This is Bertrand Russell's last manuscript.
Untitled, it was annotated “1967” by Russell, at the
two or three years before he died. Ray Monk published it first
Independent of London on the 25th anniversary of the Russell
Archives. The essay's politics are uncannily
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
courtroom 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
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 realized by governments should be the supreme aim.
What has been achieved towards this end, and what have I personally
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
U.S.) 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 emphasize the superiority of co-operation to
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 the U.S.A. I have encouraged
in the expression of liberal views, or have terrified with the
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.