Albert Einstein (1879-1955).
Autograph manuscript, 'Toleranz', n.p., n.d. .
In German, 3½ pages, 229 x 138mm, a number of words and phrases cancelled or amended; [with] a document signed by Einstein, a cheque on the Princeton Bank and Trust Company, 2 March 1953. Provenance: manuscript and cheque presented together to Dr E. Froelich by the estate of Albert Einstein (accompanying letters by Otto Nathan, 14 April 1976, and Helen Dukas, 21 April 1976, and a photocopy of the corrected transcript of the essay).
'Great and noble things come from isolated figures'. Einstein’s plea for tolerance, and for the importance of the individual as a creative force and as a counterbalance to fascism.
Einstein begins by reflecting on the instability of verbal meaning, and the way that words, unlike mathematical terms, 'slowly change their meaning in the course of time'. Nevertheless, he seeks to define tolerance as 'The charitable understanding of characteristics, insights and actions of other individuals and communities which are alien to one's own habits, convictions or tastes'. To be tolerant, he goes on, is not only to be indifferent to others' actions or feelings, but must also comprise understanding and empathy. He notes the curious fact that individuals tend to be much more tolerant than groups, and reflects further on the superiority in some respects of the individual over the collective: 'Great and noble things come from isolated figures, whether it is a work of art or an important creative scientific achievement'. He concludes that the most important form of tolerance is that of the society or the state towards the individual: 'That of the state is particularly necessary in order to permit the free and safe development of the individual'; by contrast, when the individual becomes subordinate to the state, 'all finer values are lost'. In a curious simile, Einstein compares the loosening of the demands of the state on the individual in order to increase creativity to the breaking up of arable land to permit cultivation. He sees an unmistakable decline since the end of the 19th century in this important tolerance towards the individual by states and communities, something he traces to the diminution of the productive worth of the individual. ‘We should all the more through the maintenance of general tolerance seek a psychic counterbalance to this jeopardising of the personal worth of the individual which finds its outer expression in the development of fascistic forms of government’. Apparently unpublished.
According to the letter by Helen Dukas, the article was commissioned by The American Magazine, but withdrawn by Einstein after a disagreement over editorial changes. The timing of his plea for tolerance is nevertheless very telling, in the year after he was exiled to America from Nazi Germany.
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