"I must fulfill my promise to say something of my impressions of this country. This is not entirely easy for me, for it is not easy to assume the viewpoint of the objective observer in a country in which one is received with as much love and exaggerated respect as I was in the country. At first a few words concerning this:
Individual worship is as I look at it, always something unjustified. To be sure, nature does distribute her gifts in rich variety among her children. But of those richly gifted ones there are, thank God, many; and I am firmly convinced that most of them lead a quiet and unobtrusive existence.
It does not seem right to me--indeed, not even in good taste--when a few of these are admired beyond all bounds just because one attributes to them superhuman abilities of spirit and character. This very thing became my fate, and there actually exists a grotesque contrast between the capability and accomplishment people accredit to me and what I really am.
The consciousness of this singular fact would be unbearable if there were not one beautiful consolation therein: it is a gratifying sign for our age, so often chided for being materialistic, that it makes heroes of men whose goals rest upon purely spiritual and moral bases. This proves that knowledge and righteousness are rated, by a large part of humanity, higher than possessions and power. In an especially high degree, according to my experience, does this idealistic attitude prevail in America, so often described as a particularly materialistic nation. After this digression I come to my theme with the hope that my modest remarks will not take on more significance than they deserve.
To begin with, what first astonishes the visitor most is the pre-eminence of this country in a technical and organizing capacity. The objects of daily use are more serviceable that those in Europe, the houses are incomparably better and more practically furnished.
Everything in America is arranged to save people's energy. Labor is well paid because the country, in proportion to its natural resources, is but thinly populated. The high cost of labor gave the impetus to the remarkable development of technical resources and working methods. One need only think of, as contrasts, the too densely populated China or India, where the low cost of labor has hindered the promotion of mechanical appliances. Europe stands in the middle.
If the machine is highly enough perfected, it is, in the final analysis, cheaper than labor at its lowest price. This might be borne in mind by the European Fascisti who, out of narrow-minded political considerations, have championed an increase of population in their respective countries.
Of course, the anxiety with which the United States shut itself off from imports through prohibitive tariffs does not favor this impression . . . But an innocuous visitor should not be expected to break his head over these things. And after all, it is not entirely certain that every question admits a reasonable answer.
The second thing that attracts the attention of the visitor to America is a happy, positive attitude toward life. The smiling faces in the photographs are a symbol of one of the strongest traits of the American. He is friendly, unselfconscious, optimistic and unenvious.
The European, on the other hand, is more critical, more self-conscious, less good hearted, less ready to render assistance, more isolated, more fastidious in this diversions and in his reading. In comparison with the American, the European is inclined to pessimism.
The amenities and comforts of life play a large role in calmness, light-heartedness, security-these are sacrificed to living. The American lives more for the goal, for the future, than the European. Life is always a Becoming, never a Being. In this regard, he is still more dissimilar from the Russian and the Asiatic than from the European.
There is, however, one point in which the American is more like the Asiatic than is the European. He is less of an individualist than the European when one considers him from the psychological and not from the economic angle. The "we" is more strongly emphasized than the "I". To this is allied the fact that custom and convention are very powerful, and that the philosophy of life and the individual moral attitude are much more standardized than in Europe. To this circumstance America owes her largely economic superiority over Europe. Co-operation and effective division of labor are accompanied with more ease and less friction than in Europe, be it in the factory, university or private charity. In a certain sense this social attitude may be ascribed to English tradition.
In apparent contradiction to this is the relatively small field of activity of the nation as compared to that of Europe. The European marvels that the telephone, telegraph and railroads in America everywhere are private enterprises. This is made possible by the more social attitude of the individual, which also accounts for the fact that the extremely uneven distribution of property does not entail intolerable bitterness.
The owner's feeling of social responsibility is much more developed than in Europe. He regards it as self-evident that he has to place a good part of his property, and even his labor, at the disposal of the community. Public opinion, all-powerful in America, demands this of him. Thus it is that the most important cultural functions can be left to private enterprises, that the role of government in this country is a comparatively limited one.
The prestige of the national government has undoubtedly fallen as a result of the "prohibition law". There is nothing more dangerous to the prestige of the nation and the law than making of laws the observance of which cannot be enforced. It is a public secret that the menacing development of criminality in America is a direct consequence of the situation.
In yet another respect, according to my opinion, does the "prohibition law" foster a weakening of the nation. The saloon is a place which gives people a chance to exchange their thoughts and opinions on public matters. Such an opportunity is now lacking, it seems to me, in this country.
The exaggerated value of money is even more noticeable in America than in Europe, but it seems to be waning. I am certain that Americans are beginning to realize that material possessions are not essential to a happy and blessed life.
From an artistic standpoint, I have genuinely admired the elevated good taste which expresses itself in the modern buildings and the ordinary objects of daily use. On the other hand, I find that painting and music are less vital in the American soul than in the European.
I have the highest admiration for the efforts of the scientific research foundations. We in Europe are unjust in seeking to attribute the growing pre-eminence of American research exclusively to their greater wealth. Devotion, patience, companionable spirit and inclination are important factors in the success of these institutions.
And, finally, one more word: the United States is today the most powerful, the most technically developed nation on earth. Her influence on the formation of international relations is an altogether incalculable one. Yet America is large, and its inhabitants have not, up until this time, taken much interest in great international problems. The problem of disarmament is of primary importance. This American attitude toward international problems must change, if for no other reason than the American's own interest. The Great War demonstrated that the continents are no longer separated, but that the destinies of all nations today are closely interwoven. In this country the conviction must grow that its citizens bear a great responsibility in the field of international politics. The role of a passive spectator is not worthy of this country. If continued, it would inevitably be fatal to us all."
- Albert Einstein, San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, March 10th, 1929