Expat Magazine

Albert Einstein on America

By Thebangtoddowenwaldorf @BangLiving

Albert Einstein speaking at the dedication of the Pasadena Albert Einstein on AmericaJunior College astronomy building, February 26, 1931

What first strikes the visitor with amazement is the superiority of this country in matters of technics and organization. Objects of everyday use are more solid than in Europe, houses infinitely more convenient in arrangement. Everything is designed to save human labor. Labour is expensive, because the country is sparsely inhabited in comparison with its natural resources. The high price of labor was the stimulus which evoked the marvelous development of technical devices and methods of work. The opposite extreme is illustrated by over-populated China or India, where the low price of labor has stood in the way of the development of machinery. Europe is half-way between the two. Once the machine is sufficiently highly developed it becomes cheaper in the end than the cheapest labor. Let the Fascists in Europe, who desire on narrow-minded political grounds to see their own particular countries more densely populated, take heed of this. The anxious care with which the United States keep out foreign goods by means of prohibitive tariffs certainly contrasts oddly with this notion. But an innocent visitor must not be expected to rack his brains too much, and, when all is said and done, it is not absolutely certain that every question admits of a rational answer.

The second thing that strikes a visitor is the joyous, positive attitude to life. The smile on the faces of the people in photographs is symbolical of one of the American’s greatest assets. He is friendly, confident, optimistic, and–without envy. The European finds intercourse with Americans easy and agreeable.

Compared with the American, the European is more critical, more self-conscious, less goodhearted and helpful, more isolated, more fastidious in his amusements and his reading, generally more or less of a pessimist.

Great importance attaches to the material comforts of life, and peace, freedom from care, security are all sacrificed to them. The American lives for ambition, the future, more than the European. Life for him is always becoming, never being. In this respect he is even further removed from the Russian and the Asiatic than the European is.

But there is another respect in which he resembles the Asiatic more than the European does: he is lest of an individualist than the European–that is, from the psychological, not the economic, point of view.

More emphasis is laid on the “we” than the “I.” As a natural corollary of this, custom and convention are very powerful, and there is much more uniformity both in outlook on life and in moral and æsthetic ideas among Americans than among Europeans. This fact is chiefly responsible for America’s economic superiority over Europe. Co-operation and the division of labor are carried through more easily and with less friction than in Europe, whether in the factory or the university or in private good works. This social sense may be partly due to the English tradition.

In apparent contradiction to this stands the fact that the activities of the State are comparatively restricted as compared with Europe. The European is surprised to find the telegraph, the telephone, the railways, and the schools predominantly in private hands. The more social attitude of the individual, which I mentioned just now, makes this possible here. Another consequence of this attitude is that the extremely unequal distribution of property leads to no intolerable hardships. The social conscience of the rich man is much more highly developed than in Europe. He considers himself obliged as a matter of course to place a large portion of his wealth, and often of his own energies too, at the disposal of the community, and public opinion, that all-powerful force, imperiously demands it of him. Hence the most important cultural 29 functions can be left to private enterprise, and the part played by the State in this country is, comparatively, a very restricted one.

The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the Prohibition laws. 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 this country is closely connected with this.

There is also another way in which Prohibition, in my opinion, has led to the enfeeblement of the State. The public-house is a place which gives people a chance to exchange views and ideas on public affairs. As far as I can see, people here have no chance of doing this, the result being that the Press, which is mostly controlled by definite interests, has an excessive influence over public opinion.

The over-estimation of money is still greater in this country than in Europe, but appears to me to be on the decrease. It is at last beginning to be realized that great wealth is not necessary for a happy and satisfactory life.

As regards artistic matters, I have been genuinely impressed by the good taste displayed in the modern buildings and in articles of common use; on the other hand, the visual arts and music have little place in the life of the nation as compared with Europe.

I have a warm admiration for the achievements of American institutes of scientific research. We are unjust in attempting to ascribe the increasing superiority of American research-work exclusively to superior wealth; zeal, patience, a spirit of comradeship, and a talent for co-operation play an important part in its successes.

One more observation to finish up with. 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.

Essay Source: The World As I See It – Albert Einstein

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