Man's Peril

In the 1950s, Bertrand Russell was growing increasingly alarmed by the proliferation of what he called the “weapons of mass extinction” that were being developed by both the United States and Soviet Russia. Unlike many, however, Russell was in a position to do something about it. His 1950 Nobel Prize in Literature had solidified his standing as one of the most prominent public intellectuals in the world. As he stated in his Autobiography: “I felt I must find some way of making the world understand the dangers into which it was running blindly, head-on. … I therefore set to work to compose a new dirge for the human race.”

The “dirge” – now known as “Man’s Peril” -- was broadcast on BBC radio on December 23, 1954. A rapt and anxious audience of more than 6 million tuned in. Russell concluded with these famous words: “There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? I appeal, as a human being to human beings: remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, nothing lies before you but universal death.”

The Implications of the H-Bomb. Manuscript and typescript carbon of what would become known as 'Man's Peril.' 4-4 December 1954.

The Listener (BBC), 30 December 1954. The issue contained the first published text of Russell's radio talk. A recording of the broadcast of 'Man's Peril' is available in McMaster University's Digital Archive.

Man's Peril from the Hydrogen Bomb. Pamphlet published by the Friends Peace Committee, London.