Bertrand Russell Authority and the Individual (1948)



Back in 1948, Britain was making another difficult transition, moving from the trauma of World War II to the chill of the Cold War. Hoping to give radio listeners some clarity on contemporary affairs, the BBC began airing an annual series of lectures — the Reith Lectures — that featured leading thinkers of the day. 60 years later, the tradition continues, and during this long stretch, some legendary figures have graced the BBC’s airwaves: Michael SandelEdward SaidJohn SearleJohn Kenneth GalbraithGeorge Kennan, and Robert Oppenheimer, just to name a few. (And, yes, the list unfortunately skews heavily male.)

Late last month, the BBC put the complete audio archive online, which gives you access to 240 lectures in total. Where’s the best place to start? How about at the beginning, with the inaugural lectures presented by philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1948. His lecture series, Authority and the Individual, delved into an age old question in political philosophy — the individual and his/her relationship with communities and states. The head of the BBC later groused that Russell spoke “too quickly and had a bad voice.” But the real complaints came from the Soviets, who interpreted Russell’s lectures as an attack on Communism. You can find the lectures here, stream them above, or read the transcript here.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.