Albert Einstein

The Roads to Pacifism

by Claudio Giulio Anta (Author)
Monographs X, 248 Pages


Albert Einstein (1879–1955) is universally known as the father of the theory of relativity; however, he was also one of the most eminent pacifists of the first half of the twentieth century. Through his active, pragmatic and nuanced breed of pacifism, he sought to confront the dilemmas and problems stemming from the unstable political conditions of his time: the beginning of the Great War, the creation and failure of the League of Nations, the emergence of totalitarian regimes, the outbreak of the Second World War, the dawn of the Atomic Age, the escalation of the Cold War, the establishment of the United Nations with its apparent institutional weakness and the need for a world government. His reflections on the subject of peace led him into dialogue with the most prestigious figures of the political and cultural world: from Romain Rolland to Bertrand Russell via Georg Friedrich Nicolai, Sigmund Freud, King Albert I of Belgium, Léo Szilárd, Emery Reves and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (amongst others). This dialogue is further emphasized by the book’s final section, an anthology of Einstein’s writings and speeches, which significantly enriches this study.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Part I
  • Chapter 1. The Evolution of Modern Pacifism
  • 1.1. Ideas and Models in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
  • 1.2. From Internationalism and Imperialism to Irrationalism
  • 1.3. The Debate between the World Wars: A New European Order
  • 1.4. Nonviolence at the End of the Second Millennium
  • Chapter 2. Albert Einstein’s Voice of Reason
  • 2.1. A World Citizen among the Laws of the Universe
  • 2.2. The Great War as a Watershed for his Political Commitment
  • 2.3. An Unconditional Support for Cultural Internationalism
  • 2.4. With the League of Nations and beyond the League of Nations
  • 2.5. Against Compulsory Military Service and Absolute State Sovereignty
  • Chapter 3. At the Dawn of the Atomic Age
  • 3.1. A Renewed Pacifist Strategy in the Face of Totalitarian Regimes
  • 3.2. A Marginal Involvement in the Realisation of the Nuclear Weapon
  • 3.3. The UN as a Transitional System towards the World Government
  • 3.4. The Escalation of the Cold War as a Problem for Mankind's Conscience
  • 3.5. An Active and Pragmatic Pacifism with Various and Original Nuances
  • Part II. An Anthology of Albert Einstein’s Writings and Speeches
  • Chapter 4. Between Hopes and Proposals
  • 4.1. My Opinion on the War
  • 4.2. Letter to Romain Rolland
  • 4.3. On Internationalism
  • 4.4. The Institute for Intellectual Cooperation
  • 4.5. Militant Pacifism
  • 4.6. The Road to Peace
  • 4.7. Press Conference on the Geneva Disarmament
  • 4.8. Letter to Sigmund Freud
  • Chapter 5. Towards an Institutional and Juridical Pacifism
  • 5.1. Europe’s Danger, Europe’s Hope
  • 5.2. A Re-examination of Pacifism
  • 5.3. Letter to Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  • 5.4. I Am an American
  • 5.5. On the Atomic Bomb
  • 5.6. Open Letter to the General Assembly of the United Nations
  • 5.7. A Message to the World Congress of Intellectuals
  • 5.8. Culture Must Be One of the Foundations for World Understanding
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

← viii | ix →


My thanks to Princeton University Press for permission to reproduce the articles and speeches in Part II.

I wish also to thank Alice Emmott, editorial assistant at Peter Lang, for her support during the preparation of the manuscript.

Finally, I would like to thank Professor Cecilia Prete for the wonderful artwork which opens this book. ← ix | x →

← x | 1 →


← 1 | 2 →

← 2 | 3 →


The Evolution of Modern Pacifism

1.1  Ideas and Models in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

When we talk about pacifism, we refer to a doctrine, or even a set of ideas or attitudes, and their corresponding movements. At least two meanings denote all this: firstly, the condemnation of war as an appropriate means of resolving international disputes; secondly, the consideration of permanent (or perpetual) peace among states as a possible and desirable purpose. Therefore, pacifism includes the sum of all endeavours and programmes for the realisation of lasting or, if possible, perpetual peace among peoples who believe that this goal is of positive value and can be attained within the foreseeable future; this is a broader definition, of course, which refers to movements in favour of the total abolition of war. Pacifism has existed in all higher cultures and in different historical epochs as a more or less distinct and vivid idea; indeed, in its broadest sense, it dates back to Classical Antiquity (for example, we can find invocations for peace in Xenophon and Isocrates), and in the religious conceptions of the main Biblical prophets and the first evangelical Irenicism, which were handed down in certain Protestant sects (Quakers). This concept acquired authority in the theorisations of the “peace of submission”, from the Pax Romana of the Augustan age to the Pax Universalis supported by Dante Alighieri in De Monarchia (1312–1313) as a function of the Byzantine Empire. In the nineteenth century, there was a period of relative peace in Europe and in the world; this was identified with the Pax Britannica, which lasted as long as the British Empire retained its dominant position. ← 3 | 4 →

An Ideological, Historical and Political Overview of Nineteenth-Century Pacifism

By way of introduction, it is useful to recall some reflections drawn from authoritative contemporary intellectuals. In his Profilo ideologico del ’900, Norberto Bobbio (1909–2004) – Emeritus Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Turin – wrote that in the nineteenth century there were two main and antithetic conceptions of war (and peace): “the positivist and evolutionist one”, according to which the Industrial Revolution would transform military societies based on war “to the point that peace would be inevitable”; and “the romantic one”, which, based on a dramatic and dialectic conception of history, considered war as “not only inevitable but also beneficial”.1 However, as the Italian philosopher pointed out, the end of the nineteenth century witnessed the emergence of antagonism between the great powers, which fought each other in order to conquer new colonies and markets. Thus “passive” and “fatalistic” pacifism – a sign of the positivistic age – gave way to “active” pacifism as a result of the “intelligent and organised effort” of man.2 Bobbio also specified that “active pacifism” could move in three directions depending on whether it acted on means, institutions or men. In the first case, he spoke of “instrumental pacifism”, whose action was aimed at drastically limiting the instruments of war (doctrine and disarmament policy) or at replacing violent means with nonviolent ones (the theory of nonviolence, such as Gandhi’s doctrine of Satyagraha). Instead, “institutional pacifism” directed its criticism at the institution of the state through a twofold analysis. The first referred to “juridical pacifism”, which, through law enforcement, aimed at establishing a universal state that would be able to resolve conflicts between sovereign countries. The second related to “social pacifism”, according to which war was an event that depended on a certain notion of the state characterised ← 4 | 5 → by the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat (in internal relationships), and by imperialist expansion (in external relationships): the remedy would be a transition from a capitalist society to a socialist one. Finally, he outlined the concept of “finalist pacifism”: peace could be achieved by an understanding of humans either from an ethical-religious standpoint or from a purely biological one. The real reason for war was to be found, respectively, in man’s moral defects (Leo Tolstoy) or in the primitive impulses of human nature (Sigmund Freud): in this respect, Bobbio used the expressions of “ethical-religious pacifism” and “scientific pacifism”,3 respectively.

In the entry “Pacifism and Nonviolent Movements” published in The New Encyclopædia Britannica, Wilhelm Emil Mühlmann (1904–1988) – Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the Rupert Charles University of Heidelberg – stated that pacifism was based on three key points: the postulate of tolerance; religious and philosophical demands for the abandonment of violence; and programmes aimed at the improvement of relations between nations, limitation of armaments, moderation and rational discussion of conflicts, and the institution of neutral courts of arbitration. As a rule, the basis for such programmes lay in the conception of an ethical and harmonious human society. Mühlmann identified different conceptions of pacifism; firstly, there was an “integral pacifism” that condemned violence as a means of settling conflicts in any circumstances and rejected war unconditionally; there was also a less severe “semi-pacifism” that permitted wars under certain conditions, for instance when they were “just”, or decidedly wars of “defence”, or wars against “unbelievers” or “rebels”. Furthermore, he highlighted the conception of “positive peace”, which connected, on the one hand, the abandonment of armed force with religious sanctions and, on the other hand, demands for social justice and internal peace; in addition, he distinguished the notion of “negative peace” ← 5 | 6 → according to which the mere renunciation of armed force was the most that could be attained through intelligent politics.4

The entry concerning Pacifism written by Mulford Quickert Sibley (1912–1989) – Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota – and published in the Enciclopedia del Novecento (Encyclopedia of the Twentieth Century)5 should also be noted. Sibley underscored the typical twentieth-century difference between “political pacifism” and “non-political pacifism”. The former emphasised nonviolent political action (including parliamentary activity) and is to be called “pacifism of the transformation”. In contrast, the latter argued that peace movements were not to engage directly in the renewal of political and social institutions. For this reason, it was befitting to limit the economic needs of the citizens in order to avoid this involvement, proposing that they live in communities separated from industrial and commercial centres, and urban life; in essence, as Sibley pointed out, non-political pacifism implied “an ethic of isolation and simplicity”. For example, it was incorporated by Tolstoy; in fact, in the last period of his life, the famous Russian writer became a pacifist-anarchist, focusing his attention on the values of simplicity, the necessity of hard manual labour, and the refusal to obey the state when it demanded tributes and compulsory military service.

Charles-Irénée Castel’s Project for Perpetual Peace

The reflections of Bobbio, Mühlmann and Sibley give us further insights into the evolution of modern pacifism. The latter was born in the form of a philosophical-legal doctrine at the beginning of the eighteenth century with the famous work of Charles-Irénée Castel, abbot of Saint Pierre (1658–1743), entitled Projet pour rendre la paix perpétuelle en Europe (Project for Making ← 6 | 7 → Peace Perpetual in Europe, 1713); the abbot of Saint Pierre published his book in Cologne while he was engaged in the Congress of Utrecht as the secretary of Cardinal Melchior de Polignac. In his work, he emphasised that only lasting peace between European states would represent the necessary condition to ensure the welfare and progress of France and of the Old Continent. Saint-Pierre was among the most far-sighted supporters of the ideal of perpetual peace perceived as fundamental for the coexistence of the European peoples and of a renewed jus gentium. He described the relationships between European sovereigns according to natural-law models; as ordained by nature to rule, princes enjoyed absolute sovereignty and were competing against each other to satisfy their aspirations. Therefore, states were in a condition of perpetual struggle: neither treaties nor the balance of the European powers, as the abbot wrote, would be enough to preserve the Continent from the misfortunes of war. A free contract among equal countries was to be approved in order to overcome this natural conflict, possibly signed by all European sovereigns to create a “permanent society” that could enforce what was promised, namely the laws imposed by the rulers with their treaties.6 Despite its limitations, Saint-Pierre’s work was of primary importance for the history of European unity. In fact, for the first time in the philosophical-legal and political sphere, it theorised the existence of a structural connection between the value of “perpetual peace” and the European federative pact, and, at the same time, between the rules governing the “permanent society” (deriving from this pact) and the reform of international law. Hence the need to replace traditional diplomacy and the state of armed peace with a permanent seat of arbitration for the definitive removal of the state of war.

Kant’s Precepts for the Establishment of Peace

In the eighteenth century, the discourse on “perpetual peace” was revived through a federal interpretation and examined in depth from the philosophical-legal point of view by Immanuel Kant (1724–1804). ← 7 | 8 → The philosopher from Königsberg was inspired by the Peace of Basel signed between Prussia and revolutionary France for the preparation of his most famous political text, Zum ewigen Frieden (Perpetual Peace, 1795). In the footsteps of the abbot of Saint-Pierre, Kant transferred the model of the state of nature from the interpersonal level to the level of relations between states; in the condition of “wild freedom”, men lived in perpetual antagonism generated by their “unsocial sociability”. This contradictory trait would lead them to unite by reaching a condition of legality represented by the rule of law; however, legal certainty within the single state did not keep mankind safe from destructive conflicts between states. Faced with such a scenario, Kant offered the following solution. As the transition to civilian constitution allowed for the regulation and the resolution of inter-individual conflicts and guaranteed civil peace even through coercion, so a legal constitution between states decided their disputes, ensuring perpetual peace through a universal cosmopolitan order; this would create the conditions for universal peace, namely a situation diametrically opposed to the Hobbesian state of nature (bellum omnium contra omnes). Kant offered a series of precepts concerning the preconditions for the establishment of peace such as the disappearance of standing armies and good faith in the observance of treaties. The central part of his essay was dedicated to three “definitive articles” proposed as the basis of the future legal community having a supranational and universal character. Firstly, “the civil constitution of each state shall be republican”; in this respect, the German intellectual did not oppose the term “republican” to “monarchical” but to “despotic” (in fact, according to Kant’s political lexicon, republics were also monarchies). Secondly, “the law of nations shall be founded on a federation of free states”. Thirdly, “the rights of men, as citizens of the world, shall be limited to the conditions of universal hospitality”. ← 8 | 9 → 7

Hegel’s Solution Based on International Law

In his criticism of the natural-law model formulated in the Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts (Elements of the Philosophy of Right, 1821), Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) argued that states were not a mere sum of individuals; more precisely, “States [were] not private persons but completely independent totalities in themselves”, so that “the relations between them [were] not the same as purely moral relations or relations of private right”.8 Therefore, war was an inevitable phenomenon, since among sovereign subjects such as states, it was impossible to imagine any impartial authority capable of resolving conflicts. According to Hegel, however, war also had a moral value; as a matter of fact, through it “the moral health of peoples [was] preserved”.9 While supporting the inevitability and ethicality of such a dramatic event, Hegel did not exclude that interstate relations could be regulated from a legal point of view; this issue was already clarified by the German philosopher in the Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundisse (Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, 1817): if, on the one hand, the exclusive sovereignty of states caused a potential condition of war, on the other hand, peace was necessary for their mutual recognition; hence the need to establish an international law in order to ensure a peaceful situation among people.10 In short, despite the temporary inevitability of war, the German philosopher found a solution to international disputes. ← 9 | 10 →

Peace Associations

In the nineteenth century, particular projects linked to individual figures were gradually replaced by newly established peace associations.

Firstly, these had a religious character; examples are offered by the “New York Peace Society” founded by the Presbyterian David Low Dodge (1815), the “American Peace Society” created by William Ladd (1828) and the “Society of Peace” set up by Count Jean-Jacques of Sellon in Geneva (1830).

Secondly, the peace associations drew inspiration from the economic doctrine of free trade, of which Richard Cobden was one of the leading exponents; they organised the first international conferences for peace (London, 1843; Brussels, 1848; Paris, 1849). It was during the Peace Congress of Paris, held upon Cobden’s initiative, that Victor Hugo (1802–1885) delivered one of his most significant speeches, which can be regarded as “the pinnacle of French pacifist literature”.11 On 21 August 1849, Hugo supported a form of universal peace of a religious nature: “The law which rules the world cannot be different from the law of God […] which is not war, [but] peace”.12 Moreover, he explicitly used the expression “United States of Europe”;13 this idea represented a peaceful alternative to despotic regimes and was identified in a Europe of Peoples in opposition to a Europe of Kings. From this point of view, the author of Les Misérables ← 10 | 11 → was one of the forerunners of this project, together with Carlo Cattaneo and Giuseppe Mazzini.14


X, 248
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (November)
Pacifism Cold War League of Nations Establishment of the UN
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. X, 248 pp., 1 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Claudio Giulio Anta (Author)

Claudio Giulio Anta holds a doctorate in History of Political Thought and Political Institutions from the University of Turin. He has obtained the Italian «National Academic Qualification» and through this was awarded the title of Associate Professor of Political Philosophy. He contributes to the journals Nuova Antologia, Rivista di studi politici internazionali and The European Union Review. His published books include Il rilancio dell’Europa. Il progetto di Jacques Delors, 2004; Padri dell’Europa. Sette brevi ritratti, 2005 (the French translation of which was published by Peter Lang in 2007); Winston Churchill e l’idea dell’Europa unita, 2007; The Europeanism of Winston Churchill, 2009; Guerra alla Guerra. La lezione di «Coenobium», 2010 (the French translation of which was published by Peter Lang in 2012); and Lord Lothian: The Paths of Federalism, Peter Lang, 2014.


Title: Albert Einstein