From "Ideas & Opinions", Albert Einstein
Edited by Carl Seelig and other sources, Crown Publishing, Copyright 1982.

Where Oppression is a Stimulus

In the foregoing I have conceived of Judaism as a community of tradition. Both friend and foe, on the other hand, have often asserted that the Jews represent a race; that their characteristic behavior is the result of innate qualities transmitted by the heredity from one generation to the next. This opinion gains weight from the fact that the Jews for thousands of years have predominantly married within their own group. Such a custom may indeed preserve a homogeneous race – if it existed originally; it cannot produce uniformity of the Race – if there was originally a racial intermixture. The Jews, however, are beyond doubt a mixed race, just are all other groups of our civilization. Sincere anthropologists are agreed on this point; assertions to the contrary all belong to the field of political propaganda and must be rated accordingly.

Perhaps even more than its own tradition, the Jewish group has thrived on oppression and on the antagonism it has forever met in the world. Here undoubtedly lies one of the one of the main reasons for its continued existence through so many thousands of years.

The Jewish group, which we have briefly characterized in the foregoing, embraces about 16 million people – less than one percent of mankind, or about half as many as the population of present-day Poland. Their significance as a political factor is negligible. They are scattered over almost the entire earth and in no way are organized as a whole – which means that they are incapable of concerted action of any kind.

Were anyone to form a picture of the Jews solely from the utterances of their enemies, he would have to reach the conclusion that they represent a world power. At first sight that seems downright absurd; and yet, in my view, there is a certain meaning behind it. The Jews as a group may be powerless, but the sum of the achievements of their individual members is everywhere considerable and telling, even though these achievements were made in the face of obstacles. The forces dormant in the individual are mobilized, and the individual himself is stimulated to self-sacrificing effort, by the spirit that is alive in the group.

Hence the hatred of the Jews by those who have reason to shun popular enlightenment. More than anything else in the world, they fear the influence of men of intellectual independence. I see this in the essential cause for the savage hatred of Jews raging in the present-day Germany. To the Nazi group the Jews are not merely a means for turning the resentment of the people away from themselves, the oppressors; they see the Jews as an unassimilable element that cannot be driven into uncritical acceptance of dogma, and that, therefore – as long as it exists at all – threatens their authority because of its insistence on popular enlightenment of the masses.

Proof that this conception goes to the heart of the matter is convincingly furnished by the solemn ceremony of the burning of the books staged by the Nazi regime shortly after its seizure of power. This act, senseless from a political point of view, can only be understood as a spontaneous emotional outburst. For that reason it seems to me more revealing than many acts of greater purpose and practical importance.

In the field of politics and social science there has grown up a justified distrust of generalizations pushed too far. When thought is too greatly dominated by such generalizations, misinterpretations of specific sequences of cause and effect readily occur, doing injustice to the actual multiplicity of events. Abandonment of generalization, on the other hand, means to relinquish understanding all together. For that reason I believe one may and must risk generalization, as long as one remains aware of its uncertainty. It is in this spirit that I wish to present in all modesty my conception of anti-Semitism, considered from a general point of view.

In political life I see two opposed tendencies at work, locked in a constant struggle with each other. The first, optimistic trend proceeds from the belief that the free unfolding of the productive forces of individuals and groups essentially leads to a satisfactory state of society. It recognizes the need for central power, placed above groups and individuals, but concedes such power only organizational and regulatory functions. The second, pessimistic trend assumes that the free interplay of individuals and groups leads to the destruction of society; it thus seeks to base society exclusively upon authority, blind obedience, and coercion. Actually this trend is pessimistic only to a limited extent: it is optimistic in regard to those who are, and desire to be, the bearers of power and authority. The adherents of the second trend are the enemies of the free groups and of education for independent thought. They are, moreover, the carriers of political anti-Semitism.

Here in America all pay lip service to the first, optimistic tendency. Nevertheless, the second group is strongly represented. It appears on the scene everywhere, though for the most part it hides its true nature. Its aim is political and spiritual domination over the people by a minority, by the circuitous route of control over means of production. It proponents have already tried to utilize the weapon of anti-Semitism as a well as of hostility to various other groups. They will repeat the attempt in times to come. So far all such tendencies have failed because of the people’s sound political instinct.

And so it will remain in the future, if we cling to the rule: Beware of flatterers, especially when they come preaching hatred.