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Einstein: “Why socialism?”

April 19, 2014

Einstein talks with students

This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career. I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society. – Albert Einstein, “Why Socialism?” (1949)

I’ve read this a few times now. I probably go back over it every few years. I’m always astonished by Einstein’s sharp grasp on social issues, in addition to being one of the most influential physicists in the history of the subject.

This time around, however, I was struck by some of the topics to which Einstein paid particular attention. His focus on the individual, for instance, and the individual’s attitude toward humanity (e.g., Einstein’s anecdote about the man who asked him why he was opposed to the disappearance of the human race) and their kind of selfish attitude, I think is often posed as a particularity of contemporary, neoliberal capitalism. Capitalism, however, has always attempted to pit the individual against the whole of society, such that, even in the midst of the post-war boom and the height of New Deal reforms, Einstein still felt compelled to confront the claim that the individual and society were mutually exclusive entities.

You can read the entire essay here.