Textual analysis of Albert Einstein’s essay “Why Socialism?”

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The objective of the given work is to find out what was Albert Einstein’s primary purpose or argument in “Why Socialism?”, to offer support for the answer and show if and how he was successful or unsuccessful in achieving his goal by utilizing different linguistic techniques among which predominates rhetorical one.

Originally published in the first issue of Monthly Review in May 1949 Albert Einstein’s essay “Why Socialism?” presents a set of social and political claims. The major argument of the article concerns the fact that specific combination of personal and social strivings determines the degree of an individual inner equilibrium and his integration into society. Einstein asserts that now the individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. He takes it negatively, as a threat to his biological and social rights. According to Einstein the capitalistic community of production and consumption contributes to this fear. Oligarchy of private capital which power cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically political society impacts all its spheres. Einstein is convinced that capitalists’ competition results in labor waste and deformation of the social consciousness of humans, in education as well. The only way to eliminate capitalism evils is through the establishment of a planned socialist economy and socially aimed educational system exclusively.

Enter essay leads us to the main argument of the essay. Here Einstein introduces historical and theoretical facts. Human civilization has been mainly impacted by economical causes, such as conquering of other states. It is “the predatory phase” of human development, which socialism is to overpass. Einstein notes that man is simultaneously a solitary and a social being. Specific combination of personal and social strivings determines the degree of an individual inner equilibrium and integration into society. When human society is in condition of a crisis man feels indifferent to the group, to which he belongs. Now the individual has become more conscious than ever of his natural dependence upon society. He takes it negatively and his social motives degenerate. Science supplies the means of attaining social-ethical ends that is why A. Einstein handles this problem. The analysis of biological and cultural constitution of a human-being and certain unalterable social conditions advance the author to the probable resolution of the problem.

To support his main argument Einstein uses a number of other claims. To begin with he notes that the discovery of common economical laws is made difficult by the fact that many factors which are very difficult to evaluate separately and that are in no way exclusively economic in nature quite often affect observed economic phenomena. The real purpose of socialism is to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development. Einstein is sure that it is characteristic in a crisis situation for individuals to feel indifferent and hostile toward the group, to which they belong. The reason is solitude and isolation from the society.

Vividly is described the argument that there are definite unalterable social conditions: the biological nature of human-beings; technological and demographic developments. As mankind represents a global community of production and consumption Einstein concludes that the economic capitalist society is harmful to humans. Private capital is concentrated in few hands and this leads to oligarchy of private capital which power cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically political society, and impacts all its spheres.

As the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of the produced by him product, the present day economy does not differ much from “pure” capitalism: means of production (capital) are owned privately; the labor contract is free; production is carried on only for profit; unemployment always exists; technological progress assists it.

Moreover, according to Einstein, as labor waste and deformation of the social consciousness of humans is present in education as well. Einstein asserts that there is only one way to eliminate capitalism evils – namely through the establishment of a planned socialist economy and socially aimed educational system.

He gives a detailed description of the capitalist society, production peculiarities and capitalist-worker relationships. He successfully uses “minor” arguments, expressive means, scientific facts, and so is persuasive.

In looking at how Einstein’s persuasive power is carried out through language, we should have a theoretical approach that will enable us to interpret language data. In some contexts, we need to be able to show how rhetorical techniques are used to influence an audience. In one of his many criticism works of The New Rhetoric, the philosopher Henry W. Johnstone Jr. represents a significant complain about the dissociation of concepts” namely “one is never sure whether thinking of rhetoric primarily as a technique or primarily as a mode of truth.” (99) The accurate answer legitimately varies in a systematic course. In philosophical and scientific contexts rhetoric is invariably a mode of truth, while in contexts of public address it should not be.

The rhetorical techniques utilized by scientists of past and present are an implement of reasoning and for convincing and inducing others of their theories. Up-to-date rhetorical techniques outside of science influence these strategies, and present literary styles inform the style of scientific writing which is distinguished by numerous rhetorical techniques.

Many linguistic techniques mark the Einstein’s essay. First of all texts that carefully avoid the first person are usually science texts, here is an example from the essay: ” It is evident, therefore, that. . .” in which the author uses rhetorical techniques of objective-sounding language and self-effacement to make it seem as if nature herself (rather than the author) is addressing to you.

A useful rhetorical device is to repeat a key idea or phrase – this may seem unpolished, but it may lodge in the minds of the audience. As here: “evil of capitalism”, “grave evils”, “suffers from this evil”.

If you wish to make a statement, it may be a good idea to ask a question or series of questions to introduce it. According to Steven Pinker this is a common technique in information leaflets, which often pose the question from the reader’s viewpoint (Pinker 12). It is also very powerful in political rhetoric, just like in the essay which is named by question “Why Socialism?” itself. Other examples are: “Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism?”; “What is the cause? Is there a way out?”, and some others.

Many writers, especially those who write for public appeal, often divide a sentence or clause into two balanced sections, just like in poetry of the ancient world, where it was the basic rhetorical principle. This is called parallelism (The American Heritage Dictionary, 878). Sometimes the second half echoes or develops the first half – this is synonymous parallelism, e.g. ”…it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be…; “It is the statement… It is the expression…”

The component phrases that are sometimes elegant, often with familiar collocations, simple sentences that are arranged loosely without elaborated rhetorical patterns, in present tense help Einstein to expressively convince the reader of his argument. We can see a string of such collocations in such phrases as: “Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job.”, etc.

Einstein almost all the time appeals to some definite reader, to a person which is by all means on the author’s side or will be after completing the reading: “Let us first consider the question…”; “we should be on our guard”; “If we ask ourselves”. We may see that Einstein uses metaphor, which makes his arguments more vivid, for example “Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism”

All author’s expressive means and subjective facts, such as ethos of Einstein, increase veracity and persuasiveness of the arguments.  Reasoning and appeal to the intellect increase this effect, e.g. “Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific knowledge…; “—as is well known—“; “It is evident… just as in the case of ants and bees…”; “If we ask ourselves…”; etc. Appeal to emotion commits the same role: “we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society”; “painful solitude and isolation”; “What is the cause? Is there a way out?’; “we should constantly be conscious”; etc.

The reputation and authority of the author play a significant rhetorical role in the essay, such as constant personal acknowledgements: “I believe”, “I am sure that”, “. I must try”, “I have now reached the point”, “I shall call”, “I am convinced”, “I consider…”

After reading the essay and being mainly persuaded by Einstein’s argument and the way he put it in words and framed with numerous linguistic and rhetorical techniques we may response to it. It may be true that in such socialistic economy, as Einstein described, the means of production are owned by society, and are used in a planned manner. A planned economy adapts production to the community necessities. It distributes the work among every able to work people and guarantees a livelihood to everyone. In such society education should develop a sense of community and fellowship, not only his own innate abilities and strivings. This can make human life maximum satisfying. However, always remains the fact that economic science even nowadays can hardly elucidate the socialist society of the future. And there is always a threat that in this case the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power leads to expansion of bureaucracy.

Did you like this sample?
  1. Einstein, Albert. “Why Socialism?” Monthly Review 1. (1949).
  2. Johnstone, Henry W., Jr. Validity and Rhetoric in Philosophical Argument: An Outlook in Transition. University Park, Penn.: The Dialogue Press of Man, 1978.
  3. Pinker, Steven. The Language Instinct. New York: Harper Perennial, 1995.
  4. “Parallelism.” The American Heritage Dictionary. College Edition. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1983.
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