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.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Lis­ten as Albert Ein­stein Reads ‘The Com­mon Lan­guage of Sci­ence’ (1941)

Ein­stein Explains His Famous For­mu­la, E=mc², in Orig­i­nal Audio

Albert Ein­stein Archive Now Online, Bring­ing 80,000+ Doc­u­ments to the Web

Find Cours­es on Ein­stein in the Physics Sec­tion of our Free Online Cours­es Col­lec­tion

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Comments (2)
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  • 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 says:

    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.

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