Tuesday, June 14, 2005

War and Pacifism, by Einstein and Freud

Albert Einstien (1929): My pacifism is an instinctive feeling that possesses me because the murder of men is disgusting. My attitude is not derived from any intellectual theory but is based on my deepest antipathy to every kind of cruelty and hatred. I might go on to rationalize this reaction, but that would really be "a posteriori" thinking. I am an absolute pacifist. One of the main objects of my life is to oppose, at every turning, the ancient European tradition of warfare. That tradition still retains its power, but even so I am not discouraged. I believe in taking a holy oath never to participate in any act of violence.

Sigmund Freud (in a letter to Einstein, 1933): Because every man has a right over his own life and war destroys lives that were full of promise; it forces the individual to shame his manhood, obliging him to murder fellow men, against his will; it ravages material amenities, the fruits of human toil, and much besides. Moreover, wars, as now conducted, afford no scope for acts of heroism according to the old ideals and, given the high perfection of modern arms, war today would mean the sheer extermination of one of the combatants, if not of both. This is so true, so obvious, that we can but wonder why the conduct of war is not banned by general consent.

I pass on to another point, the basis, as it strikes me, of our common hatred of war. It is this: We cannot do otherwise than hate it. Pacifists we are, since our organic nature wills us thus to be. Hence it comes easy to us to find arguments that justify our standpoint.


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