Ask about this item

Lot 106

Letter Hand Signed by Albert Einstein – Princeton, NJ, 1949 – "Hope can be based only in the intellectual and moral independence of a sufficient number of people the world over…

Honesty and courage of the individual to stand up for his convictions on every occasion is the only essential thing"

Letter typewritten on stationery blind-stamped with Albert Einstein's address and bearing his signature. Addressed to the Australian pathologist, Dr. Alton R. Chapple. Princeton, New Jersey, USA. February 18, 1949. English.
Through the duration of the Second World War, Albert Einstein remained steadfast in his insistence on forceful, aggressive action against Nazi Germany. But immediately after the conclusion of the war – and once the full extent of the horror caused by the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan was revealed – he began to once again advance, just as vociferously, the pacifistic agenda he had subscribed to most of his life, and quickly became one of the world's leading proponents of nuclear disarmament. In the ominous shadow of the Soviet-American nuclear arms race, and with the terrifying specter of nuclear holocaust rendered more palpable than ever, the Australian pathologist, Dr. Alton R. Chapple, turned to Einstein with a passionate entreaty to hear "a few words of leadership and hope" from the renowned pacifist (see: Einstein on Peace, p. 510, below).
In response, with the present letter, Einstein offered a decidedly pessimistic analysis regarding the state of politics and international relations: "There seems to be no doubt that in all countries the power is in the hands of power-loving persons who know very little restrictions when it comes to the realization of ambitious goals. This is so whatever may be the form of political machinery, dictatorial or democratic." As Einstein insists in the letter, this power structure is based on government control of the media and educational systems. Evidently, Einstein believed that governments – both in the West and in the Eastern Bloc – were guilty of leading their public astray regarding the need for weapons of mass destruction.
Expecting the scientific community to prevent the continued development of such weaponry was unrealistic according to Einstein, for a number of reasons: First, existing military capabilities were already sufficiently adequate to bring about total destruction; second, scientists were concerned, first and foremost, not with the attainment of practical goals, but rather with the furthering of human knowledge in and of itself, and in any case, there was no telling what form the practical applications of their discoveries would take; and third, financial considerations were preventing a great number of technical personnel – who were an essential part of the weapons development process – from refusing any available offer of employment. Therefore, even if they were aware that their labor was likely to lead to devastation on a global scale, they would be pressed to continue taking an active role in advancing the arms race.
Einstein concludes as follows: "Hope can be based only in the intellectual and moral independence of a sufficient number of people the world over who can resist all the nefarious influences brought to bear upon them […] Honesty and courage of the individual to stand up for his convictions on every occasion is the only essential thing."

Albert Einstein (1879-1955), among the most influential physicists of the 20th century, gave rise to the theory of relativity and helped lay the foundations for the theory of quantum mechanics. Nobel Laureate in Physics. Born in Ulm in southern Germany, studied in Switzerland, and served as professor at a number of different universities. In addition to his distinguished scientific accomplishments, Einstein was deeply involved in social and political activism; when the Nazis came power in Germany in 1933, Einstein chose to renounce his German citizenship and settle in the United States with his second wife, Elsa Einstein (1876-1936) where he was offered a position at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey. Einstein remained at Princeton until his death on April 18, 1955.

[1] f., 28 cm. Good condition. Foxing. Fold lines and creases. Minute hole at top of leaf, with negligible damage to blind-stamped address.

Otto Nathan and Heinz Norden, eds., "Einstein on Peace, " Schocken Books, New York, 1960. The present letter is cited in this book, pp. 510-511.
Provenance: Sotheby's London, December 5, 2017, Lot 95.