|THE FORGOTTEN LIFE OF ALBERT EINSTEIN
I read with great interest Jacob Foster’s excellent review of Einstein’s Miraculous Year (Winter 2005). Mr. Foster succeeds not only in describing the content of Einstein’s 1905 papers very clearly, but also in bringing to our attention the ‘young’ Einstein so frequently overshadowed by the avuncular ‘old’ Einstein.
But perhaps it is interesting to add that as well as being a brilliant scientist, Einstein had various other interests and talents. One oft-forgotten aspect of his life is his long association with the pacifist movement.
In October 1914, two months after the outbreak of the war, 93 leading German scientists and artists published their ‘Manifesto to the cultured world,’ in which they denied that Germany started the war and argued that the contemporary militarism should be seen as part of Germany’s cultural legacy, alongside the achievements of figures like Goethe, Beethoven and Kant. Disappointed that his friend Max Planck was among the people who signed this manifesto, Einstein himself was one of a small number who signed the counter-manifesto ‘Manifesto to the Europeans,’ initiated by the well-known physiologist Georg Friedrich Nicolai.
After he had moved to the United States in 1933, Einstein retained his intense opposition to war, writing various manifesto’s and essays about pacifism. The ‘Russell-Einstein manifesto’ written in 1955 contributed in its own small way to the signing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Finally, although he wasn’t a religious Jew—Einstein referred to the Jewish people as his ‘tribal companions’ on more than one occasion—he also helped the Zionist movement to raise money. In November 1952, following the death of Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion even offered the presidency of Israel to Einstein, who declined the honour.
Although Einstein’s chief accomplishments were in science, he was far from an eccentric genius sheltered away from society and public life as frequently depicted or implied. Which gives us all the more reason to regard Einstein as one of the exemplars of progress in the twentieth century.
RONALD REAGAN’S PRESIDENCY
Dan Rather (Winter 2005) does a fine job of illustrating how Ronald Reagan embodied America in the twentieth century. What is troubling about Mr Rather’s treatment of Reagan, however, is his unwillingness to look beyond the conventional understanding of Reagan as ‘the Great Communicator’ to question substantial issues surrounding his political legacy.
Mr Rather seems to be aware of this shortcoming: he confesses that he is not a historian, and rightly points out that some of the controversial issues of Reagan’s presidency continue to challenge the United States today. One powerful example is the role of the US military, which can be seen broadly as a key intersection of the foreign and domestic agendas. Whether Reagan played a role in the collapse of the Soviet Union is no longer an open question in the United States, and this is surely to his credit. Still, while the Reagan program of burgeoning military budgets and budget deficits may have been a catalyst in the downfall of an economically wilted superpower, its ideological heirs have much to do to convince the rest of us that the same strategy will defeat groups like al-Qaeda. Indeed, the worry here is precisely that these groups may have learned that the best way to defeat an enemy is to force it into economic and military overstretch.
The foregoing considerations suggest just one possible way to tackle the legacy of Ronald Reagan. It can only be to our disadvantage that Mr Rather did not adopt a similarly critical disposition.
MORE TO THE BLAIR LEGACY THAN ELECTORAL SUCCESS
It is interesting that several month later, the questions raised by James MacDuff’s letter about Tony Blair (‘Tony Blair’s Legacy,’ Letters, Winter 2005) remain: how will history remember the Blair era? The Blair legacy continues to be of great political interest, as demonstrated by the contest between Messrs Cameron and Brown to become the natural successor to Blair (although the Liberal Democrats, it seems, have chosen the alternative task of finding a natural successor to H. H. Asquith).
Mr MacDuff raises several valuable points. He is undoubtedly correct that there has been a fundamental realignment in the British political landscape since Blair assumed the Labour leadership in 1994. In order to discard the electoral ball-and-chain of openly ‘socialist’ policies, Labour has moved decisively away from many of its founding principles. Furthermore, the Conservative Party, revitalized by the spectacular rise of David Cameron, have accepted defeating New Labour will require a shift to the centre-ground of British politics.
I question, however, Mr MacDuff’s suggestion that Blair’s true legacy might be found in his template for political leadership in a ‘mass-market television age.’ To be sure, Blair has put presentation at the heart of politics and has shown how a charismatic, media-friendly leader can successfully sell his product to an electorate. Cameron’s first hundred days as opposition leader suggest the Conservatives intend to emulate this approach.
But there is more to the Blair legacy than media management or a simple recipe for electoral success. When the dust settles, the tabloid hostility ceases and the Blair years are assessed with the clarity of historical reflection, it might just be appreciated, contrary to popular opinion, that there is considerable substance to the Blair project. Unprecedented economic success, a resurgent health service, a vastly improved education system, as well as lasting social change facilitated by the minimum wage, the New Deal and a raft of poverty-reducing polices will surely be seen to have given material reality to the gloss of New Labour.
Blair doubtless hopes all this will come to form the popular understanding of his legacy. However the hand we are dealt by history is rarely the one we would choose. Despite all his domestic achievements, Blair may well be remembered for his intervention in Iraq; his legacy will likely be decided by developments in Baghdad. This is unfortunate, but such as the uncertainties of history.