Albert Einstein and politics
- 1 1900s
- 2 1910s
- 3 1920s
- 4 1930s
- 5 1940s
- 6 1950s
- 7 Posthumous publication
- 8 Disputed
- 9 Misattributed
- 10 Quotes about Einstein's politics
- 11 External links
- Autoritätsdusel ist der größte Feind der Wahrheit.
- Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.
- Letter to Jost Winteler (1901), quoted in The Private Lives of Albert Einstein by Roger Highfield and Paul Carter (1993), p. 79. Einstein had been annoyed that Paul Drude, editor of Annalen der Physik, had dismissed out of hand some criticisms Einstein made of Drude's electron theory of metals.
- Man begreift schwer beim Erleben dieser "großen Zeit", daß man dieser verrückten, verkommenen Spezies angehört, die sich Willensfreiheit zuschreibt. Wenn es doch irgendwo eine Insel der Wohlwollenden und Besonnenen gäbe! Da wollte ich auch glühender Patriot sein.
- In living through this "great epoch," it is difficult to reconcile oneself to the fact that one belongs to that mad, degenerate species that boasts of its free will. How I wish that somewhere there existed an island for those who are wise and of good will! In such a place even I should be an ardent patriot!
- Letter to Paul Ehrenfest, early December 1914. Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Vol 8, Doc. 39. Quoted in The New Quotable Einstein by Alice Calaprice (2005), p. 3.
- Ich bin der Abstammung nach ein Jude, der Staatszugehörigkeit nach ein Schweizer und der Gesinnung nach ein Mensch und nur ein Mensch, ohne besondere Neigung für irgend ein staatliches oder nationales Gebilde.
- I am by heritage a Jew, by citizenship a Swiss, and by makeup a human being, and only a human being, without any special attachment to any state or national entity whatsoever.
- Letter to Adolf Kneser (7 June 1918); Doc. 560 in The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein Vol. 8.
Viereck interview (1929)
- "What Life Means to Einstein: An Interview by George Sylvester Viereck" The Saturday Evening Post (26 October 1929), p. 17. A scan of the article is available online here.
- In America, more than anywhere else, the individual is lost in the achievements of the many. America is beginning to be the world leader in scientific investigation. American scholarship is both patient and inspiring. The Americans show an unselfish devotion to science, which is the very opposite of the conventional European view of your countrymen. Too many of us look upon Americans as dollar chasers. This is a cruel libel, even if it is reiterated thoughtlessly by the Americans themselves. It is not true that the dollar is an American fetish. The American student is not interested in dollars, not even in success as such, but in his task, the object of the search. It is his painstaking application to the study of the infinitely little and the infinitely large which accounts for his success in astronomy.
- We are inclined to overemphasize the material influences in history. The Russians especially make this mistake. Intellectual values and ethnic influences, tradition and emotional factors are equally important. If this were not the case, Europe would today be a federated state, not a madhouse of nationalism.
- Bolshevism is an extraordinary experiment. It is not impossible that the drift of social evolution henceforward may be in the direction of communism. The Bolshevist experiment may be worth trying. But I think that Russia errs badly in the execution of her ideal. The Russians make the mistake of putting party faith above efficiency. They replace efficient men by politicians. Their test stone of public service is not the accomplishment but devotion to a rigid creed.
- It is quite possible to be both. I look upon myself as a man. Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.
- When asked by Viereck if he considered himself to be a German or a Jew. A version with slightly different wording is quoted in Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson (2007), p. 386
- We Jews have been too adaptable. We have been too eager to sacrifice our idiosyncrasies for the sake of social conformity. … Even in modern civilization, the Jew is most happy if he remains a Jew.
- I do not believe in race as such. Race is a fraud. All modern people are the conglomeration of so many ethnic mixtures that no pure race remains.
- But to return to the Jewish question. Other groups and nations cultivate their individual traditions. There is no reason why we should sacrifice ours. Standardization robs life of its spice. To deprive every ethnic group of its special traditions is to convert the world into a huge Ford plant. I believe in standardizing automobiles. I do not believe in standardizing human beings. Standardization is a great peril which threatens American culture.
- To punish me for my contempt of authority, Fate has made me an authority myself.
- Aphorism for a friend (18 September 1930) [Einstein Archive 36-598]; as quoted in Albert Einstein: Creator and Rebel (1988) by Banesh Hoffman.
- Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding. You cannot subjugate a nation forcibly unless you wipe out every man, woman, and child. Unless you wish to use such drastic measures, you must find a way of settling your disputes without resort to arms.
- From a speech to the New History Society (14 December 1930), reprinted in "Militant Pacifism" in Cosmic Religion (1931); also found in The New Quotable Einstein by Alice Calaprice, p. 158.
- Besides agreeing with the aims of vegetarianism for aesthetic and moral reasons, it is my view that a vegetarian manner of living by its purely physical effect on the human temperament would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind.
- From a letter to Hermann Huth, Vice-President of the German Vegetarian Federation, 27 December 1930. Supposedly published in German magazine Vegetarische Warte, which existed from 1882 to 1935. Einstein Archive 46-756. Quoted in The Ultimate Quotable Einstein by Alice Calaprice (2011), p. 453. ISBN 978-0-691-13817-6.
- I am not only a pacifist but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.
- Interview with George Sylvester Viereck (January 1931).
- Why does this magnificent applied science which saves work and makes life easier bring us so little happiness? The simple answer runs: Because we have not yet learned to make sensible use of it. In war it serves that we may poison and mutilate each other. In peace it has made our lives hurried and uncertain. Instead of freeing us in great measure from spiritually exhausting labor, it has made men into slaves of machinery, who for the most part complete their monotonous long day's work with disgust and must continually tremble for their poor rations. … It is not enough that you should understand about applied science in order that your work may increase man's blessings. Concern for the man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavours; concern for the great unsolved problems of the organization of labor and the distribution of goods in order that the creations of our mind shall be a blessing and not a curse to mankind. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.
- Speech to students at the California Institute of Technology, in "Einstein Sees Lack in Applying Science", The New York Times (16 February 1931).
- Today, in twelve countries, young men are resisting conscription and refusing military service. They are the pioneers of a warless world.
- "Nobody can deny that to-day this foundation of a worthy existence is in considerable danger. Forces are at work which are attempting to destroy the European inheritance of freedom, tolerance, and human dignity. The danger is characterised as Hitlerism, Militarism, and Communism which, while indicating different conditions, all lead to the subjugation and enslavement of the individual by the State, and bring tolerance and personal liberty to an end … If we want to resist the powers which threaten to suppress intellectual and individual freedom, we must keep clearly before us what is at stake. Without such freedom there would have been no Shakespeare, no Goethe, no Faraday, no Pasteur, no Lister. There would be no comfortable houses for the people, no railways, no wireless, no protection against epidemics, no cheap books, no culture, no enjoyment of art for all. Only men who are free can create the works which make life worth living."
- The Value of the Free Man, A lecture delivered before "The Friends of Europe" (London); transcribed in World Digest ( April 1934).
- All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. It is no mere chance that our older universities developed from clerical schools. Both churches and universities — insofar as they live up to their true function — serve the ennoblement of the individual. They seek to fulfill this great task by spreading moral and cultural understanding, renouncing the use of brute force.
The essential unity of ecclesiastical and secular institutions was lost during the 19th century, to the point of senseless hostility. Yet there was never any doubt as to the striving for culture. No one doubted the sacredness of the goal. It was the approach that was disputed.
- "Moral Decay" (1937); Later published in Out of My Later Years (1950).
- By the way, there are increasing signs that the Russian trials are not faked, but that there is a plot among those who look upon Stalin as a stupid reactionary who has betrayed the ideas of the revolution. Though we find it difficult to imagine this kind of internal thing, those who know Russia best are all more or less of the same opinion. I was firmly convinced to begin with that it was a case of a dictator's despotic acts, based on lies and deception, but this was a delusion.
- Letter to Max Born (no date, 1937 or 1938); The Born-Einstein Letters (translated by Irene Born) (Walker and Company, New York, 1971) ISBN 0-8027-0326-7. Born commented: "The Russian trials were Stalin's purges, with which he attempted to consolidate his power. Like most people in the West, I believed these show trials to be the arbitrary acts of a cruel dictator. Einstein was apparently of a different opinion: he believed that when threatened by Hitler the Russians had no choice but to destroy as many of their enemies within their own camp as possible. I find it hard to reconcile this point of view with Einstein's gentle, humanitarian disposition."
- I consider it important, indeed urgently necessary, for intellectual workers to get together, both to protect their own economic status and, also, generally speaking, to secure their influence in the political field.
- In a comment explaining why he joined the American Federation of Teachers local number 552 as a charter member (1938).
- Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.
- Statement on the occasion of Gandhi's 70th birthday (1939) Einstein archive 32-601, published in Out of My Later Years (1950).
- Variant: Generations to come, it may be, will scarcely believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.
- Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future. Certain aspects of the situation seem to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration...
This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable—though much less certain—that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat or exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory. However, such bombs might very well prove to be too heavy for transportation by air.
- Letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt (August 2, 1939, delivered October 11, 1939); reported in Einstein on Peace, ed. Otto Nathan and Heinz Norden (1960, reprinted 1981), pp. 294–95.
Mein Weltbild (My World-view) (1931)
- I am strongly drawn to the simple life and am often oppressed by the feeling that I am engrossing an unnecessary amount of the labour of my fellow-men. I regard class differences as contrary to justice and, in the last resort, based on force. I also consider that plain living is good for everybody, physically and mentally.
- My passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility has always contrasted oddly with my pronounced lack of need for direct contact with other human beings and human communities.
- I gang my own gait and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart; in the face of all these ties I have never lost an obstinate sense of detachment, of the need for solitude — a feeling which increases with the years.
- Variant translation: I am truly a 'lone traveler' and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart; in the face of all these ties, I have never lost a sense of distance and a need for solitude...
- My political ideal is democracy. Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolized. It is an irony of fate that I myself have been the recipient of excessive admiration and reverence from my fellow-beings, through no fault, and no merit, of my own. The cause of this may well be the desire, unattainable for many, to understand the few ideas to which I have with my feeble powers attained through ceaseless struggle. I am quite aware that for any organization to reach its goals, one man must do the thinking and directing and generally bear the responsibility. But the led must not be coerced, they must be able to choose their leader.
- An autocratic system of coercion, in my opinion, soon degenerates. For force always attracts men of low morality, and I believe it to be an invariable rule that tyrants of genius are succeeded by scoundrels. For this reason I have always been passionately opposed to systems such as we see in Italy and Russia to-day.
- Variant translation: In my opinion, an autocratic system of coercion soon degenerates; force attracts men of low morality...
- The really valuable thing in the pageant of human life seems to me not the State but the creative, sentient individual, the personality; it alone creates the noble and the sublime, while the herd as such remains dull in thought and dull in feeling.
- This topic brings me to that worst outcrop of the herd nature, the military system, which I abhor. That a man can take pleasure in marching in formation to the strains of a band is enough to make me despise him. He has only been given his big brain by mistake; a backbone was all he needed. This plague-spot of civilization ought to be abolished with all possible speed. Heroism by order, senseless violence, and all the pestilent nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism — how I hate them! War seems to me a mean, contemptible thing: I would rather be hacked in pieces than take part in such an abominable business.
- Variant translation: He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice. This disgrace to civilisation should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, senseless brutality, deplorable love-of-country stance, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be part of so base an action! It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.
My Credo (1932)
- Speech to the German League of Human Rights, Berlin (Autumn 1932); as published in Einstein: A Life in Science (1994) by Michael White and John Gribbin This repeats or revises some statements and ideas of Mein Weltbild (1931). (Full text online)
- My passion for social justice has often brought me into conflict with people, as did my aversion to any obligation and dependence I do not regard as absolutely necessary. I always have a high regard for the individual and have an insuperable distaste for violence and clubmanship.
All these motives made me into a passionate pacifist and anti-militarist. I am against any nationalism, even in the guise of mere patriotism. Privileges based on position and property have always seemed to me unjust and pernicious, as did any exaggerated personality cult.
- I am an adherent of the ideal of democracy, although I well know the weaknesses of the democratic form of government. Social equality and economic protection of the individual appeared to me always as the important communal aims of the state.
Although I am a typical loner in daily life, my consciousness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice has preserved me from feeling isolated.
- Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.
- Letter to Morris Raphael Cohen, professor emeritus of philosophy at the College of the City of New York, defending the appointment of Bertrand Russell to a teaching position (19 March 1940).
- Variant: Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence and fulfills the duty to express the results of his thoughts in clear form.
- I think that it is the duty of every citizen according to his best capacities to give validity to his convictions in political affairs.
- The release of atomic energy has not created a new problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessary solving of an existing one. One could say it has affected us quantitatively, not qualitatively.
- As long as there are sovereign nations possessing great power, war is inevitable.
- From "Einstein on the Atomic Bomb," part 1, an interview by Raymond Swing in Atlantic Monthly (November 1945).
- There is separation of colored people from white people in the United States. That separation is not a disease of colored people. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it.
- From a speech given on May 3, 1946 at Lincoln University, where he was receiving an honorary degree, as reported in the 11 May 1946 edition of the Baltimore Afro-American.
- Our world faces a crisis as yet unperceived by those possessing power to make great decisions for good or evil. The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.
- From the article "Atomic Education Urged by Einstein", The New York Times (25 May 1946). The article reported on a telegram sent out by Einstein to "several hundred prominent Americans", asking for contributions to a nationwide campaign by the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists to "to let the people know that a new type of thinking is essential" in the age of atomic weapons.
- According to "A Brief History of the Bulletin from the former homepage of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 'In May 1946, Einstein, one of the Bulletin's godfathers, wrote in an early Bulletin fund-raising letter: "The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe."'
- Variant: "Our world is faced with a crisis which has never before been envisaged in its whole existence; it gives the power to make far-reaching decisions on good and evil. The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking, and thus we are being driven unarmed towards a catastrophe. … the solution of this problem lies in the heart of humankind."
- This version appears in Albert Einstein: A Documentary Biography by Carl Seelig, the English translation by Mervyn Savill (1956), p. 223. It may be that the difference in wording here owes to the fact that Seelig translated Einstein's English telegram into German, and then Mervyn Savill translated it back into English without realizing the version in Seelig's book was itself a translation from English. If this is the case, it is unclear where the phrase "the solution of this problem lies in the heart of humankind" came from, as it does not seem to correspond to anything in the original telegram. It may be a variant of some comment that appeared in his later interview with Michael Amrine (which was printed in the New York Times Magazine on 23 June 1946, and is also reproduced on this page) where he expanded on the message of the telegraph; for example, it may be a retranslated version of his comment "Science has brought forth this danger, but the real problem is in the minds and hearts of men."
- It is easier to denature plutonium than it is to denature the evil spirit of man.
- A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.
- From "Atomic Education Urged by Einstein", New York Times (25 May 1946), and later quoted in the article "The Real Problem is in the Hearts of Man" by Michael Amrine, from the New York Times Magazine (23 June 1946). A slightly modified version of the 23 June article was reprinted in Einstein on Peace by Otto Nathan and Heinz Norden (1960), and it was also reprinted in Einstein on Politics by David E. Rowe and Robert Schulmann (2007), p. 383.
- In The New Quotable Einstein (2005), editor Alice Calaprice suggests that two quotes attributed to Einstein which she could not find sources for, "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them" and "The world we have created today as a result of our thinking thus far has problems which cannot be solved by thinking the way we thought when we created them," may both be paraphrases of the 1946 quote above. A similar unsourced variant is "The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking."
- In the 23 June article Einstein expanded somewhat on the original quote from the 25 May article:
- Many persons have inquired concerning a recent message of mine that "a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move to higher levels."
- Often in evolutionary processes a species must adapt to new conditions in order to survive. Today the atomic bomb has altered profoundly the nature of the world as we knew it, and the human race consequently finds itself in a new habitat to which it must adapt its thinking.
- In the light of new knowledge, a world authority and an eventual world state are not just desirable in the name of brotherhood, they are necessary for survival. In previous ages a nation's life and culture could be protected to some extent by the growth of armies in national competition. Today we must abandon competition and secure cooperation. This must be the central fact in all our considerations of international affairs; otherwise we face certain disaster. Past thinking and methods did not prevent world wars. Future thinking must prevent wars.
- The position in which we are now is a very strange one which in general political life never happened. Namely, the thing that I refer to is this: To have security against atomic bombs and against the other biological weapons, we have to prevent war, for if we cannot prevent war every nation will use every means that is at their disposal; and in spite of all promises they make, they will do it. At the same time, so long as war is not prevented, all the governments of the nations have to prepare for war, and if you have to prepare for war, then you are in a state where you cannot abolish war.
This is really the cornerstone of our situation. Now, I believe what we should try to bring about is the general conviction that the first thing you have to abolish is war at all costs, and every other point of view must be of secondary importance.
- Address to the symposium "The Social Task of the Scientist in the Atomic Era" at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey (17 November 1946).
- You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war. The very prevention of war requires more faith, courage and resolution than are needed to prepare for war. We must all do our share, that we may be equal to the task of peace.
- Message sent to Congressman Robert Hale of Portland, Maine (4 December 1946), to be used at a world government meeting in Portland on 11 December. Quoted in Einstein on Peace edited by Otto Nathan and Heinz Norden (1960), p. 397.
- Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I would not have lifted a finger.
- Discussing the letter he sent Roosevelt raising the possibility of atomic weapons. from "Atom: Einstein, the Man Who Started It All," Newsweek Magazine (10 March 1947).
- I agree with your remark about loving your enemy as far as actions are concerned. But for me the cognitive basis is the trust in an unrestricted causality. "I cannot hate him, because he must do what he does." That means for me more Spinoza than the prophets.
- On the Christian maxim "Love thy enemy", in a letter to Michele Besso (6 January 1948).
- Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.
- As quoted by Virgil Henshaw in Albert Einstein : Philosopher Scientist (1949) edited by Paul A. Schilpp.
- I do not know how the Third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth — rocks!
- As quoted in an interview with Alfred Werner, published in Liberal Judaism 16 (April-May 1949), 12. Einstein Archive 30-1104, as sourced in The New Quotable Einstein by Alice Calaprice (2005), p. 173.
- Differing versions of such a statement are attributed to conversations as early as 1948 (e.g. The Rotarian, 72 (6), June 1948, p. 9: "I don't know. But I can tell you what they'll use in the fourth. They'll use rocks!"). Another variant ('I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones') is attributed to an unidentified letter to Harry S. Truman in "The culture of Einstein" by Alex Johnson, MSNBC (18 April 2005). However, prior to 1948 very similar quotes were attributed in various articles to an unnamed army lieutenant, as discussed at Quote Investigator : "The Futuristic Weapons of WW3 Are Unknown, But WW4 Will Be Fought With Stones and Spears". The earliest found was from “Quote and Unquote: Raising ‘Alarmist’ Cry Brings a Winchell Reply” by Walter Winchell, in the Wisconsin State Journal (23 September 1946), p. 6, Col. 3. In this article Winchell wrote:
Joe Laitin reports that reporters at Bikini were questioning an army lieutenant about what weapons would be used in the next war.
“I dunno,” he said, “but in the war after the next war, sure as Hell, they’ll be using spears!”
- It seems plausible, therefore, that Einstein may have been quoting or paraphrasing an expression which he had heard or read elsewhere.
Only Then Shall We Find Courage (1946)
- New York Times Magazine (23 June 1946)
- Many persons have inquired concerning a recent message of mine that "a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move to higher levels."
Often in evolutionary processes a species must adapt to new conditions in order to survive. Today the atomic bomb has altered profoundly the nature of the world as we know it, and the human race consequently finds itself in a new habitat to which it must adapt its thinking.
In light of new knowledge…an eventual world state is not just desirable in the name of brotherhood, it is necessary for survival... Today we must abandon competition and secure cooperation. This must be the central fact in all our considerations of international affairs; otherwise we face certain disaster. Past thinking and methods did not prevent world wars. Future thinking must prevent wars.
- As the issues are greater than men ever sought to realize before, the recriminations will be fiercer and pride more desperately hurt. It may help to recall that many recognized before the bomb ever fell that the time had already come when we must learn to live in One World.
The stakes are immense, the task colossal, the time is short. But we may hope — we must hope — that man’s own creation, man’s own genius, will not destroy him. Scholars, indeed all men, must move forward in the faith of that philosopher who held that there is no problem the human reason can propound which the human reason cannot reason out.
The World As I See It (1949)
- For the title essay in this work see Mein Weltbild (1931) above.
Some Notes on my American Impressions
- First published as "My First Impression of the U.S.A." (1921).
- The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in the United States is closely connected with this.
- The United States is the most powerful technically advanced country in the world to-day. Its influence on the shaping of international relations is absolutely incalculable. But America is a large country and its people have so far not shown much interest in great international problems, among which the problem of disarmament occupies first place today. This must be changed, if only in the essential interests of the Americans. The last war has shown that there are no longer any barriers between the continents and that the destinies of all countries are closely interwoven. The people of this country must realize that they have a great responsibility in the sphere of international politics. The part of passive spectator is unworthy of this country and is bound in the end to lead to disaster all round.
- What strikes a visitor is the joyous, positive attitude to life... . The American is friendly, self-confident, optimistic, and—without envy.
- The World As I See It, Philosophical Library (1949) p. 39
- The state is made for man, not man for the state. And in this respect science resembles the state.
- The World As I See It, Philosophical Library (1949) p. 57
Production and Work
- Bureaucracy is the death of all sound work.
- The following quotes have been cited as being from The World As I See It but are not in later abridged editions of the original 1949 book and thus these citations are not yet confirmed.
- May the conscience and the common sense of the peoples be awakened, so that we may reach a new stage in the life of nations, where people will look back on war as an incomprehensible aberration of their forefathers!
Why Socialism? (1949)
- Monthly Review  New York (May 1949)
- Historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called "the predatory phase" of human development. The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.
- Socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals and—if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous—are adopted and carried forward by those many human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slow evolution of society. For these reasons, we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society.
- Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behavior of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organisation which predominate in society. It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.
- My visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: "Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?" I am sure that as little as a century ago no one would have so lightly made a statement of this kind. It is the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain an equilibrium within himself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days.
- I am very conscious of the fact that our feelings and strivings are often contradictory and obscure and that they cannot be expressed in easy and simple formulas.
- Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society.
- The abstract concept "society" means to the individual human being the sum total of his direct and indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society—in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence—that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is "society" which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought; his life is made possible through the labor and the accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word “society.”
- The dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished.
- Man can influence his life through his own conduct, and that in this process conscious thinking and wanting can play a part.
- Those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes.
- Technological and demographic developments of the last few centuries have created conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled populations with the goods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labor and a highly-centralized productive apparatus are absolutely necessary. The time—which, looking back, seems so idyllic—is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self-sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption.
- The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate.
- The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. In so far as the labor contract is free what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists' requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.
- I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.
- The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor — not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules.
- Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers' goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals.
- I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society. Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralisation of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?
- Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.
- Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service.
- Referring to the Monthly Review, in which the essay was published.
- Taken on the whole, I would believe that Gandhi's views were the most enlightened of all the political men in our time. We should strive to do things in his spirit... not to use violence in fighting for our cause, but by non-participation in what we believe is evil.
- United Nations radio interview recorded in Einstein's study, Princeton, New Jersey (1950).
- I believe, indeed, that overemphasis on the purely intellectual attitude, often directed solely to the practical and factual, in our education, has led directly to the impairment of ethical values. I am not thinking so much of the dangers with which technical progress has directly confronted mankind, as of the stifling of mutual human considerations by a "matter-of-fact" habit of thought which has come to lie like a killing frost upon human relations. … The frightful dilemma of the political world situation has much to do with this sin of omission on the part of our civilization. Without "ethical culture," there is no salvation for humanity.
- "The Need for Ethical Culture" celebrating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Ethical Culture Society, founded by Felix Adler (5 January 1951) (the full remarks can be found in Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein and Carl Seelig).
- Einer, der nur Zeitungen liest und, wenn's hochkommt, Bücher zeitgenössischer Autoren, kommt mir vor wie ein hochgradig Kurzsichtiger, der es verschmäht, Augengläser zu tragen. Er ist völlig abhängig von den vorurteilen und Moden seiner Zeit, denn er bekommt nichts anderes zu sehen und zu hören. Und was einer selbständig denkt ohne Anlehnung an das Denken und Erleben anderer, ist auch im besten Falle Ziemlich ärmlich und monoton.
- Translation: Somebody who reads only newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors appears to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else. And what a person thinks on his own, without being stimulated by the thoughts and experiences of other people, is, similarly, even in the best case rather paltry and monotonous.
- Article in Der Jungkaufmann, April 1952, Einstein Archives 28-972.
- What I particularly admire in him is the firm stand he has taken, not only against the oppressors of his countrymen, but also against those opportunists who are always ready to compromise with the Devil. He perceives very clearly that the world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.
- Einstein's tribute to Pablo Casals (30 March 1953), in Conversations with Casals (1957), page 11, by Josep Maria Corredor, translated from Conversations avec Pablo Casals : souvenirs et opinions d'un musicien (1955)
- Variant translations or paraphrasing:
- The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.
- As quoted in The Harper Book of Quotations by Robert I. Fitzhenry (1993), p. 356
- The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.
- As quoted in Conscious Courage : Turning Everyday Challenges Into Opportunities (2004) by Maureen Stearns, p. 99
- The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.
- It gives me great pleasure, indeed, to see the stubbornness of an incorrigible nonconformist warmly acclaimed.
- Appears in Ideas and Opinions in the section "Address on Receiving Lord & Taylor Award" (4 May 1953).
- In long intervals I have expressed an opinion on public issues whenever they appeared to me so bad and unfortunate that silence would have made me feel guilty of complicity.
- Address to the Chicago Decalogue Society (20 February 1954), reprinted in a section titled "Human Rights" in Ideas and Opinions.
- It is my belief that there is only one way to eliminate these evils, namely, the establishment of a planned economy coupled with an education geared toward social goals. Alongside the development of individual abilities, the education of the individual aspires to revive an ideal that is geared toward the service of our fellow man, and that needs to take the place of the glorification of power and outer success.
- Striving for peace and preparing for war are incompatible with each other, and in our time more so than ever.
- From a 16 June 1950 U.N. radio interview, the transcript of which appears in the section "The Pursuit of Peace" in his book Ideas and Opinions (1954).
- The idea of achieving security through national armament is, at the present state of military technique, a disastrous illusion.
- Ideas and Opinions (1954).
- That is simple my friend: because politics is more difficult than physics.
- Response to being asked why people could discover atomic power, but not the means to control it, as quoted in The New York Times (22 April 1955).
- The important thing is not to stop questioning.
- Statement to William Miller, as quoted in LIFE magazine (2 May 1955) Old Man's Advice to Youth: "Never Lose a Holy Curiosity" pages 61-64, at page 64.
Out of My Later Years (1950)
- A collection of Einstein's essays which cover a period of 1934 to 1950.
- This freedom of communication is indispensable for the development and extension of scientific knowledge, a consideration of much practical import. In the first instance it must be guaranteed by law. But laws alone cannot secure freedom of expression; in order that every man may present his views without penalty there must be a spirit of tolerance in the entire population. Such an ideal of external liberty can never be fully attained but must be sought unremittingly if scientific thought, and philosophical and creative thinking in general, are to be advanced as far as possible.
- "On Freedom" (1940), p. 13.
- Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.
- "Morals and Emotions" (1938), p. 19.
- Everyone is aware of the difficult and menacing situation in which human society -- shrunk into one community with a common fate — finds itself, but only a few act accordingly. Most people go on living their every-day life: half frightened, half indifferent, they behold the ghostly tragi-comedy which is being performed on the international stage before the eyes and ears of the world. But on that stage, on which the actors under the floodlights play their ordained parts, our fate of tomorrow, life or death of the nations, is being decided.
- "The Menace of Mass Destruction" (1947).
- One strength of the communist system of the East is that it has some of the character of a religion and inspires the emotions of a religion. Unless the concept of peace based on law gathers behind it the force and zeal of a religion, it can hardly hope to succeed.
- "Atomic War or Peace" part II (1947).
Essay to Leo Baeck (1953)
- Statements by Einstein from Essays Presented to Leo Baeck on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday (1954), p. 26; Baeck's birthday was 23 May 1953; Einstein Archives 28-962. Some quotes are from The New Quotable Einstein (2005) edited by Alice Calaprice, pp. 120-121, others from Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein (1954), where they appear in the section "Aphorisms for Leo Baeck."
- Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions that differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.
- The New Quotable Einstein.
- The contrasts and contradictions that can permanently live peacefully side by side in a skull make all the systems of political optimists and pessimists illusory.
- Ideas and Opinions.
- Posthumous quotes can be particularly problematic, especially where earlier sources are not cited at all.
- I made one great mistake in my life—when I signed that letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification—the danger that the Germans would make them!
- Written by Linus Pauling in his diary after a conversation with Einstein (16 November 1954). Quoted in The New Quotable Einstein by Alice Calaprice (2005), p. 175. Calaprice writes that the quote was copied directly from Pauling's diary.
- Variant: "I made one mistake in my life—when I signed that letter to President Roosevelt advocating that the bomb should be built. But perhaps I can be forgiven for that because we all felt that there was a high probability that the Germans were working on this problem and that they might succeed and use the atomic bomb to become the master race." Appears in The Expanded Quotable Einstein by Alice Calaprice (2000), p. 185. However, in The New Quotable Einstein Calaprice writes "The longer version quoted in the previous editions of this book (copied from secondary sources) is not in the diary."
- I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.
- Attributed to Einstein by his colleague Léopold Infeld in his book Quest: An Autobiography (1949), p. 291
- Yes, we now have to divide up our time like that, between politics and our equations. But to me our equations are far more important, for politics are only a matter of present concern. A mathematical equation stands forever.
- Earliest source located is the book Brighter than a Thousand Suns: A Personal History of the Atomic Scientists by Robert Jungk (1958), p. 249, which says that Einstein made the comment during "a walk with Ernst Straus, a young mathematician acting as his scientific assistant at Princeton."
- Variant: "Equations are more important to me, because politics is for the present, but an equation is something for eternity." From A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking (2005), p. 144.
- Earlier, Straus recalled the German version of the quote in Helle Zeit, Dunkle Zeit: In Memoriam Albert Einstein (1956) edited by Carl Seelig, p. 71. There the quote was given as Ja, so muß man seine Zeit zwischen der Politik und unseren Gleichungen teilen. Aber unsere Gleichungen sind mir doch viel wichtiger; denn die Politik ist für die Gegenwart da, aber solch eine Gleichung is etwas für die Ewigkeit.
- As far as I'm concerned I prefer silent vice to ostentatious virtue.
- Attributed to Einstein in Albert Einstein: A Documentary Biography by Carl Seeling (1956), p. 114. Einstein is said to have made this remark "when someone in his company grew angry about a mutual acquaintance's moral decline".
- The hardest thing in the world to understand is income taxes.
- Attributed by his friend Leo Mattersdorf, who also said that "From the time Professor Einstein came to this country until his death, I prepared his income tax returns and advised him on his tax problems." In a letter to Time magazine, 22 February 1963. See this post from The Quote Investigator for more background.
Albert Einstein: The Human Side (1979)
- Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffmann, Albert Einstein, The Human Side: New Glimpses From His Archives (1979)
- Politics is a pendulum whose swings between anarchy and tyranny are fueled by perennially rejuvenated illusions.
- In my opinion, condemning the Zionist movement as "nationalistic" is unjustified. Consider the path by which Herzl came to his mission. Initially he had been completely cosmopolitan. But during the Dreyfus trial in Paris he suddenly realized with great clarity how precarious was the situation of the Jews in the western world. And courageously he drew the conclusion that we are discriminated against or murdered not because we are Germans, Frenchmen, Americans, etc. of the "Jewish faith" but simply because we are Jews. Thus already our precarious situation forces us to stand together irrespective of our citizenship.
Zionism gave the German Jews no great protection against annihilation. But it did give the survivors the inner strength to endure the debacle with dignity and without losing their healthy self respect. Keep in mind that perhaps a similar fate could be lying in wait for your children.
- c. 1946, p. 63-64.
Einstein and the Poet (1983)
- William Hermanns, Einstein and the Poet: In Search of the Cosmic Man (1983). From a series of meetings Hermanns had with Einstein in 1930, 1943, 1948, and 1954, during which he took notes on what Einstein said (though it's unclear if he recorded the exact phrasing or filled in words from memory). Another person present at the 1954 conversation offered his own slightly different transcription of Einstein's comments, which was published in the article "Death of a Genius" from the 2 May, 1955 issue of Life Magazine. "Einstein and the Poet" is viewable on Google Books here.
Third conversation (1948)
- And the traditional religions worry me. Their long history proves that they have not understood the meaning of the commandment: Thou shalt not kill. If we want to save this world from unimaginable destruction we should concentrate not on the faraway God, but on the heart of the individual. We live now in an international anarchy in which a Third World War with nuclear weapons lies before our door. We must make the individual man aware of his conscience so that he understands what it means that only a few will survive the next war.
- p. 98.
- I happened to have nothing to do with the actual research and development of the bomb. My letter to President Roosevelt was nothing but a letter of introduction for Dr. Szilard who wanted to create adequate contact between scientists and Washington regarding the Manhattan project. I had only handled the problem of nuclear defense when it was reported to me that the Germans were working on such an atomic bomb and, in fact, had uranium mines in Czechoslovakia in their control. I felt it was imperative for the United States to proceed in the development of the bomb, before Hitler used it to destroy London. I also felt that we had to show Germany the power of America, for power is the only language barbarians understand. And when I later learned that the bomb had been created and was to be used against Japan, I did all in my power to avert President Truman from this plan, since publicly dropping it on an empty island would have been sufficient to convince Japan or any nation to sue for peace.
- p. 100.
- America is a democracy and has no Hitler, but I am afraid for her future; there are hard times ahead for the American people, troubles will be coming from within and without. America cannot smile away their Negro problem nor Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There are cosmic laws.
- p. 108.
- If I had foreseen Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I would have torn up my formula in 1905.
- p. 112.
- America, however, uses Russia now as a pretext to arm and create more terrible nuclear bombs. If I were young, I would leave the United States. I want to live where scholarship is free and unattached to the military machine. I want to live where spiritual values are not suppressed by the State. Nothing has real value which is not done out of love for one's fellowman. Poor America—the Apocalyptic rider is coming.
- p. 113.
Fourth conversation (1954)
- [asked whether he had communist sympathies] I have never admired any system that encourages a herd nature in man by suppressing his free will to choose for himself. . . . I said that Marx sacrificed himself for the ideal of social justice, but I didn't say that his theories are right. As for Lenin, I don't believe he liked me. How can I be called a communist when I have fought so long for freedom of thought, of expression, freedom from the military boot, and freedom from automation?
- p. 131.
- Don't think about why you question, simply don't stop questioning.
- p. 138.
- Variant transcription from "Death of a Genius" in Life Magazine: "Then do not stop to think about the reasons for what you are doing, about why you are questioning. The important thing is not to stop questioning."
Quotes about Einstein's politics
- Einstein's earliest political activity came during the First World War, when he was a professor in Berlin. Sickened by what he saw as the waste of human lives, he became involved in antiwar demonstrations. [...] Einstein's second great cause was Zionism. Although he was Jewish by descent, Einstein rejected the biblical idea of God. However, a growing awareness of anti-Semitism, both before and during the First World War, led him gradually to identify with the Jewish community, and later to become an outspoken supporter of Zionism. [...] Throughout his life, Einstein's efforts toward peace probably achieved little that would last—and certainly won him few friends.
- Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, Albert Einstein.
- Einstein appears to have been unaware that only calculation and distribution in terms of market prices make it possible to utilise our discoverable resources intensively, to guide production to serve ends lying beyond the range of the producer's perception, and to enable the individual to participate usefully in productive exchange (first, by serving people, mostly unknown to him, to the gratification of whose needs he can nonetheless effectively contribute; and second, by himself being supplied as well as he is only because people who know nothing about his existence are induced, also by market signals, to provide for his needs: see the previous chapter). In following such sentiments Einstein shows his lack of comprehension of, or real interest in, the actual processes by which human efforts are coordinated.
- Friedrich Hayek, The Fatal Conceit (1988), Ch. 4: The Revolt of Instinct and Reason.