Einstein on nationalism

In the wide-ranging interview that he gave to George Sylvester Viereck that was published in 1929 in the Saturday Evening Post, Albert Einstein was asked his views about nationalism. In response to the question, “Do you look upon yourself as a German or as a Jew”, he replied, “It is quite possible to be both. I look upon myself as a man. Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”

He thought that Americans were less nationalistic than the nations of Europe, saying:

“Americans undoubtedly owe much to the the melting pot it is possible that this mixture of races makes their nationalism less objectionable than the nationalism of Europe nationalism in the United States does not assume such disagreeable forms as in Europe this may be due partly to the fact that your country is so immense that you do not think in terms of metal borders it may be due to the fact that you do not suffer from the heritage of hatred.”

If he were alive today, I think that he would be saddened by what America has become, a nation in which Christian nationalism seems to be gaining ground and in which xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiment are promoted and at least tacitly supported by a significant segment of one of the main political parties.


  1. moarscienceplz says

    This was published less than 3 years after 30000 klansmen in full robes marched in Washington, D. C.
    I’m not so sure where he gets his optimism from.

  2. Reginald Selkirk says

    I dislike this whole concept of “Einstein is a smart guy, so let’s ask him about anything and everything.” On the topic of science and religion, for example, he said some colossally stupid things.

  3. consciousness razor says

    I dislike this whole concept of “Einstein is a smart guy, so let’s ask him about anything and everything.” On the topic of science and religion, for example, he said some colossally stupid things.

    Alright, but in any case, he had pretty decent political views all around, and you don’t need any special credentials for that anyway. Indeed, you might be better off without such things. I mean, Henry Kissinger and Samuel Alito and Josh Hawley and countless others ought to have more than enough qualifications in that specific area of political/legal issues, if that’s really what counted for people who ought to speak on such a subject, but as human beings speaking about politics and attempting to say something decent they’re actually miserable failures, much worse than the average person on the street.

    Of course, being decent still doesn’t mean Einstein was especially knowledgeable about, say, the ins and outs of current US politics or its entire history (see #1 and #2). Assuming he was aware of it at the time, I figure he maybe just didn’t think of that KKK march as a nationalism problem so much as a racism problem…. But it’s definitely still a problem, not something he would’ve brushed aside as unimportant or something like that.

  4. John Morales says


    On the topic of science and religion, for example, he said some colossally stupid things.

    You think he said some colossally stupid things.

    Not the same thing.

  5. Holms says

    Mano, I think it more likely that he was not very knowledgeable about the social landscape of America, or not knowledgeable about its ugly underside. Being internationally famous and embedded in academia may have insulated him somewhat from the worst of it.

  6. friedfish2718 says

    Commentator Reginald Selkirk is absolutely correct.
    Too often experts in one particular area prove themselves to be idiots outide their area of expertise.
    If you want to unclog your toilet, do you follow the advice of brain surgeon or that of a plumber with no college degree?
    I am very sure there are a few brain surgeon who are expert in unclogging toilets but they are exceptions to the common sense rule.
    Einstein became an expert physicist by eating, sleeping, dreaming, and bleeding Physics.
    Einstein had little available time for anything else. Einstein was an indifferent father. Einstein was an indifferent husband. Wife Elsa would lay out the clothes he would wear, cooked the meals and did other housechores. Asked what he does in return, he said “I give her my understanding”.
    Einstein became a celebrity around the time he earned the Nobel Physics Prize. So Progressive activists sought out Einstein, not the other way around.
    Reading Einstein’s scientific papers, you can see the unique Einsteinian insight on the Physical World. There is no analogous Einsteinian insight in his non-scientific writings.
    As an individual, Einstein is fully in his right to express his opinions on economy, politics, and such.
    Both Singham and Einstein are theoreticists. Socialists are into Theory, not so much into Empiricism.

  7. Deepak Shetty says

    @Reginald Selkirk

    On the topic of science and religion

    There is a Scott Adams(ugh, I think) saying that when you argue with a genius , why do you feel you are right? Einstein may not be an authority on religion but if you wish to degree with him on matters related to science (even if they touch on religion) , your name had better be Neils Bohr!
    And of course you could ask a smart person anything and everything -- you just don’t need to give any additional authority to their views.

    Your area of expertise is ?

    @John Morales
    It may be a rarity but I agree with you.

  8. Reginald Selkirk says

    Albert Einstein on Science and Religion

    Science and Religion II, Science, Philosophy and Religion, A Symposium, 1941

    One paragraph:

    Now, even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exist between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies.

    The realms of science and religion are clearly demarcated? Then why have they been in conflict so often over the ages? What are these dependencies of religion on science, and of science on religion?

    Though religion may be that which determines the goal, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up.

    Religion has learned from science? Your mileage may vary.

    But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion.

    Nope, nope, nope. Not from any definition of ‘religion’ which I would use.

    To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith.

    “Faith”? Not a word I would choose. That the natural world is comprehensible to reason has a pretty good track record, which fares much better than what qualifies as religious faith.

    The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.

    (roll-eyes) This quote is used fairly often, without the context which shows that Einstein was using some bizarro definition of ‘religion’ which is not operative in the real world, and some very circumscribed definition of ‘science’.

    And that is just one paragraph.

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