L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 62, December 31, 1999
Getting One Right
by Vin Suprynowicz
Special to TLE
Paul Johnson's massive history of the past 80 years,
Modern Times, begins with a memorable passage:
"The modern world began on 29 May 1919 when photographs of a solar
eclipse, taken off the island of Principe off West Africa and at
Sobral in Brazil, confirmed the truth of a new theory of the
universe. It had been apparent for half a century that the Newtonian
cosmology, based upon the straight lines of Euclidean geometry and
Galileo's notions of absolute time, was in need of serious
modification. ... Increasingly powerful telescopes were revealing
anomalies. In particular, the motions of the planet Mercury deviated
by forty-three second of arc a century from its predictable behaviour
under Newtonian laws of physics. Why?
"In 1905, a twenty-six-year-old German Jew, Albert Einstein, then
working in the Swiss patent officer in Berne, had published a paper,
'On the electrodynamics of moving bodies', which became known as the
Special Theory of Relativity. Einstein's observations on the way in
which, in certain circumstances, lengths appeared to contract and
clocks to slow down, are analogous to the effect of perspective in
painting. In fact the discovery that space and time are relative
rather than absolute terms of measurement is comparable, in its
effect on our perception of the world, to the first use of
perspective in art, which occurred in Greece in the two decades c.
Even the elegance of Einstein's line of argument was described by his
colleagues as a kind of art. In 1907 he followed up by demonstrating
that mass and energy are interrelated and therefore convertible,
encapsulated in the equation E=mc squared. Throughout the next decade
-- undeterred even by the outbreak of the disastrous World War --
scientists around the world struggled to propose a more General
Theory of Relativity, which would also embrace gravitational fields,
until in 1918 Arthur Eddington, secretary of the Royal Astronomical
Society, revealed that the monumental goal had been achieved in a
paper smuggled into England through the Netherlands in 1916.
The author of the second paper was ... Albert Einstein. But such was
the essence of Einstein's methodology that he insisted his equations
be verified by empirical observation, devising three specific tests
for this purpose, including the measurement of the extent to which
light would be bent around the sun -- then measurable only during a
"What impressed me most," the philosopher
Karl Popper of Vienna
University was later to write, "was Einstein's own clear statement
that he would regard his theory as untenable if it should fail
certain tests. ... Here was an attitude utterly different from the
dogmatism of Marx, Freud, Adler and even more so of their followers.
... This, I felt, was the true scientific attitude."
The final proof demanded by Einstein was confirmation of the "red
shift" -- a shift in the spectrum of light-emitting objects depending
on whether they move toward or away from the viewer, similar to the
way the pitch of a train whistle undergoes a perceived drop to a
lower frequency as the train passes a listener.
The "red shift" was finally confirmed by the Mount Wilson observatory
in 1923, after which "Einstein was a global hero, mobbed wherever he
went," Johnson reports.
As his discoveries led eventually to the atomic bomb and even to our
modern epidemic of moral relativism, there were times, Einstein
sighed near the end of his life, when he wished he had instead become
a simple watchmaker.
But "the emergence of Einstein as a world figure in 1919 is a
striking illustration of the dual impact of great scientific
innovators on mankind," the historian Johnson concludes. "They change
our perception of the physical world and increase our mastery of it.
But they also change our ideas. The second effect is often more
radical than the first. The scientific genius impinges on humanity,
for good or ill, far more than any statesman or warlord. Galileo's
empiricism created the ferment of natural philosophy in the
seventeenth century which adumbrated the scientific and industrial
revolutions. Newtonian physics formed the framework of the
eighteenth-century Enlightenment, and so helped to bring modern
nationalism and revolutionary politics to birth. ...
"So, too, the public response to relativity was one of the principal
formative influences on the course of twentieth-century history. It
formed a knife, inadvertently wielded by its author, to help cut
society adrift from its traditional moorings in the faith and morals
of Judeo-Christian culture."
It would be as foolish to pretend that was entirely a good thing, as
it would be to try and wish away all that has come to pass in the
past 80 years.
Einstein and his discoveries changed our world unalterably. Which is
why the editors of Time magazine are to be congratulated for setting
aside the inevitable bickering about whether Lenin or Hitler "changed
our world" more than Churchill or Roosevelt, instead announcing on
Sunday their selection as Man of the Century of Albert Einstein --
the kindly, absent-minded professor who wrote to FDR in 1939 to warn
that the Nazis might be able to construct an atomic bomb, and
therefore urge that America do so first.
As for the selection of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (along with the
deserving Mohandas Gandhi) as the magazine's runner-up "Person of the
Century," it will remain for history to decide whether the editors
here acquiesce too eagerly in a judgment widely promulgated in
today's government schools, that this bullying politician -- never
regarded as much of a bright light by his own family; the secret
invalid who went to Tehran and green-lighted a 50-year Stalinist
slave state for half of Europe; the man who upon his election
immediately abandoned the solemn 1932 Democratic platform pledge to
"immediately and drastically reduce government expenditures by
abolishing useless commissions and offices, consolidating departments
and bureaus ... to accomplish a savings of not less than 25 percent
in the cost of the federal government"; the man who set loose upon a
suffering nation the cynical strategy of co-president James Aloysius
Farley to "Tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect" -- should
be acknowledged as anything greater than an opportunistic dilettante
and bush league fascist.
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas
Review-Journal. His new book,
Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998,
is available at $24.95 postpaid
from Mountain Media, P.O. Box 271122, Las Vegas, Nev. 89127; by
dialing 1-800-244-2224; or via web site
ARTICLE LXIX, I PRESUME
"[History] will say I made a bad personal mistake, I paid a price
for it, but that I was right to stand and fight for the country and
my Constitution and its principles, and that the American people were
very good to stand with me."
--William the Concupiscent, responding to Carole Simpson's question
on impeachment during an ABC interview
SAID UNCLE SAM-POT TO PRESIDENT ALBERTO-KETTLE
Tuesday December 28 2:13 PM ET
U.S. Urges Respect for Constitution in Peru Vote
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday urged "strict
adherence" to the constitution in Peru, where President Alberto
Fujimori's decision to seek an unprecedented third term has been
decried by opponents as a "coup d'etat."
"Peruvian democracy can only be strengthened through strict adherence
to the constitutional order," a senior U.S. official said, commenting
on the controversy in Peru.
Fujimori announced on Monday he would seek a third five-year term in
elections next April. Ten opposition parties responded by publishing
a statement on Tuesday denouncing the attempt as "an irresponsible
provocation for the country and ... a new coup d'etat aimed at
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