I N T R O D U C T I O N T O V O L U M E 7 x x i
The writings in the present volume center around two major events that signifi-
cantly altered the course of Albert Einstein’s public life: the founding of the
Weimar Republic and the announcement, made by British astronomers in the fall
of 1919, that the general theory of relativity had been empirically confirmed. These
two events created the preconditions that enabled Einstein to act as an unofficial
scientific and cultural emissary of the new Germany on the world stage.
On 9 November 1918, the day of Kaiser Wilhelm’s abdication, Einstein canceled
his lecture course on relativity “due to revolution” (Doc. 12, p. 90). Soon after,
according to Max Born, he visited the Reich Chancellery to meet with Friedrich
Ebert, the new head of the interim government, and secured the release of several
University of Berlin professors and its rector, detained by revolutionary students.
With the sudden collapse of Germany’s imperial regime, soldiers’ and workers’
councils advocated radical changes. Just four days later, on 13 November, Einstein
addressed a crowd of over a thousand at a public meeting of the Bund “Neues
Vaterland.” Calling himself an “old democrat” who did not need “to unlearn” polit-
ical habits, Einstein declared that “all true democrats must stand guard lest the old
class tyranny of the right be replaced by a class tyranny of the left” (Doc. 14, p. 2).
He vigorously promoted democratic and liberal causes, an attitude shared by rela-
tively few of his colleagues. On learning that Einstein “believed in the new era and
wanted to work for it,” Arnold Sommerfeld expressed his dismay at “everything
unspeakably miserable and stupid” (Arnold Sommerfeld to Einstein, 3 December
1918 [Vol. 8, Doc. 662]). In his reply, Einstein stated his firm conviction that “Ger-
mans who love culture will soon again be able to be as proud of their fatherland as
ever—and with more justification than before 1914” (Einstein to Arnold Sommer-
feld, 6 December 1918 [Vol. 8, Doc. 665]).
One year later, on 6 November 1919, the findings of the two British expeditions
that traveled to Western Africa and Brazil to photograph the total solar eclipse of
29 May 1919 were presented at the joint meeting of the Royal Society and the
Royal Astronomical Society, an occasion Alfred North Whitehead likened to a
Greek drama. Its impact on Einstein’s life and subsequent career was both sudden
and profound, as reflected in several documents that postdate the event, in particu-
lar those composed for the British public (Docs. 25, 26, and 58). Einstein’s writings
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