Critically analyze Bertrand Russell's, "The Future of Mankind."

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Russell's article assesses where the world stands in the 1950s.  He outlines three distinct possibilities for the world. The first is total nuclear obliteration, while the second is a devolution into barbarism. The third option would be a dominance of one form of government. Given the Cold War paradigm in which Russell operated, this would mean a United States victory or a triumph of the Soviet Union.

In Russell's mind, "The Future of Mankind" results in forging diplomatic and military alliances with nations in a cooperative manner.  Russell believes that if nations are able to form broad based alliances through both diplomatic and financial inducements, there is a decreased likelihood of rogue nations threatening the fragile balance of life on the planet.  Russell believes in this collaborative venture as the first phase of ensuring a healthy future. The second step is being able to use the power of transformation to manipulate endeavors that make life better for all.  In Russell's mind, the forging of alliances and the reduction in war can lead to a transformative vision where all of the world's problems can be actively combated:

Unless we can cope with the problem of abolishing- war, there is no reason whatever to rejoice in laborsaving technique, but quite the reverse. On the other hand, if the danger of war were removed, scientific technique could at last be used to promote human happiness. There is no longer any technical reason for the persistence of poverty, even in such densely populated countries as India and China. If war no longer occupied men's thoughts and energies, we could, within a generation, put an end to all serious poverty throughout the world.

If "law, rather than private force" can ensure that liberty is protected and individuals are able to enjoy the maximum pursuit of liberty in their own worlds, there is a greater chance for the future of mankind to find happiness and be free from destruction.

Russell's writing in the speech puts him in a uniquely different position amongst other philosophers.  His humanism distinguishes him from the leftist Marxist philosophers who found that social and material conditions precluded any hope of collaboration.  His pacifism distinguished him from the nationalist thinkers who felt that exceptionalism should guide thought and action.  Russell's ideas in the essay put him as the skeptic of absolutist dogma and one whose embrace of progressivism and social justice embodied the essence of hopeful transformation.

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