Einstein the Humanitarian

A mind which reaches into stellar spaces and revolves on the most ethereal of abstractions—what interest can it have in the molecule that is man? There is in mathematical equations a certain bloodless quality eons removed from the quick beat of a humane heart.

Whatever his specialty in science, Einstein is first a man. For himself he needs freedom for growth and development. His instinct demands the same condition of freedom for every individual. In his sublime view of life he identifies himself with humanity — that is why he does not feel superior to it. That is why his beautiful sense of humor flippantly tosses aside the sainthood which a doting populace bestows upon him. It explains also his burning sympathy for men and women crushed in civilization’s callous hands.

Whether the victims are political prisoners in Germany, conscientious objectors in Belgian prisons, a Professor Gumbel at Heidelberg, a Tom Mooney in California or nine Negro boys in Scottsboro, they will find the great man a human being very much like ourselves rather than an austere god of aloof spirit. Aware of the weight of his name, Einstein lends it without fear of seeming to participate in a radical cause. Unlike many of our respectables he does not hold back calculating whether his actions may offend polite personages. He has convictions — and courage.

Between the closet of the philosopher and the expanding cosmos of the heavens lies the seething field of the humanitarian. What does he discover there? What, indeed, is visible to any of us whose minds are free of prejudice, ambition free of vested interests and creed unfettered by dogmatic doctrine? Children of sorrow. Bodies mangled in the economic machine. Regimented citizens, the instruments of a political system. Einstein, stripped of worldly desires, a man who does not care a fig for social standing and popular applause, need not rationalize his beliefs. His judgments are not complicated by mixed motives. He is sheer simplicity. He recognizes allegiance to no state or clan, not even to his family, but only to his own reasoning. He is monarch and subject to one. His vision is lit by reason. He sees clearly that mankind must wrestle with the institutions which it has allowed to thrive and in whose shadows man has let himself be dwarfed.

This vision of present-day life challenges the most detached personality of our generation. Yes, it is true, Einstein often is aloof—but mentally, never spiritually. Detachment from his surroundings is a mark of concentrated energy, an insulation against the pettiness of personal affairs, an utter selflessness which makes way for scientific pursuit. But the challenge of these times gets under the skin of the scientist and quickens the subcutaneous philanthropist. The full-statured lover of his fellow-man responds. His belief in freedom and justice responds. And he is not content with theoretical generalities. He believes in action

Einstein wants to see these principles applied. If the Allies are conducting a hunger blockade against Russia he leads a movement of protest. If the family of an imprisoned war resister suffer for lack of money he raises a fund for them so the objector may be fortified in his objection. If Croatians are oppressed in Yugoslavia he vigorously appeals for an end to political assassination. He does not hesitate to assert that in the Germany of his birth “the ideology of force and valor is unfortunately still strongly imbedded in the people, even in the most educated circles,” and he calls upon Germans to be heroes of peace.

A citizen of the world, nothing is foreign to him except violence. In the building of Palestine he insists upon peaceful cooperation. In Palestine he also demonstrates his reverence for the tradition of learning, as witness his concern for the Hebrew University. But it would seem like underscoring the obvious to point out his devotion to the cause of stricken Jews the world over, his support of the Ort; and his hearty salute to Jews who are building a new commonwealth through Zionism.

Like Mr. Justice Brandeis he has a passionate faith in democracy. Like Mr. Justice Cardozo he believes society should afford full development of the individual. If this is our social goal we must labor to destroy the obstacles. War is the negation and frustration of the individual’s fulfillment. War blasts the foundation of freedom and poisons the soil with reaction. That is why Einstein despises war.

But he is no mere peace advocate. To espouse peace is easy enough. When the avalanche of war in 1914 tore asunder the collaboration of scientists internationally — made them enemies instead of colleagues — he realized that he must not only oppose war. He must oppose the war system. This draws the line between the peace lover and the pacifist. Einstein the pacifist is Einstein the exalted humanitarian. He wants war wiped out so humanity may be free. From freedom will emerge the basis of a specialized world community in which the production and distribution of life’s goods will be determined by the people’s needs — not manipulated as now, by gun-protected and flag-draped profits.

What are the obstacles? First, he sees the governments themselves —each bound up in self-interest (it takes only an international disarmament conference to prove this) and each upheld by patriotism and the concept of unlimited national sovereignty. Then he blames armaments, for while they are maintained the states will use them. Then he condemns the public itself for falling in line. He has contempt for those who allow their minds to be conscripted by the call of patriotism, and he says of the marching man—”he received his great brain by mistake; the spinal cord would have been amply sufficient.” When the World War broke out he stretched his hands across the border to Romain Rolland, appealing for an opportunity to work with him as against those nationalistic scholars who were behaving as though “they had their gray-matter carved out.”

Einstein’s strictures are moreover levelled at peace advocates themselves. Because they are forever discussing and discussing—sheep, herding with their own kind. He is impatient with those who prate peace without going from their meeting-halls to struggle for peace. They should first of all declare their refusal to support another war; get their editors and leading local lights and daily associates to make the same declaration. They should go out and oppose the militarism of the authorities. They must make sacrifices for their pacifism.

And like every true humanitarian who does not stop short with himself, Einstein looks sadly and hopefully toward the children of tomorrow—sadly, because they may become the victims of folly; hopefully, because if they grow up in the spirit of peace and liberty they will be able to remake the world.