This quote came from physicist Albert Einstein speaking at Gandhi’s 70th birthday party and has since been translated into numerous languages. The full quote, in its entirety, is below.
A leader of his people, unsupported by an outward authority: a politician whose success rests not upon craft nor the mastery of technical devices, but simply on the convincing power of his personality; a victorious fighter who always scorned the use of force, a man of wisdom and humility, armed with resolve and inflexible consistency, who has devoted all his strength to the uplifting of his people and the betterment of their lot; a man who has confronted the brutality of Europe with the dignity of the simple human being and thus at all times risen superior. Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever walked upon this earth.
Did he say it?
Did he say it? Yes.
Who did he say it to?
These words were spoken at Gandhi’s 70th bday party commemoration in 1939; later published in Out of My Later Years, New York: Philosophical Library, 1950.
When did he say it?
Though he said it in 1939, the text of the speech was later published in Out of My Later Years, New York: Philosophical Library, 1950.
Einstein Really Said It. So What’s the Story?
For a very long time, Albert Einstein was fond of Mahatma Gandhi’s political activism. Idealizing, among other things, his commitment to pacifism. Gandhi preferred pacifism and civil disobedience over outright acts of open war as his preferred means of resistance. Einstein, for his part, had attempted to organize an anti-war movement across Europe in his essay: Manifesto to the Europeans. However, while the manifesto would not prevent World War II from taking over Europe a similar maneuver by the physicist would forever be held in the history of science.
Just more than twenty years earlier, at the outbreak of World War I, Albert Einstein had attempted to petition scientists of Germany to stand against the war and not let their intellectual abilities and pursuits be co-opted by the military. This also failed to bring about an international peace movement, however, it would have tremendous ramifications for scientists. In 1918, the physics community desperately needed an experimentalist to test Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. A dutch mathematician, Willem de Sitter, contacted astronomer, physicist, and quaker Arthur Eddington who was very much against any type of war effort.
Before explaining Einstein’s theory of relativity to him, he first explained “he’s a pacifist, like yourself.” Months later on May 29th, 1919, viewing from West Africa, Arthur Eddington observed the solar eclipse that would provide the first definitive proof of the truth of general relativity.
Was Einstein really a Pacifist?
Terrific question. This would seem to cause some conceptual riff between Einstein and Gandhi as the former famously wrote “I’m a pacifist. So much so that I would fight for peace.” A quote that is needed to justify his letter to FDR. Along with physicist Leo Szilard Einstein penned a letter to the then-president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, warning that not only were nuclear weapons a possibility for humanity but that the Germans most likely knew that as well and were well on their way to developing their own nuclear arsenal.
Though Germany would later abandon their nuclear project (with Hitler admitting that he never really understood the project), there is ample evidence that the Germans were indeed in the pursuit of nuclear weapons at the time the letter was written.