant”. One day, Wittgenstein asked him, “Do you think I’m a perfect idiot?” “Why do you want to know?” Replied Russell. “If I go, I will become an aviator; if no, I will become a philosopher”Said the disciple.
Headed a manifesto against nuclear weapons signed with Albert Einstein
Pearsall accompanied him in his campaigns for women’s equality, but the relationship between them had already declined when he became an objector. against English participation in the First World War. His activity was incessant: he wrote letters and manifestos, participated in rallies and suggested that the function of the army was more to stifle workers’ revolts than to defend the borders against a hypothetical enemy. That is why he was harassed by warmongers and even women who criticized his militant feminism. The War Department considered him dangerous and prohibited him from approaching the coast, so that he did not communicate with German submarines. Finally, he was sentenced to six months in prison and expelled from Trinity College, although he was reinstated in 1944. Years later, he would recall his time in prison as a pleasant one, dedicated to reading and writing, and visited by activist Dora Black, who would be his second wife, and by his lover in those years, Colette O’Neil.
Although Black was against marriage, they were married in 1921, shortly before the birth of their first child: John Conrad. The second name alluded to his friend Joseph Conrad. Shortly after, a girl, Kate, was born and a problem arose: no school was satisfactory. The couple decided to found one that was free, but it ended up being a disaster. “Many of the principles that governed the school were erroneous. A group of children cannot be happy without a certain measure of order and routine ”, because“ leaving them free was to establish the kingdom of terror in which the strong made the weak suffer. A school is like a world: only the Government can avoid brutality and violence, ”wrote Russel in his autobiography.
In 1944, he was able to leave the USA and return to England, where he was no longer so frowned upon, and in 1950 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature (!) Without having published any works of fiction. Encouraged by the prize, he reworked some stories and published them in a book.
Russel opposed World War I, but not World War II. He thought that facing Nazism was a moral obligation. He hated Nazis and Fascists alike. In 1922, he was unable to travel to Italy for a philosophy conference. Mussolini announced that nothing would happen to him, but any Italian who spoke to him would be killed.
He tried to convince the Israeli authorities to review the situation of the Palestinians
After the war ended, Russell mobilized against atomic weapons and in favor of a world government, convinced that another confrontation would not leave winners or losers. In 1955, a manifesto against nuclear weapons was published headed by his signature and that of Albert Einstein. He considered that the mere exposure of danger would be enough to open people’s eyes. This did not happen, which led him to think that “he had discovered a political fact”, that “possibly” people would rather die than see their enemies alive. A reflection that prompted him to fight nationalisms and to propose that all weapons be under the control of a world government.
The Cuban missile crisis has heightened awareness that it is necessary to move in all directions. He then wrote to the Governments involved and tried to provoke mobilizations with little success. At the same time, it sought to convince Israel to review the situation of the Palestinians. The result of all this activity was the creation of the Russell Foundation for Peace, to which he dedicated himself to the limit of his strength. He also opposed the Vietnam War and any violation of human rights, taking part, alongside Jean-Paul Sartre, in the Court against War Crimes.
One of the consequences of this initiative was his second entry into prison (this time, just for a week) accused of civil disobedience. He was 88 years old. He was accompanied, both in disobedience and in condemnation, by his fourth wife, Edith Finch, with whom he would live to death. Shortly before, he wrote that he was convinced that, as disastrous as the present seemed, “the best part of human history does not reside in the past, but in the future”.