My KPFA - A Historical Footnote



What desires are politically important?


Bertrand Russell

In 1950 Bertrand Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. His acceptance speech has a ring of contemporaneity that sounds even louder today than when he delivered it.

In 1956, one of my great intellectual discoveries in the UC Berkeley Library was an LP of Bertrand Russell’s speech which he delivered (to constant laughter and rounds of applause) when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. Hot on the heels of the Korean War, his subject was What desires are politically important? It dealt with those aspects of human behavior that are so utterly fundamental to the way we behave, both as individuals and as societies, that they are virtually as invisible as those elements of our physical world, air and water.

Later I found a copy at Berkeley’s unique and indispensable Art Music Company, which I listened to so often that I could almost have recited it from memory. When I went to work for KPFA, I put it on the air, which in turn justifies my including it in this website.


Bertrand Russell was a very wise man and so his speech is even more timely now than when he gave it over sixty years ago. (If only his cautiously optimistic prescription were as convincing as his penetrating diagnosis! But that's a weakness he shares with virtually all the great physicians of the body, mind and spirit.) I no longer have the LP and so I had to spend several hours online tracing down its surviving fragments and putting them together. As far as I know, this is the only place where you can readily find the recording in its entirety.


Bertrand Russell: “What Desires Are Politically Important?


The text, which you should read, mark, learn and inwardly digest, is HERE

A FOOTNOTE: Back in the 1950s, when Russell was a visiting professor at UC Berkeley, there was a cocktail party in his honor. A friend told me that he was one of the lucky guests. As the alcohol flowed freely, an imposing blue-rinse matron cornered the great man.


"Oh Mr. Russell!" she gushed. "I'm such an admirer of your Principia Mathematica! Whyever did you give up maths?"


"Actually," he replied, "I discovered that I preferred fucking."