Albert Einstein is widely known as a physicist andphilosopher for his works in physics in general and for the theory ofrelativity in particular. But how many of us know that he was also an importantpeace activist, a believer in a very limited form of world government and asocialist. His political opinions were of public interest through the middle ofthe 20th century due to his fame and involvement in political, humanitarian andacademic projects around the world. He was often called upon to give judgmentsand opinions on matters unrelated to theoretical physics or mathematics.Einstein's visible position in society allowed him to speak and write franklyand even provocatively at a time when many people were silenced due to the riseof the Nazi movement.
Einstein's first public foray into politics was in 1914. Hewas bold from the start. Aged 35 and teaching at the University of Berlin, hewas one of only four signatories to a manifesto against the First World War.Before the war, he was little known outside the domain of physics.
Einstein participated in the 1927 congress of the Leagueagainst Imperialism in Brussels. He also met many humanitarian luminariesincluding Rabindranath Tagore with whom he had an extensive conversation in1930 prior to leaving for Germany.
Einstein was a proponent of civil rights and a lifelongpacifist who believed that wars stood in the way of human progress. He believedthat wars were the result of natural aggressive tendencies found within allorganisms and that the aims and causes of war were simply justification forthese tendencies. He advocated that the creation of a supranationalorganization would make war impossible. Albert Einstein's political contributions are frequently eclipsed by hisscientific achievements. But the physicist was active in political thought, andhis insights remain relevant today. Inhis speech at Princeton University in 1948, he vehemently said that there is asomber point in the social outlook of Americans because their sense of equalityand human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skin.
One of Einstein's most important views of the world thatstayed with him throughout his life was that of Internationalism and theconnectedness of all humans. That and many other concepts and precepts, definedEinstein's life beyond that of being a theoretical physicist, and have beenclearly laid out with a plethora of historical citations and references in the2016 book Einstein and Twentieth-CenturyPolitics: 'A Salutary Moral Influence' by Richard Crockatt.
Despite the vast literature on Einstein, this book is thefirst comprehensive study of his politics, covering his opinions and campaignson pacifism, Zionism, control of nuclear weapons, world government and freedom,over his whole career. Most studies look at Einstein in isolation, but thisbook, views alongside a 'liberal international' of global intellectuals,including Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, Bertrand Russell, H. G. Wells, GeorgeBernard Shaw, Romain Rolland, Thomas Mann and John Dewey.
Einstein was a radical from his student days until his dyingbreath. In the last year of his life, ruminating about the political affairs ofthe day and his world outlook, he told a friend that he remained a"revolutionary," and was still a "fire-belching Vesuvius."
Days before he died on April 18, 1955, Einstein signed whatcame to be known as "The Einstein-Russell Manifesto." In it, the theoreticalphysicist and the philosopher-mathematician Bertrand Russell, have gone beyondvague moral arguments for pacifism. Instead they have posed political choicesas they say "There lies before us, if we choose continual progress inhappiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because wecannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Rememberyour humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to anew Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universaldeath."
Albert Einstein was a Jew but not an Israeli citizen.However, due his great social standing the latter had offered him thepresidency in 1952 but he turned it down, stating: "I am deeply moved bythe offer from our State of Israel, and at once saddened and ashamed that Icannot accept it. All my life I have dealt with objective matters, hence I lackboth the natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people andto exercise official functions." When asked why people could discoveratomic power but not the means to control it, Einstein said that politics is moredifficult than physics. Even if more challenging, politics was a subject thatEinstein wrote about throughout his life, taking bold and often unpopularpositions. It is difficult to briefly summarize the contribution of Einstein insocio-polity.
Dr. Qudsia Gani is Assistant Professor, Department ofPhysics, Cluster University Srinagar