Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Einstein on Politics

Einstein on Politics: His Private Thoughts and Public Stands on Nationalism, Zionism, War, Peace, and the Bomb

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 576
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Einstein on Politics
    Book Description:

    The most famous scientist of the twentieth century, Albert Einstein was also one of the century's most outspoken political activists. Deeply engaged with the events of his tumultuous times, from the two world wars and the Holocaust, to the atomic bomb and the Cold War, to the effort to establish a Jewish homeland, Einstein was a remarkably prolific political writer, someone who took courageous and often unpopular stands against nationalism, militarism, anti-Semitism, racism, and McCarthyism. InEinstein on Politics, leading Einstein scholars David Rowe and Robert Schulmann gather Einstein's most important public and private political writings and put them into historical context. The book reveals a little-known Einstein--not the ineffectual and naïve idealist of popular imagination, but a principled, shrewd pragmatist whose stands on political issues reflected the depth of his humanity.

    Nothing encapsulates Einstein's profound involvement in twentieth-century politics like the atomic bomb. Here we read the former militant pacifist's 1939 letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt warning that Germany might try to develop an atomic bomb. But the book also documents how Einstein tried to explain this action to Japanese pacifists after the United States used atomic weapons to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki, events that spurred Einstein to call for international control of nuclear technology.

    A vivid firsthand view of how one of the twentieth century's greatest minds responded to the greatest political challenges of his day,Einstein on Politicswill forever change our picture of Einstein's public activism and private motivations.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4828-7
    Subjects: Political Science, History, Physics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xviii)
    (pp. xix-xxx)
    (pp. xxxi-xxxii)
    (pp. xxxiii-xxxvi)
    (pp. 1-60)

    Writing in the last months of the First World War, Einstein summed up his internationalist position with simple passion: “By heritage I am a Jew, by nationality Swiss, by conviction a human being andonlya human being with no particular penchant for a state or national entity” (CPAE 8B, Doc. 560).

    Readings in popular science in his early years had laid the groundwork. As a precocious teenager he devoured Aaron Bernstein’s multivolume encyclopedic study of the natural sciences, which besides offering a wealth of insights into the world of physics, provided numerous examples of the critical link between scientific...

  8. CHAPTER 1 The First World War and Its Impact, 1914–1921
    (pp. 61-92)

    Einstein arrived in Berlin in 1914 at the age of 35, a scientific prodigy but innocent of the world of politics. The outbreak of the war was a rude awakening for him and led to his first tentative grappling with political issues. What he retained was the sensibility and vocabulary of a citizen of the republic of letters, not of someone prepared to engage in public debate or political action at close quarters. In the very first months of the war, moral outrage triggered his collaboration in a countermanifesto protesting the solidarity of German intellectuals with the army in its...

  9. CHAPTER 2 Science Meets Politics: The Relativity Revolution, 1918–1923
    (pp. 93-135)

    Einstein’s rise to fame as a scientist took place during a period of tumultuous political events throughout Europe, but particularly within Germany. With the abdication of the Kaiser, the parallels between impending scientific and political revolution began to color public discourse about the theory of relativity. Soon after the signing of the armistice that ended the fighting in November 1918, Einstein published his “Dialogue about Objections to the Theory of Relativity.” Using this literary genre in a manner reminiscent of Galileo’s famousDialogues Concerning the Two Chief World Systems,he publicly responded to two of his harshest critics, Ernst Gehrcke...

  10. CHAPTER 3 Anti-Semitism and Zionism, 1919–1930
    (pp. 136-188)

    After the influx of significant numbers of East European Jews to Germany during and after the war, antagonism in the public toward these immigrants and fear of Bolshevik infiltration from the East found strong resonance in the right-wing press. This backlash prompted Einstein’s first open political act: a newspaper article in late 1919 in defense of these most vulnerable members of the Jewish community.

    Initially, he accepted the idea of Jewish assimilation. Soon he became disenchanted, however, with all too frequent attempts by German Jews to deflect popular anti-Semitism onto their poorer East European kinfolk. By April 1920 he had...

  11. CHAPTER 4 Internationalism and European Security, 1922–1932
    (pp. 189-222)

    Apart from his ties with the New Fatherland Association—reconstituted as the German chapter of the International League of Human Rights soon after the war—Einstein confined his political activity during the mid-1920s mainly to working for the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation affiliated with the League of Nations. His on-again off-again relationship with this elite body reflects not only the vicissitudes of European politics but also his own ambiguous status as a quasi-official representative of the Weimar Republic, a role that became official after Germany’s admission into the League of Nations in 1926.

    Those who initially supported Einstein’s nomination...

  12. CHAPTER 5 Articles of Faith, 1930–1933
    (pp. 223-265)

    This chapter begins with two essays that reveal a good deal about the articles of faith that constituted the essence of Einstein’s personal philosophy of life. The first, “What I Believe,” originally written in 1930 but subsequently reissued in slightly variant forms, did much to enhance his image as a modern-day sage. In the closing paragraph, Einstein deals with matters bearing on the creative life of the individual, offering some novel reflections on the common source of religious and scientific thought: mankind’s sense of the mysterious.

    American readers were particularly keen to learn more about this controversial topic, which Einstein...

  13. CHAPTER 6 Hitler’s Germany and the Threat to European Jewry, 1933–1938
    (pp. 266-314)

    Einstein was spending the winter at Caltech in Pasadena when he learned that Hitler had been appointed chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933. Less than a month later the Reichstag was in flames. Recognizing that the struggling Weimar Republic had received a mortal blow, he now prepared for the long fight to save Europe from fascism. His first actions in support of this cause were to sever his ties with Germany by revoking his citizenship and issuing two political statements characterizing his views on political freedom as well as condemning the acts of brutality perpetrated by the Nazi government...

  14. CHAPTER 7 The Fate of the Jews, 1939–1949
    (pp. 315-355)

    After the Nazi seizure of power, Einstein had celebrated the Jewish cultural tradition and the fact that it had held its own in an increasingly hostile host society. As German policy turned from persecution to slaughter, Einstein’s despair turned into a fierce resolve. As he saw it, the madness that gripped his native country not only uprooted vast numbers of human beings but sought the extermination of the “fundamental structure of modern civilization.” Invoking an interpretation of anti-Semitism complementary to that in his essay a half year earlier (“Why do They Hate the Jews?,” chapter 6), he argued that Nazism’s...

  15. CHAPTER 8 The Second World War, Nuclear Weapons, and World Peace, 1939–1950
    (pp. 356-405)

    Throughout the war, Leo Szilard—the most politically active, though hardly the best connected, nuclear scientist in the United States—served as Einstein’s principal confidant regarding the politics of nuclear energy. Using Einstein’s fame and prestige as a springboard, the Hungarian physicist managed to bring the issue of atomic weapons to the attention of high-ranking U.S. officials at an early stage. In March 1945, several months before the detonation of the first atomic bomb, Szilard again sought Einstein’s help in an effort to arrange a meeting with President Roosevelt, an initiative that came to naught after FDR’s unexpected death in...

  16. CHAPTER 9 Soviet Russia, Political Economy, and Socialism, 1918–1952
    (pp. 406-458)

    Having now covered Einstein’s views on several major political issues from the Great War to the Cold War era, we will in the present chapter both complement and amplify the previous eight by presenting a set of his writings that deal with socialism, Soviet communism, and political economy. These texts show not only how Einstein’s ideas evolved over three decades but also how he refused to reduce political matters to black and white terms. His political philosophy remained throughout this time one in which individual rights stood in a delicate balance with the larger interests of society as a whole....

  17. CHAPTER 10 Political Freedom and the Threat of Nuclear War, 1931–1955
    (pp. 459-508)

    Throughout his life Einstein recognized the inherent conflict between the freedom of the individual and the growing power of modern states and social organizations. Thus it is no accident that those whom he admired most in political life were men like Gandhi who risked everything to challenge the authority of the repressive political system under which they lived. During the waning days of the Weimar Republic, two such courageous figures were the Heidelberg mathematician, Emil Julius Gumbel, and the editor of theWeltbühne,Carl von Ossietzky. Both did much to publicize the attitudes and behavior of those who were intent...

    (pp. 509-514)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 515-523)