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Einstein and Freud on World Peace

Einstein in his later yearsBetween 1931 and 1933, Albert Einstein engaged Sigmund Freud in a discussion that addressed the question, “Is there any way of delivering mankind from the menace of war?” Their exchange was subsequently published as a pamphlet that is available for free on line by clicking HERE.

In today’s From Insults to Respect post, we’ll take a look at the main points that both men made back then, and then I’ll try to apply their ideas to the current state of world affairs.

Einstein’s Views On Promoting World Peace

Einstein addressed a letter in 1931, or possibly 1932, to Freud, concerning an organization of intellectual leaders that would work toward world peace. It reads in part:

I greatly admire your passion to ascertain the truth–a passion that has come to dominate all else in your thinking. You have shown with irresistible lucidity how inseparably the aggressive and destructive instincts are bound up in the human psyche with those of love and the lust for life. At the same time, your convincing arguments make manifest your deep devotion to the great goal of the internal and external liberation of man from the evils of war. This was the profound hope of all those who have been revered as moral and spiritual leaders beyond the limits of their own time and country, from Jesus to Goethe and Kant. Is it not significant that such men have been universally recognized as leaders, even though their desire to affect the course of human affairs was quite ineffective?….

kingDo you not share the feeling that a change could be brought about by a free association of men whose previous work and achievements offer a guarantee of their ability and integrity? Such a group of international scope, whose members would have to keep contact with each other through constant interchange of opinions, might gain a significant and wholesome moral influence on the solution of political problems if its own attitudes, backed by the signatures of its concurring members, were made public through the press. peace 2Such an association would, of course, suffer from all the defects that have so often led to degeneration in learned societies; the danger that such a degeneration may develop is, unfortunately, ever present in view of the imperfections of human nature. However, and despite those dangers, should we not make at least an attempt to form such an association in spite of all dangers? It seems to me nothing less than an imperative duty!

Once such an association of intellectuals–men of real stature–has come into being, it might then make an energetic effort to enlist religious groups in the fight against war. The association would give moral power for action to many personalities whose good intentions are today paralyzed by an attitude of painful resignation.

After receiving Einstein’s letter, Freud agreed to participate in a public exchange of letters. Einstein’s first open letter to Freud said, in part,

Man-MeditatingAs one immune from nationalist bias, I personally see a simple way of dealing with the superficial (i.e., administrative) aspect of the problem: the setting up, by international consent, of a legislative and judicial body to settle every conflict arising between nations. Each nation would undertake to abide by the orders issued by this legislative body, to invoke its decision in every dispute, to accept its judgments unreservedly and to carry out every measure the tribunal deems necessary for the execution of its decrees…. Thus I am led to my first axiom: The quest of international security involves the unconditional surrender by every nation, in a certain measure, of its liberty of action–its sovereignty that is to say–and it is clear beyond all doubt that no other road can lead to such security….

Einstein, being a fairly intelligent fellow, well recognized the resistance against any group seeking to create such a tribunal. Thus, he stated in his letter:

Dali LamaThe craving for power which characterizes the governing class in every nation is hostile to any limitation of the national sovereignty. This political power hunger is often supported by the activities of another group, whose aspirations are on purely mercenary, economic lines. I have especially in mind that small but determined group, active in every nation, composed of individuals who, indifferent to social considerations and restraints, regard warfare, the manufacture and sale of arms, simply as an occasion to advance their personal interests and enlarge their personal authority….

Not having a ready solution to how to deal with this resistance, Einstein concluded his letter to Freud with the following words:

…[I]t would be of the greatest service to us all were you to present the problem of world peace in the light of your most recent discoveries, for such a presentation well might blaze the trail for new and fruitful modes of action.

Yours very sincerely,

Albert Einstein

Freud’s Views On Promoting World Peace

Freud soon responded to Einstein.

….[Y]ou have stated the gist of the matter in your letter–and taken the wind out of my sails! Still, I will gladly follow in your wake and content myself with endorsing your conclusions, which, however, I propose to amplify to the best of my knowledge….

Freud then uses his theory of the blending of the love instinct and the destructive instinct to develop further the reasons for the resistance to the war prevention tribunal that Einstein envisioned. concrete stepsBut then he notes that he realizes that Einstein is not so much interested in a lot of theorizing, but rather, in concrete steps that may be taken to promote lasting world peace. The answer, he says, perhaps lies in trying to figure out why he, Einstein, and some others developed into human beings who are so much less likely than others to heed the drums of war. Perhaps if we understand this, we can create the conditions for others to reach a similar level of development. Thus, Freud wrote,

Why do we, you and I and many another, protest so vehemently against war, instead of just accepting it as another of life’s odious importunities? For it seems a natural thing enough, biologically sound and practically unavoidable. I trust you will not be shocked by my raising such a question. For the better conduct of an inquiry it may be well to don a mask of feigned aloofness. The answer to my query may run as follows: mandela-impossibleBecause every man has a right over his own life and war destroys lives that were full of promise; it forces the individual into situations that shame his manhood, obliging him to murder fellow men, against his will; it ravages material amenities, the fruits of human toil, and much besides. Moreover, wars, as now conducted, afford no scope for acts of heroism according to the old ideals and, given the high perfection of modern arms, war today would mean the sheer extermination of one of the combatants, if not of both. This is so true, so obvious, that we can but wonder why the conduct of war is not banned by general consent…. 

Here is the way in which I see it. The cultural development of mankind (some, I know, prefer to call it civilization) has been in progress since immemorial antiquity. To this process we owe all that is best in our composition, but also much that makes for human suffering….sigmund freud quoteThe psychic changes which accompany this process of cultural change are striking, and not to be gainsaid. They consist in the progressive rejection of instinctive ends and a scaling down of instinctive reactions. Sensations which delighted our forefathers have become neutral or unbearable to us; and, if our ethical and aesthetic ideals have undergone a change, the causes of this are ultimately organic. On the psychological side two of the most important phenomena of culture are, firstly, a strengthening of the intellect, which tends to master our instinctive life, and, secondly, an introversion of the aggressive impulse, with all its consequent benefits and perils. friendshipNow war runs most emphatically counter to the psychic disposition imposed on us by the growth of culture; we are therefore bound to resent war, to find it utterly intolerable. With pacifists like us it is not merely an intellectual and affective revulsion, but a constitutional intolerance, an idiosyncrasy in its most drastic form. And it would seem that the aesthetic ignominies of warfare play almost as large a part in this repugnance as war’s atrocities.

How long have we to wait before the rest of men turn pacifist? Impossible to say, and yet perhaps our hope that these two factors–man’s cultural disposition and a well-founded dread of the form that future wars will take–may serve to put an end to war in the near future, is not chimerical. But by what ways or byways this will come about, we cannot guess. Meanwhile we may rest on the assurance that whatever makes for cultural development is working also against war.

With kindest regards and, should this expose prove a disappointment to you, my sincere regrets,

Yours,

SIGMUND FREUD

Commentary

At the time that these letters were exchanged, both men had every reason to be discouraged. They had lived through the devastation of World War I. Only twelve years had gone by since its peace treaty had been signed, and now Hitler had risen to power. Clear signs were everywhere that Europe was on the brink of World War II. Nevertheless, both took the time to try to do something that they thought might have at least some chance to be helpful.

Today’s media, with its motto, “If it bleeds it leads,” brings virtually 24 hours a day news about war, violent crimes, and terrorism. Thus many are led to falsely believe we are living in the most violent times in all of history. the_better_angels_coverBut actually solid research evidence, brilliantly summarized by Steven Pinker in his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined, indicates that over the course of human history we have been finding less and less violent ways to resolve our differences. Human beings who take the time to make vivid the negatives of war, rather than glorifying it, do make a difference. veterans for peaceThose who point the way toward alternatives to violent interactions, can, in time, perhaps way too slowly than we would like, effect change. As Pinker says in the conclusion of his book, “the data we have seen in this book show it is a goal on which progress can be made–progress that is halting and incomplete, but unmistakable nonetheless.” It is my sincere hope that Einstein’s and Freud’s efforts so many years ago will serve as an enduring inspiration to all of us to keep up the struggle toward bringing about a more peaceful world.

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Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.

 

Achieving World Peace: An Einsteinian and Freudian Perspective
Are Science and Religion Incompatible?

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.

3 Comments

  1. Peace will come when we are no longer frustrated by what seem to be unjust inequalities. Social justice is a matter of properly sharing natural resources. One can achieve this by taxation of what we can get for free.

    Socially Just Taxation and Its Effects (17 listed)

    Our present complicated system for taxation is unfair and has many faults. The biggest problem is to arrange it on a socially just basis. Many companies employ their workers in various ways and pay them diversely. Since these companies are registered in different countries for a number of categories, the determination the criterion for a just tax system becomes impossible, particularly if based on a fair measure of human work-activity. So why try when there is a better means available, which is really a true and socially just method?

    Adam Smith (“Wealth of Nations”, 1776) says that land is one of the 3 factors of production (the other 2 being labor and durable capital goods). The usefulness of land is in the price that tenants pay as rent, for access rights to the particular site in question. Land is often considered as being a form of capital, since it is traded similarly to other durable capital goods items. However it is not actually man-made, so rightly it does not fall within this category. The land was originally a gift of nature (if not of God) for which all people should be free to share in its use. But its site-value greatly depends on location and is related to the community density in that region, as well as the natural resources such as rivers, minerals, animals or plants of specific use or beauty, when or after it is possible to reach them. Consequently, most of the land value is created by man within his society and therefore its advantage should logically and ethically be returned to the community for its general use, as explained by Martin Adams (in “LAND”, 2015).

    However, due to our existing laws, land is owned and formally registered and its value is traded, even though it can’t be moved to another place, like other kinds of capital goods. This right of ownership gives the landlord a big advantage over the rest of the community because he determines how it may be used, or if it is to be held out of use, until the city grows and the site becomes more valuable. Thus speculation in land values is encouraged by the law, in treating a site of land as personal or private property—as if it were an item of capital goods, although it is not (Mason Gaffney and Fred Harrison: “The Corruption of Economics”, 2005).

    Regarding taxation and local community spending, the municipal taxes we pay are partly used for improving the infrastructure. This means that the land becomes more useful and valuable without the landlord doing anything—he/she will always benefit from our present tax regime. This also applies when the status of unused land is upgraded and it becomes fit for community development. Then when this news is leaked, after landlords and banks corruptly pay for this information, speculation in land values is rife. There are many advantages if the land values were taxed instead of the many different kinds of production-based activities such as earnings, purchases, capital gains, home and foreign company investments, etc., (with all their regulations, complications and loop-holes). The only people due to lose from this are those who exploit the growing values of the land over the past years, when “mere” land ownership confers a financial benefit, without the owner doing a scrap of work. Consequently, for a truly socially just kind of taxation to apply there can only be one method–Land-Value Taxation.

    Consider how land becomes valuable. New settlers in a region begin to specialize and this improves their efficiency in producing specific goods. The central land is the most valuable due to easy availability and least transport needed. This distribution in land values is created by the community and (after an initial start), not by the natural resources. As the city expands, speculators in land values will deliberately hold potentially useful sites out of use, until planning and development have permitted their values to grow. Meanwhile there is fierce competition for access to the most suitable sites for housing, agriculture and manufacturing industries. The limited availability of useful land means that the high rents paid by tenants make their residence more costly and the provision of goods and services more expensive. It also creates unemployment, causing wages to be lowered by the monopolists, who control the big producing organizations, and whose land was already obtained when it was cheap. Consequently this basic structure of our current macroeconomics system, works to limit opportunity and to create poverty, see above reference.

    The most basic cause of our continuing poverty is the lack of properly paid work and the reason for this is the lack of opportunity of access to the land on which the work must be done. The useful land is monopolized by a landlord who either holds it out of use (for speculation in its rising value), or charges the tenant heavily for its right of access. In the case when the landlord is also the producer, he/she has a monopolistic control of the land and of the produce too, and can charge more for this access right than what an entrepreneur, who seeks greater opportunity, normally would be able to afford.

    A wise and sensible government would recognize that this problem derives from lack of opportunity to work and earn. It can be solved by the use of a tax system which encourages the proper use of land and which stops penalizing everything and everybody else. Such a tax system was proposed 136 years ago by Henry George, a (North) American economist, but somehow most macro-economists seem never to have heard of him, in common with a whole lot of other experts. (I would guess that they don’t want to know, which is worse!) In “Progress and Poverty” 1879, Henry George proposed a single tax on land values without other kinds of tax on produce, services, capital gains etc. This regime of land value tax (LVT) has 17 features which benefit almost everyone in the economy, except for landlords and banks, who/which do nothing productive and find that land dominance has its own reward.

    17 Aspects of LVT Affecting Government, Land Owners, Communities and Ethics

    Four Aspects for Government:
    1. LVT, adds to the national income as do other taxation systems, but it replaces them.
    2. The cost of collecting the LVT is less than for all of the production-related taxes–tax avoidance becomes impossible because the sites are visible to all.
    3. Consumers pay less for their purchases due to lower production costs (see below). This creates greater satisfaction with the management of national affairs.
    4. The national economy stabilizes—it no longer experiences the 18 year business boom/bust cycle, due to periodic speculation in land values (see below).

    Six Aspects Affecting Land Owners:
    5. LVT is progressive–owners of the most potentially productive sites pay the most tax.
    6. The land owner pays his LVT regardless of how his site is used. A large proportion of the ground-rent from tenants becomes the LVT, with the result that land has less sales-value but a significant “rental”-value (even when it is not used).
    7. LVT stops speculation in land prices and the withholding of land from proper use is not worthwhile.
    8. The introduction of LVT initially reduces the sales price of sites, even though their rental value can still grow over a longer term. As more sites become available, the competition for them is less fierce.
    9. With LVT, land owners are unable to pass the tax on to their tenants as rent hikes, due to the reduced competition for access to the additional sites that come into use.
    10. With LVT, land prices will initially drop. Speculators in land values will want to foreclose on their mortgages and withdraw their money for reinvestment. Therefore LVT should be introduced gradually, to allow these speculators sufficient time to transfer their money to company-shares etc., and simultaneously to meet the increased demand for produce (see below).

    Three Aspects Regarding Communities:
    11. With LVT, there is an incentive to use land for production or residence, rather than it being unused.
    12. With LVT, greater working opportunities exist due to cheaper land and a greater number of available sites. Consumer goods become cheaper too, because entrepreneurs have less difficulty in starting-up their businesses and because they pay less ground-rent–demand grows, unemployment decreases.
    13. Investment money is withdrawn from land and placed in durable capital goods. This means more advances in technology and cheaper goods too.

    Four Aspects About Ethics:
    14. The collection of taxes from productive effort and commerce is socially unjust. LVT replaces this extortion by gathering the surplus rental income, which comes without any exertion from the land owner or by the banks– LVT is a natural system of national income-gathering.
    15. Bribery and corruption on information about land cease. Before, this was due to the leaking of news of municipal plans for housing and industrial development, causing shock-waves in local land prices (and municipal workers’ and lawyers’ bank balances).
    16. The improved use of the more central land reduces the environmental damage due to a) unused sites being dumping-grounds, and b) the smaller amount of fossil-fuel use, when traveling between home and workplace.
    17. Because the LVT eliminates the advantage that landlords currently hold over our society, LVT provides a greater equality of opportunity to earn a living. Entrepreneurs can operate in a natural way– to provide more jobs. Then earnings will correspond to the value that the labor puts into the product or service. Consequently, after LVT has been properly introduced it will eliminate poverty and improve business ethics.

    • Hi David,
      I read with interest your tax proposal designed to be more just then our current system. I can see that it has a number of potential benefits. I would love for you to get some opportunities to debate your proposal with others who have far more expertise than I on this taxation topic. If I was able to ask some questions at such a forum, the first would be, Who would do the assessing of the value of the properties and would the owners have a right to challenge the assessed value in front of some mediator? Wouldn’t such a bureaucracy of assessors and mediators end up dramatically reducing the revenues derived from this form of taxing the public? Would the reduction of revenues as a result of this bureaucracy end up offsetting its benefits? Thanks for raising this interesting proposal. My Best, Jeff.

      • Thank you Dr. Jeffrey Rubin for your interest.

        The proposal to tax land values was first made by Henry George, in 1879 in his seminal book “Progress and Poverty” and his friends, the Georgist followers have been active ever since. His book sold at least 3 million copies and is still in print. There are many others in this economic school of thought who know more about it than me, but with my analytic type of thinking I believe I am the first to provide the 17 points list which is included above. There are Georgists in many of the English and Spanish speaking countries (and probably other too) and they have international conferences at fairly frequent intervals. These various centers teach the basics of Georgist economics, about which I am a bit critical, but its still a very important part of their activity.

        Try http://progress.org or HenryGeorge.com and of course Wikipedia to learn more about this vitally civilizing subject. There is a lot of information on this topic including the various supporting statements by famous writers, politicians and economists.

        To answer your first 2 questions, the assessments of the values all sites (or land parcels) would be done by (presumably unbribe-able) government tax inspectors, and the values would be based on current ones, which would need to be revised every few years. This information would be made public with land-value maps being readily available. The land owners would have the right to challenge the assessed values through the courts, just as other taxes can be challenged. It would take many years until all the land was properly assessed and the tax on its value fully applied, because it should be increased gradually as other taxes are simultaneous reduced.

        The Georgists have done some calculations of the amount of money which could be generated by LVT and it is certainly not less than the total of that which is otherwise collected today, with an allowance for its lower cost of collection.

        LVT is actually the ground-rent (not including buildings) that otherwise land owners get when they invest, monopolize and speculate in land values and then lease out the land. The fees for use of any buildings etc., being durable capital goods, are separate and are not part of this proposal.

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