Albert Einstein on Individual Liberty, Without Which There Would Be ‘No Shakespeare, No Goethe, No Newton’

We recently posted a rare audio recording of Albert Einstein reading his essay, “The Common Language of Science.” Today we have a similarly rare treat: filmed excerpts from a speech on individual liberty that Einstein gave shortly after the Nazis rose to power and he became a refugee from his native Germany. Without freedom for the individual, Einstein said, “life to a self-respecting man is not worth living.”

Einstein delivered the speech on October 3, 1933 at the Royal Albert Hall in London. As it turned out, the speech was something of a farewell address to his native continent. Four days later Einstein boarded a ship to America and never returned to Europe. The speech was organized by the Academic Assistance Council (now the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics) and other aid groups to help the hundreds of German intellectuals, many of them Jews, who were fired from their university jobs by the Nazis.

Although the Albert Hall now has a maximum allowed capacity of 5,544, according to historical accounts more than 10,000 people crowded into the old hall to hear Einstein, who warned of a coming catastrophe in Europe that would rival the Great War. “Today,” he said, “the questions which concern us are: How can we save mankind and its spiritual acquisitions of which we are the heirs? How can we save Europe from a new disaster?” Einstein reminded the audience to keep clearly in mind what is ultimately at stake: individual liberty. The speech was later published in a different form in Einstein’s book, Out of My Later Years, and you can open a PDF transcript of the original by clicking here. The film clip is cut into four short excerpts. In heavily accented English, Einstein says:

I am glad that you have me given the opportunity of expressing to you here my deep sense of gratitude as a man, as a good European, and as a Jew.

It cannot be my task today to act as a judge of the conduct of a nation which for many years has considered me as her own.

We are concerned not merely with the technical problem of securing and maintaining peace, but also with the important task of education and enlightenment.

Without such freedom there would have been no Shakespeare, no Goethe, no Newton, no Faraday, no Pasteur, and no Lister.

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by | Permalink | Comments (4) |

  • http://www.liberty.edu/online Karen Falgore

    It was known in 1941 that something was coming on. The sad part was it all came to pass. Interesting though, I like how he claimed there would be no shakespeares with no education.

  • Sky

    Karen, I believe the point was there would be no Shakespeare without individual liberty. The freedom to educate/enlighten oneself, in the sense of free thought and expression.

  • Schrodinger

    Karen, as astute pointed out by Sky, he didn’t say that. He was pointing out that when you undermine, especially systematically like the Nazi’s did, you dissolve the possibility of a mind like Shakespeare coming to prominence. At any rate, I doubt Einstein would emphasize such a thing seeing as he was very much an autodidact and resented many of the rigidities of formal education.

  • Schrodinger

    *undermine personal liberty
    (sorry for the typo)

    *”I doubt Einstein would emphasize such a thing…”(I was referring to your line about “no shakespeare, no education”, something he didn’t really imply.)

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