How to Promote Initiative


  • Bertrand Russell
  • Kenneth Blackwell (editor) McMaster University



[The first series of Reith Lectures, delivered weekly on the BBC by Bertrand Russell in the winter of 1948–49, were a resounding success. They were soon published in book form as Authority and the Individual. However, Russell started late in the year to write them, and manuscripts for the lectures show that he encountered difficulty. Among the difficulties and surviving in his archives is a false start on the concluding lecture, “How to Promote Initiative” (filed at RA1 210.006779). Lecture V had been called “Control and Initiative: Their Respective Spheres”. Lecture VI was finally titled “Individual and Social Ethics”, but an early outline had it as “Principles of Reform”. In the false start Russell described how devolution of authority and individual initiative could be embodied in practice. He provided recipes on how to accomplish this in specific spheres of society: local government, industry, newspapers, books, and education. In replacing the nine leaves of manuscript, he had not come to disagree with them. Instead, as readers of what follows and the final lecture of the book will allow, he now engaged the topic at a higher level. Russell at this time was a friendly critic of the British Labour Party, and his devolutionary reformism is to be seen in that light. Yet his final text transcended politics and engaged his audience at an ethical level, treating of the freedom and duty of conscience, the justifiability of revolution, and life lived as an end. He decided to paint the ideals and let the recipes suggest themselves.—K.B.]






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