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BERTRAND RUSSELL (1872-1970)

"By the death of the third Earl Russell (or Bertrand Russell, as he preferred to call himself) at the age of ninety, a link with a very distant past is severed. His grandfalher Lord John Russell, the Victorian Prime Minister, visited Napoleon in Elba; his maternal grandmother was a friend of the Young Pretender's widow..." These are Bertrand Russell's own words, in a premature "auto-obituary" written as a sort of joke in 1936. In fact, he did not die until 1970, at the age of ninety-eight. One of the greatest intellects of his time, Russell was perhaps the last notable exponent of the English liberal humanist tradition of the 1920s - to which, for example, the novels of E. M. Forster belong. Educated privately, and at Trinity College, Cambridge, he distinguished himself in mathematics, and in 1913, with Dr. A. N. Whitehead, published Principia Mathematica, a classic of mathematical logic and a major contribution to Philosophy. During the first World War, Russell took a pacifist position: he was sent to prison, and deprived of his fellowship at Cambridge. This was not Russell's last defence of an unpopular cause nor was it his last difficulty with established authority. Practically abandoning academic Philosophy, he now devoted his time to the writing of innumerable books on morals, politics, and social problems, such as On Education, Marriage and Morals, Roads to Freedom, and Why I am not a Christian. Russell also wrote a number of popular introductions to difficult subjects. Among these are The Philosophy of Leibnitz, The ABC of Relativity, and the masterly History of Western Philosophy (1946). This book is remarkable in its organization of a vast mass of material, written in a style of incomparable lucidity and grace, and made lively by touches of malicious irony. The historian G. M. Trevelyan described it as "just the kind of thing people ought to have to make them understand the past... It may be one of the most valuable books of our time". At the age of eighty-nine, Russell calmly took up a cause as hotly discussed as pacifism had been during the First World War: nuclear disarmament. In Has Man A Future? (1961) he asked himself and his readers whether there was any hope of survival for the human race. The only hope, he concluded, lay in the total abolition of war, beginning with the perfectly possible abolition of all nuclear weapons. The Campaign fur Nuclear Disarmament, or CND, with its annual marches to London from the Aldermaston Research Centre, was a civil disobedience campaign; and Russell was arrested in Trafalgar Square for refusing to move when told to do so by a policeman. The spectacle of this dignified, scholarly, yet very human old gentleman surrounded by irritated but not unfriendly police was unforgettable. Perhaps Russell's own description of himself in the "auto-obituary" of 1936 was right after all: "the last survivor of a dead epoch".

 

Flavio Sartoretto 2006-06-21

Articolo inviato Delogu L. il giorno 22/06/2006 alle ore 14:01


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