Einstein ponders the Depression and the rise of Fascism.
On the occasion of his second visit to Caltech (January–March 1932), Einstein was invited to present a series of lectures on any topic of his choosing. His host, Robert Millikan, though wary of Einstein's politics, welcomed him and even raised funds to finance the visit. If Millikan hoped that his guest would stick to scientific topics, it was a vain hope.
Einstein opens his lecture with a welcome to the former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Jacob Gould Schurman, then lecturing at Caltech: "Your life career, Mr. Schurman, has been one of entire correspondence to that ideal role, which Plato assigned in his work on the Republic to members of the governing class. You began as a philosopher ... I had the opportunity to observe how salutary was your work in Berlin, with what measure of insight and understanding you knew how to re-establish the presence of that confidence which appeared so hopelessly disturbed no less by the world-war than by the conditions of the peace."
He then turns to a second topic: "The basis of our European-American civilization is critically shaken, and a feeling of perplexity and fear has mastered all in the face of the immediate internal forces that threaten us in our existence. At a time when we are rich in consumable goods and means of production as no previous generation before us, a great part of humanity suffers severe want; production and consumption falter to an increasing degree; and confidence in public institutions has sunk has never before. It is as if the circulatory system of the whole economic organism were throughout, fatally ill."
Einstein looks back to ancient Greece and to Hebraic-Early Christian traditions for insights into the present malaise. Of these two springs: "The first derives from the Hellenistic spirit and experienced its renewal and completion in the Italian Renaissance. It encounters the individual with the command 'think, observe, and create.' The second comes from the Hebraic and Early Christian. It is characterized by the maxim: 'Save thy soul by unselfish service to common humanity.'"
It was the second ethical spring which fed European culture until the end of the Middle Ages—"this culture was miserable but stable." The Renaissance brought forth the first, creative spring which has flowered to our own day, leaving aside the second, ethical spring. "It is not intelligence that we lack for overcoming evil, but we lack the unselfish responsible devotion of men to the service of the common weal."
He concludes:"... with a thankful recognition of the free and hospitable institutions of this country, which make it possible to speak in this wide circle with such openness."
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