The Police, Einstein & Freud
As good and evil are part and parcel of the human condition, so too, violence.
We condemn violence when it threatens our security and safety, while condoning it when it meets the need of securing the same. We cede some part of our freedom and liberty for what we perceive as a greater good, allowing, or even requiring, the police to act violently in our behalf.
We embrace this principle on a local and national level, yet we hesitate to bring it to the level of international relations, relying instead on a steady diet of war to work out international conflict.
This troubled Albert Einstein, and he sought out Sigmund Freud to help clarify the psychological underpinnings of war. The resulting correspondence was published in 1933 as the pamphlet “Why War?” Only about 2,000 English copies were printed, and ironically, most were lost in the cataclysm of WWII. It was included in the 1960 “Einstein on Peace,” but seems to be little read today.
I found it on ‘brainpickings.org’ by Maria Popova, a wonderful site of shared thought and commentary.
Einstein initiated the correspondence, writing to Freud, “You have shown with irresistible lucidity how inseparably the aggressive and destructive instinct 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.” And later, “As for me, the normal objective of my thought affords no insight into the dark places of human will and feeling. Thus, in the inquiry now proposed, I can do little more than to seek to clarify the question at issue and, clearing their ground of the more obvious solutions, enable you to bring the light of your far-reaching knowledge of man’s instinctive life to bear upon the problem.”
Here was Einstein, the brilliant physicist, acknowledging his own shortcomings, yet keen with curiosity in an entirely different field that might shed light on an inquiry he was pursuing. So he wrote to a man he knews slightly and admired, an older man acknowledged at the time as probably the best in the world in the study of human psychology.
Freud did respond, and was at least initially pessimistic of a solution, writing, “All my life I have had to tell people truths that were difficult to sweallow. Now that I am old, I certainly do not want to fool them.” And as great men do who have earned some years on earth and are wise enough to grow in humility rather than arrogance, he wrote, “…the question that you put to me….took me by surprise. And, next, I was dumbfounded by the thought of my (of our, I almost wrote) incompetence; for this struck me as being a matter of practical politics, the statesman’s proper study. But then I realize that you did not raise the question in your capacity of scientist or physicist, but as a lover of his fellow men…”
I have not yet obtained the entire correspondence, but the parts that Popova included on brainpickings.org gives insight to this present inquiry on police and the use of force.
Freud laid out the basic problem; “Conflicts of interest between man and man are resolved, in principle, by the recourse to violence,” which evolved from group force, to physical force, then weapons (which introduced the use of brains over sheer brute force), but as he writes, “…the object of the conflict remained the same; one party was to be constrained, by the injury done him or the impairment of his strength, to retract a claim or a refusal. This end is most effectively gained when the opponent is put out of action – in other words, is killed.”
Just as an aside, Freud even clarifies why it is that war begets war. For when the enemy’s life might be spared if his spirit is broken there is the possibility of, “…using an enemy for servile tasks…but the victor, having from now on to reckon with the craving for revenge that rankles in his victim, forfeits to some extent his personal security.”
He then traces the use of violence in conflict to the rule of law, “Brute force is overcome by union; the allied might of scattered units makes good its right against the isolated giant. Thus we may define “right” (i.e., law) as the might of a community. Yet it, too, is nothing else than violence, quick to attack whatever individual stands in its path, and it employs the selfsame methods, follows like ends, with but one difference: it is the communal, not individual, violence that has its way.”
At the time of this correspondence, Einstein (1879-1955) was in his mid-50s; Freud (1856-1939) was in his late 70s. Memories of the ‘Great War’ to end all wars, were fresh; 17 million deaths, 20 million wounded, Europe still scarred from the turmoil. Hitler was fed and fueled on the privations heaped upon Germany, and he was gaining traction in his quest to rebuild war machinery. As part of his policy of ethnic cleansing in Germany, both Einstein and Freud were exiled. Einstein was in the US in 1933, and stayed. Freud was at his home in Vienna, and was able to escape to London in 1938, where he died in 1939, at his request, from an over-dose of morphine, to end his suffering from terminal cancer.
So the idea of finding a way to end this most tragic of all human comedies burned bright in the collective consciousness of two brilliant minds. The realization that right is inextricably bound with violence (might) was unavoidable. But the solution was as simple as it was difficult.
Einstein: “…at present we are far from possessing any supranational organization competent to render verdicts of incontestable authority and enforce absolute submission to the execution of its verdicts.”
The League of Nations was founded in 1920, and its principle purpose was to maintain world peace through collective security and disarmament, settling international disputes through negotiation and arbitration. It lacked exactly what Einstein wrote was needed; the authority to enforce absolute submission to the execution of its verdicts. And why?
Einstein: “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.”
Which is exactly what we do in our neighborhoods, surrender some degree of our personal liberty, so that the police can provide a certain measure of safety and security.
Which is exactly what we fail to give the United Nations, the offspring after WWII of the League of Nations.
As Benito Mussolini put it as his soldiers were targeting Read Cross tents in WWII, “"The League is very well when sparrows shout, but no good at all when eagles fall out.”
It is very simple and very hard.
Much to the chagrin of ardent nationalists and patriots everywhere, a surrender of some measure of national sovereignty would be the first step towards ensuring some measure of peace and security in this world.
Especially among the “eagles.”
Einstein again: “The craving for power which characterizes the governing class in every nation is hostile to any limitations 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.”
Here Einstein is channeling Dwight D. Eisenhower 30 years ahead of his final presidential address to the American public in 1961, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
But risen it has, this militaryindustrial complex, and misplaced power exists and persists. It has no interest in either security or liberty.
Freud: “…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.”
Eisenhower pinpointed that very reason, the militaryindustrial complex, presaged by Einstein, to whom I defer a final thought: “”As long as all international conflicts are not subject to arbitration and the enforcement of decisions arrived at by arbitration is not guaranteed, and as long as war production is not prohibited we may be sure that war ill follow upon war. Unless our civilization achieves the moral strength to overcome this evil, it is bound to share the fate of former civilizations: decline and decay.”
Next: Police; Enforcing International Law