Einstein—The Man of Unprincipled Exceptions

It seems appropriate that Albert Einstein, declared by Time magazine the Man of the (Liberal) Century, was in fact the Man of the Unprincipled Exception. As we have often argued at VFR, liberalism posits ideals and goals that are both untrue in themselves and, if pursued consistently, incompatible with a tolerable earthly existence, or, indeed, with any earthly existence at all. Therefore, so long as they want to keep living in this world, liberals are repeatedly forced to make exceptions to their own ideals. But, so long as they are unwilling to give up their liberalism, they must always regard these exceptions as merely pragmatic and situational rather than as based in fundamental reason. These continual compromises between its own internal logic and the demands of reality are what distinguish liberalism from leftism, which could be understood as consistent liberalism. (See “The unprincipled exception: a key to understanding liberalism.”)

A major exhibit on Einstein’s life and work at the American Museum of Natural History focuses to a surprising degree on the political causes he supported. While the exhibit text lauds him for his progressive and humanitarian ideals, it keeps recounting, without a hint of irony, Einstein’s repeated and expeditious abandonment of those beliefs under the pressure of real-world circumstances:

  • From World War I onward, Einstein had been ardently and vocally against war and militarism, becoming a leading figure in the global pacifist movement. But, during World War II, in his sixties, he came to feel that the U.S. had no choice but to fight Hitler. (Indeed, so much had his views on war changed that when a young man wrote to him saying he was a pacifist, Einstein sternly reproved him: “If every one felt as you do, we would lose the war and end up in slavery.”)
  • Einstein deplored the idea of weaponry coming out of his discovery of atomic energy. But, when he realized that Hitler might build an atomic bomb, he consented to sign the famous letter to President Roosevelt urging the U.S. to develop the A-bomb first.
  • Einstein was against nationalism his whole life and espoused the cause of one-world government. But, because of the terrible plight of the Jews after World War II, he came to support the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
  • Einstein (like many moderate Zionists) initially favored cooperation between Jews and Arabs in Palestine, even a binational state. But, because of Arab intransigence, he came to support partition and a Jewish state.
Now I’m not criticizing Einstein for changing his mind and taking these prudent and necessary positions. My point is that, as a liberal, he could only embrace them half-heartedly and apologetically, seeing them as a violation of his ideals, as an unfortunate compromise. He couldn’t state a general principle that showed why in each case the policy he favored was morally and politically right. His refusal to provide a principled defense of his non-liberal positions, and thus his rejection of reason in politics, assured his continued reputation as a great liberal. By contrast, if he had said he believed in the nation-state as a good that is not simply instrumental; if he had said he supported ethnic nationalism, not just for the Jews in their emergency, but for all nations; if he had said that aggression and conflict are built into human existence and therefore military preparedness is a vital requirement of a nation-state, then he would have instantly become a non-person as far as liberals were concerned. But because he adopted the militaristic and nationalist views of his later years with regret, all the while clinging to his pacifist and globalist ideals, he became a liberal icon—and, ultimately, the “Man of the Century.”

Funny that liberals never seem to ask what kind of political philosophy it is that requires its apostles continually to betray it.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 26, 2002 10:12 AM | Send


Speaking of the consistent liberalism that is utopianism, it would seem from this story in the Mirror that the hierarchies of the Catholic and Anglican churches have embraced outright pacifism.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on December 26, 2002 11:36 AM

On the subject of the liberals’ rejection of aspects of objective reality which they find politically inconvenient, only to have to compromise in order to be able to go on functioning: here’s some new research that contradicts their denial of the existence of distinct races (gleaned today from Steve Sailer’s blog at www.iSteve.com ). I wonder what their response to this research will be?

Here’s Steve Sailer:

“The NY Times displays ‘The Palette of Mankind’: a chart

that shows how 52 different racial groups from around the world divide up into roughly five continental-scale racial groups. NYT reporter Nicholas Wade, continuing his assault on the ‘Race Does Not Exist’ conventional wisdom, writes:

” ‘Humankind falls into five continental groups — broadly equivalent to the common conception of races — when a computer is asked to sort DNA data from people from around the world into clusters. The major groups are African (orange), Europeans and Middle Easterners (blue), East Asians (pink), Melanesians (green) and American Indians (purple). Genomes of people from Central Asia, such as the Hazara of Afghanistan and the Uygurs of western China, are a blend of European and East Asian, as might be expected for people living at a historical crossroads. Some Middle Easterners, like the Bedouin and the Mozabites of Algeria, carry an admixture of African genes.

” ‘The chart, generated by Dr. Marcus Feldman of Stanford and colleagues and published in the current “Science,” was made by sampling the DNA of 1,056 people from 52 of the many populations around the world. Each person’s genome was sampled at 377 sites where the DNA breaks into a stutter of repeated short sequences. These repeats, though apparently without function, are useful in tracking human variation, and are also the elements used in DNA forensic tests of identity.’

[Steve Sailer continues:]

“A few points:

“There’s nothing set in stone about five continental scale races: you can split or lump to your heart’s content. Further, lots of populations are hybrids of continental scale races, like the typical Puerto Rican. Some locations consist of clinal zones between major groups, such as along the Nile. Other regions are mosaics of highly different people who don’t interbreed much, such as South Asia.

“You may find my ‘7 Dumb Ideas about Race’

a handy guide to avoiding pitfalls in thinking about the topic.

“If laid out on a map, [‘The Palette of Mankind’] would look very much like the world racial map on the cover of Cavalli-Sforza’s 1994 ‘History and Geography of Human Genes,’ which was created not from DNA analysis but from DNA markers such as blood types. Further, it would look much like what [pioneering physical anthropologist] Carleton Coon came up with in 1965, working primarily from bones and surface features. I suspect Charles Darwin could have drawn you a similar map in 1870.”

Posted by: Unadorned on December 26, 2002 2:41 PM
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