Einstein on war and the “state”

“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.” —Albert Einstein, from page 7 of The World As I See It (1949).

Einstein here sees the “state” more as the people than the government, I think.  Maybe we’d have to ask Chief Justice John Roberts to know for sure. The book is a protestation against war, as in this statement that immediately follows the above quote:

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 does 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. And yet so high, in spite of everything, is my opinion of the human race that I believe this bogey would have disappeared long ago, had the sound sense of the nations not been systematically corrupted by commercial and political interests acting through the schools and the Press.

Einstein seems to blame the passions of the people more than the politicians and bureaucrats in government for the pestilence of war.  He believed that good people could abolish war even though he was aware of the spectacular failure of that notion in his own time, e.g., the Quixotic attempt by the Kellogg-Briand Pact.

He later defended his urging to Roosevelt to embark on the development of the atomic bomb on the grounds that Germany was likely to get it first. Perhaps he saw himself as a pacifist with a dose of reality thrown in.

A very different view of war and how to prevent it can be found in the works of  Winston Churchill:

“Nearly always Governments which seek peace flag in their war efforts, and Governments which make the most vigorous war preparations take little interest in peace. The two opposite moods consort with difficulty in the human mind yet it is only by the double and, as it might seem, contradictory exertion that a good result can usually be procured.” —Winston Churchill, Marlborough: His Life and Times, Vol. IV, chapter 3.

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