Albert Einstein has been perhaps rightly revered as one of the greatest men of science. While this accolade is in part due to his pioneering work on relativity, he is also highly esteemed because of his conscientious and humanitarian work. But now, the publication of his travel diaries, penned in the period following the First World War, threatens to diminish his legacy — at least as far as him being a great human is concerned.
According to Quartz, the Princeton University Press has published Einstein’s diaries, The Travel Diaries of Albert Einstein, from his travels in Spain, Palestine, Japan and China that he undertook from 1920-23. While the publisher warns that the diaries were not meant for public consumption and could consequently impair our understanding of Einstein’s views, several of the excerpts in the book in fact show that Einstein was astonishingly prejudiced towards several sections of the world’s population.
Perhaps the people that Einstein disliked most during that period were the Chinese, whom he described as being “industrious, filthy, obtuse people” in his diaries, even going on to state that “it would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races. For the likes of us the mere thought is unspeakably dreary.”
Not only the Chinese, Einstein also had disturbing views about other populations, including the people of Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka), who, according to him, “live in great filth and considerable stench at ground level,” before adding they “do little, and need little. The simple economic cycle of life.”
The publication of the diaries and the detailing of Einstein’s abhorrent views about the Chinese and other people including other South-Asians as well as Indians, has led to him being labelled an archetypal racist by several publications. Ze’ev Rosenkranz, the senior editor of the collected diaries, said that it is not a label which is completely wide off the mark, adding that Einstein’ ideas do in fact adhere to the understanding that some races are biologically inferior to others.
“Einstein’s diary entries on the biological origin of the alleged intellectual inferiority of the Japanese, Chinese, and Indians are definitely not understated and can be viewed as racist—in these instances, other people are portrayed as being biologically inferior, a clear hallmark of racism. The disquieting comment that the Chinese may ‘supplant all other races’ is also most revealing in this regard.”
It is truly tragic that one of the greatest minds of the last century held such blatantly prejudiced views about people from races different to his own, and that his hitherto untouched legacy will now be stained because of it.