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.