The tragic science of Leo Szilard


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The tragic science of Leo Szilard
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vi, 280 leaves : ill. ; 29 cm.
Sheffield, Roy Scott, 1959-
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Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1994.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 265-279).
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by Roy Scott Sheffield.
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Copyright 1994


Roy Scott Sheffield



ABSTRACTI ........... .......... ..................... v

INTRODUCTION ........................................... 1

Notes ........................................... 10




Notes........................................... 31

2 IMRE MADACH'S TRAGIC SCIENCE................... 34

Notes........................................... 55




Notes............................................ 87

NUCLEAR WORLD................................... 95

Notes.......................................... 125

5 THE FICTION OF LEO SZILARD...................... 131

Notes............................................. 167




Notes.......................................... 217



Notes............................................. 257

CONCLUDING REMARKS...................................... 263

Notes.................................... ...... 264

BIBLIOGRAPHY... ................. ........................ 265

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH..................................... 280


Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy


Roy Scott Sheffield

April, 1994

Chairman: Professor Frederick Gregory
Major Department: History

By exposing the tragic nature of Leo Szilard's science,

the images of nuclear science, especially the image of

nuclear science as an arcanum, emerge within the sharp focus

of Szilard's work, exposing a mythology of nuclear science

in the twentieth century. In his autobiographical

"Recollections," Szilard described the metaphorical

qualities of his science as he told the story of his

childhood in Hungary. These images reverberated the

metaphorical realm of Hungarian tragedy as expressed in Imre

Madach's The Tragedy of Man, and the dissertation explores

Madach's tragedy in order to locate the tragic images used

by Szilard to explain himself and his understanding of

science in the "Recollections." Using these images, the

dissertation then explores the political nature of Szilard's

"tragic science" as expressed in Szilard's proposal for a

scientific youth organization, inspired by the German youth


movement, and the political science that Szilard espoused

after World War II when Szilard emerged as a liberal oracle

for world peace and nuclear disarmament. The dissertation

also displays the images inscribed in Szilard's political

science by describing his science fiction. Szilard's

political science imagined that science would have a special

role in saving the world. His science fiction portrayed the

tragic character of the scientist unable to control a world

created by his vision, yet envisioned possibilities in which

the creations of science and the creative scientist still

might be able to save the world. Finally, recalling all of

Szilard's tragic voices, the dissertation recounts the

metaphorical reality of Szilard's scientific papers and

displays the tragic vision of Szilard's thermodynamic world

that led him to his most powerful "discovery," the

transmutation of chemical elements. It concludes with an

analysis of the pervasive role of transformational power in

his understanding of nuclear power.


Born in Hungary in 1898, Leo Szilard came to Berlin in

1919 and discovered the world of physics. He studied with

legendary figures such as Albert Einstein and Max von Laue

and associated with many of the soon-to-be-legendary figures

in nuclear physics such as Eugene Wigner. Szilard himself

became a sort of mythical figure in the world of nuclear

physics by pursuing the idea of nuclear power to its

catastrophic end. In brief, the story of Leo Szilard was as

follows. He fled Hitler and came to live in the United

States in 1938. There, he worked with Enrico Fermi at the

Metallurgical Laboratory in Chicago as a part of the

Manhattan Project. This laboratory, with Szilard as one of

the intellectual and emotional leaders, developed the

concept of a nuclear chain reaction into a working nuclear

reactor. As a result of Szilard's involvement in this work,

he came to be known as one of the "fathers" of the atomic


Not always pleased with his progeny, Szilard sought to

control or eliminate the more sinister side of his nuclear

child. To that end, Szilard campaigned for the peaceful use

of atomic energy, fought against the buildup of nuclear arms

and warned of the dangers of a nuclear arms race.' His


greatest weapon in this battle to save the world from

nuclear destruction was his public opinion as expressed

through Congressional hearings, interviews with the media

and his writings. He consented to a number of interviews

from the 1940s to the 1950s and early 60s, debated proper

atomic energy and weapons policy with politicians and

scientists, and wrote various articles for The Bulletin of

the Atomic Scientists.2 He even enjoyed some literary

success with the book The Voice of the Dolphins and Other

Stories (1961).

Throughout his life, Szilard made a great effort to

save documents that he thought might be important in telling

this story. As the editors of the second volume of his

published papers phrased it, "he had a sense of history."3

This "sense" resulted in the conceptualization of an

autobiography, but Szilard, for whatever reason, never wrote

it. Instead, what we have to represent Szilard are the

"Recollections." "Recollections" was an edited transcription

of tape recorded sessions in which Szilard "responded with

zest to questions about his past," sewn together with

fragments from his writings on his life.4

In composing the "Recollections," the editors attempted

"to use only a minimum of scholarly apparatus and let

Szilard himself speak."5 But the pristine speech of Szilard

cannot, of course, be found here. Always we are given a

recollection of the Szilard's version of the facts. To


search for the original speech, for the real version of

Szilard's speech or facts, involves an infinite regression

into the origins of this text. There is no escape from this

infinite regression, even if an attempt is made to reduce

the texts of Szilard's life to something outside themselves,

such as the speech acts of Szilard, the psychological forces

of Szilard's psyche, or the social, economic and political

structures that shaped Szilard.

According to an interesting anecdote provided by the

editors of the "Recollections," Szilard confronted this

issue when some colleagues queried him about his insistence

on writing down the "facts" about the Manhattan Project:

Szilard said that he was going to write down the
facts, not for publication, just for the
information of God. When his colleague remarked
that God might know the facts, Szilard replied
that this might be so, but "not this version of
the facts."6

In addition to illustrating the character of Szilard, this

interesting reply captured the futility of viewing Szilard's

version of the facts as representing something outside the

"facts" as they were constituted in Szilard's telling of

them, his version of the facts. The "facts," as Szilard

recalled them, crystallized Szilard's idea of himself and

bound him to the events or facts about the past in a way

that revealed the myriad of images inscribed in the story of

Szilard and his science. In recalling the past, then,

Szilard established his story and, simultaneously, separated

himself from the events in the story. That separation gave


Szilard's version of the facts a certain authority. Szilard,

in other words, became the author of his past and presented

a story that begs to be read as more than a simple

recounting of the past.

Other historical versions of Szilard's story, such as

William Lanouette's recent biography, Genius in the Shadows,

have concentrated on the events in Szilard's story, leaving

Szilard's version of the facts largely intact.7 Because they

have focused on reiterating Szilard's story, they have

missed the significance of Szilard as the author of a story

about himself and science, and implicitly retained the

shadowy, neo-romantic metaphors of Szilard's story inscribed

in the "Recollections." This dissertation will focus

primarily on making explicit the metaphorical nature of

Szilard's story about himself and science in the

"Recollections" and in all of the scientific, political, and

fictional works that he authored. This work will be

primarily concerned with Szilard's representation of the

facts in order to help us understand the history of the

images inscribed in Szilard's story.

Like many scientists, Szilard understood science in

terms other than the mathematics and scientific knowledge

that made up his scientific work. In the "Recollections,"

Szilard described the metaphorical qualities of his science

as he told the story of his childhood in Hungary. In the

first chapter, the focus will be on the images of himself


and science that Szilard created in recalling his childhood.

These images echoed the metaphorical realm of Hungarian

tragedy as expressed in Imre Madach's The Tragedy of Man,

and chapter two will explore Madach's tragedy in order to

locate the tragic images used by Szilard to explain himself

and his understanding of science in the "Recollections."

Chapter three will then describe the political nature

of Szilard's "tragic science" as expressed in Szilard's

proposal for a scientific youth organization inspired by the

German youth movement. Proceeding from this understanding of

Szilard's political science, chapter four will discuss the

mythological significance of Szilard's political science in

the post World War II period in the United States, when

Szilard emerged as a liberal oracle for world peace and

nuclear disarmament. In this period, Szilard's political

science imagined that science would have a special role in

saving the world, and chapter five will explore the images

inscribed in Szilard's political science by exploring his

science fiction. In his fiction, largely written after World

War II, Szilard recalled the tragic elements of his science

as he tried to escape and transform a nuclear world held

prisoner by a cold war mentality. In his fictional

depictions of the future of a MAD (mutual assured

destruction) world and his visions of world transformed by

science, Szilard portrayed the tragic character of the

scientist unable to control a world created by his vision.


Recalling all of these images inscribed in Szilard's

characterization of science, the final two chapters will

then de-scribe the metaphorical reality of Szilard's

scientific papers. Chapter six will display the tragic

vision of Szilard's thermodynamic world as seen in his

papers on thermodynamics, and chapter seven will display the

transmutational character of Szilard's powerful "discovery,"

the transmutation of chemical elements. By exposing the

images of Szilard's science in these two chapters, the

images of nuclear science, especially the image of nuclear

science as an arcanum, will emerge within the sharp focus of

Szilard's work, exposing the historical context of the

mythology of nuclear science in the twentieth century.

In its concern for explicating the historical

development of the images of nuclear science, the

perspective of Leo Szilard outlined here emerged from

reading Spencer Weart's Nuclear Fear: A History of Images.8

Inspired by the work of Claude Levi-Strauss, Weart

considered the role of images or myths in reconciling

cultural conflicts and explicating the communicative symbols

that arbitrate our understanding of nuclear science. To

accomplish his objective, however, Weart made the terms

image and myth synonymous with the absence of "Truth" or

"reality." Defined in this way, images and myths represented

only "internal experiences that people project back

onto the external world."9 For Weart, images were like


pictures, real because one can touch, feel, or see them, but

false because they only represented external reality. True

statements, therefore, could be made about these

images/myths, but the images remain false in an absolute

empirical sense. In Nuclear Fear Weart's images did not

operate within a closed system. The empirical arbiter always

remained--true science. Weart always described "true

science" in contra-distinction to the images/myths

surrounding it. In that way, good images were distinguished

from bad, and true understanding of nuclear science overcame

nuclear fear.

The continuation of this image/myth of nuclear science

was the main focus of this book. Nuclear Fear, therefore,

offered a therapeutic exercise for those already committed

to the authors ontological categories. His prescription was

an objectification of our primal fears concerning nuclear

science and technology. Animated by the work of Carl Jung,

Weart saw the images that have surrounded nuclear science as

having originated in the primal hopes and fears of humanity.

These primal feelings and attitudes created associations in

the mind which crept into people's perceptions of nuclear

science in the twentieth century. Slowly, atomic power came

to signify hope, enlightenment, knowledge of the innermost

secrets of nature, the quest after cosmic mysteries.

Dialectically, fear also emerged and surrounded nuclear

science as individuals and western culture sought to


suppress natural childish curiosity about the "mysteries of

sex and birth"/ "the inner structure of matter." Thus,

instinct combined with traditional myths led people to both

extol and fear nuclear science.10

At the core of Weart's symbolic field was the arcanum,

nuclear science and its technical realities as interpreted

by scientists. This represented the reality of nuclear power

and was surrounded by images/myths of public interpretation,

social and political ideology, and primal feeling, all of

which were not a part of the arcanum. Weart saw it as

possible to escape the images/myths engulfing the arcanum by

appealing to the arcanum itself to arbitrate which symbols

were appropriate and which were not. In the final chapters

of the book, Weart considered what he called an artistic

transmutation in which we "imagine ourselves and our society

reformed" through new and better images and a purging of the

propagandistic images associated with nuclear fear. These

latter nihilistic images of despair must be replaced by

images "pointed toward a more modest and more realistic kind

of spiritual rebirth."" The source of this rebirth was to

be the arcanum itself.

Recognizing that the very notion of arcanum entails

both the power of birth and death, it is hard to understand

how reliance on the modern arcanum will lead to re-birth and

not death. After all, one cannot purge the power of death

from an arcanum. Were it possible, then what is left would


not be an arcanum and, therefore, could not and would not be

the source of all birth and death or the final arbiter in

all questions of truth. Perhaps what needs to be examined

historically is the context of the image of the arcanum

itself and how it came to be attached to nuclear science; in

other words, to describe historically what Weart's

understanding of images does not recognize- the necessary

connection between the authority of science and the "images"

of science.

Cultural images were not external to nuclear science.

They were not separate symbolic entities that interacted

through the actions of human beings with nuclear science or

cultural symbols that somehow derived from the arcanum,

nuclear science. The significance of nuclear science lay in

its re-presentation of cultural symbols, and it reiterated

many cultural symbols. It cannot be separated from them, and

they cannot be derived from science. Nuclear science's

authority came from its distillation of cultural symbolism,

in its "novel" quality displayed always already within

cultural symbols. In this sense, nuclear science was as much

cultural myth as any other symbolic representation.

Proceeding from this understanding of nuclear science,

this presentation of Leo Szilard's science will attempt to

recognize the qualities of Szilard's scientific culture and

display his science without fearing the power of nuclear

science as the arcanum of the twentieth century or


apologizing for Szilard's nuclear science in order to

relieve guilt over a childish infatuation with science.

Instead, this analysis of Szilard's science will narrate the

images of Szilard's science in order to understand his and

his science's cultural authority. This will be done by

displaying the many voices of Leo Szilard's science and

searching for their historical tempo.12 This search will

take us from the classic Hungarian tragedy of Imre Madach

and the literature of thermodynamics in the early twentieth

century, through the political mine field of the

Jugendbewegung of Weimar Germany and the transmutational

contexts of nuclear science in the 1930s, to the political

and fictional realities of the nuclear world in the post

World War II era. Leo Szilard's arcanum, the transmutation

of chemical elements, emerged from this contextual maze,

gave life to Szilard's tragic visions of creation and

destruction, and animated a prophetic image of nuclear

science in the twentieth century.


1. See Alice K. Smith, A Peril and a Hope (Cambridge, Mass.:
M.I.T. Press, 1970), for an account of Szilard's involvement
in the atomic scientists' peace movement. See also Barton
Bernstein, "Introduction," in Leo Szilard, Toward a Livable
World: Leo Szilard and the Crusade for Nuclear Arms Control,
Helen S. Hawkins, G. Allen Greb, and Gertrude Weiss Szilard,
eds. (Cambridge, Mass. and London: The MIT Press, 1987).

2. Most of this is in the third volume of his published
papers, Toward a Livable World: Leo Szilard and the Crusade
for Nuclear Arms Control. Hereafter cited as Toward a
Livable World.

3. Leo Szilard, Leo Szilard: His Version of the Facts,
Spencer R. Weart and Gertrude Weiss Szilard, eds.
(Cambridge, Mass.: The M.I.T. Press, 1978): xvii. Hereafter
cited as His Version of the Facts.

4. Leo Szilard, "Recollections" in Leo Szilard: His Version
of the Facts. The quotation is from the editors'

5. Ibid.

6. Szilard, His Version of the Facts, xvii.

7. William Lanouette with Bela Szilard, Genius in the
Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the
Bomb. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1992). Lanouette's
biography is a good and entertaining recapitulation of
Szilard's life with some important contributions to the
story, largely gleaned from interviews with Bela Szilard,
Leo's brother, and letters that Lanouette obtained from the
estate of Leo Szilard's wife, Gertrude Weiss Szilard. The
work presented here will call upon this valuable source
occasionally, although the focus here will be on Szilard's
own story, the "Recollections."

8. Spencer Weart Nuclear Fear: A History of Images
(Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press,
1988). My concern with the metaphorical nature of Leo
Szilard cannot help but have originated in some sense from
Thomas Kuhn's presentation of the problem of translation in
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. (See "Postscript"
in Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd
ed., enlarged (Chicago, II.: The University of Chicago
Press, 1970): 174-210.) Contrary to some in the sociology of
science, I do not believe that the so-called problem of the
paradigm is one of trying to establish a method, a way, or a
central metaphor whereby we can translate one paradigm into
another. As a historian I do not seek to establish a unique
linguistic link that supposedly allows us to escape the
paradigm or to establish an authoritative paradigm such as
"material culture." Such an attempt is inherently
contradictory because it requires the construction of
knowledge in a context but exempts certain sociological
paradigms from the process or simply incorporates the
positivistic ontology heretofore associated with the "hard"
sciences into the social sciences.
For that reason my study does not begin or proceed from
any anthropological methodology. I see myself as beginning
with the problem that "in fact" we cannot constitute
knowledge in any other way but "in language," mathematical
or otherwise. My problem in confronting the writings of Leo
Szilard is, therefore, akin to the dilemma of the linguist

who can always translate one language into another, but can
never present a final translation that completely
comprehends what is being translated. From this perspective,
the problem of the paradigms is a semiotic one, one of
establishing that the signs that we use to signify nature
have meaning. Meaning in science and in history comes in the
interpretation of symbols, assigning them a certain reality,
and describing in very precise terms the nature of that
scientific or historical reality. This suggests that our
historical understanding of "science" can be transformed if
we concentrate on de-scribing the form of scientific texts,
because it is in the texts of scientists, in the
idealization of the many contexts which continually
crystallize in a scientific text into a particular form,
that science is constituted. Science always has an author
and tells a metaphorical story inscribed with cultural
images and described as science. As a historian of science,
I choose to be concerned with the historical de-scription of
science and recall all the images inscribed in science. In
so doing, a different story will emerge, one that seeks to
give new historical meaning to an old story and opens up a
different context for understanding the nature of science.

9. Weart, Nuclear Fear, pg. 2 of Preface.

10. Ibid., 56-57.

11. Ibid., 407.

12. One should be careful in this exercise not simply to re-
place the factual ontology of science with an archeology of
knowledge. Such an undertaking has the effect of killing
science by pronouncing scientific ontology dead and
resurrecting that very same ontology embalmed with primal
cultural symbols and protected by the shroud of traditional
scientific images. Science, like a religious relic, remains
a modern mystery sustained by an archeological scientific
mythology. This is what Weart did in Nuclear Fear.



In his "Recollections," Leo Szilard offered a unique

blend of idealism and sociological analysis to describe

himself. The "I" that Szilard described did not originate

with his physical birth in Budapest, Hungary, on February

11, 1898. It began with the idea of becoming a scientist,

and Szilard associated his becoming a scientists with his

physical birth. He described himself as having been "born a

scientist" and having "remained a scientist" because he

retained the "inquisitive mind" of a child, and he connected

this inquisitiveness with "the mind of a scientist." In this

strange mixture of birth and mental attitude, Szilard

introduced himself and implied that every part of his life,

even his physical birth and development, were inextricably

intertwined with science:

As far as I can see, I was born a scientist. I
believe that many children are born with an
inquisitive mind, the mind of a scientist, and I
assume that I became a scientist because in some
ways I remained a child.'

This identification activated an image of Szilard and

science, mixing the two, and created an allegorical origin

for both. If one is to become a scientist, he explained, one


must have and retain childlike inquisitiveness. We are all

born with an inquisitive mind. As children, we inquire into

or about our surroundings. The child's mind interacts with

everything and produces knowledge. Children continuously ask

questions, never satisfied with an answer, and by asking

questions they come to know. This innocent game is devoid of

arbitrary rules and opinions, and is a free activity that

cannot be constrained.

Even though we cannot completely comprehend Szilard's

allegory of innocence by reducing it to the historical facts

surrounding his birth, our historical examination of this

allegory will begin by examining the context of Szilard's

story.2 At the time of Leo Szilard's birth on February 11,

1898, Hungary remained a part of the increasingly unstable

Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1867, Austria and Hungary

compromised on Hungarian autonomy, and a dual administration

over greater Hungary was established. Vienna controlled the

foreign affairs, defense, and finances of Hungary, while the

ethnic hungarians or magyars, especially the traditional

noble magyars, administered the rest, restoring Hungarian

constitutional authority and preserving the appearance of an

independent Hungary.

A legalistic liberal ideology guided this

semi-independent Hungarian government. Its agenda included

all of the traditional liberal concerns such as legal

equality of men, civil rights, constitutional government,


the promotion of capitalism, and the separation of church

and state. These liberal ideals, however, were not applied

to all segments of the population. The land-holding nobles

and the gentry, who dominated Hungarian politics, did not

grant these traditional liberal rights to the lower classes-

peasants, farm laborers, poor farmers- or to non-Magyar

people. These lower classes were "the great disenfranchised

majority" in a country just beginning to embrace liberalism

and industrialization but still dominated by a large

land-holding nobility and a civil service oriented gentry.3

In this land of old and new, where the ideas of

liberalism and capitalist industrialization slowly merged

with a land-based economy and social structure, the Jewish

section of the population rose in social and economic

standing. Liberal laws, such as The Jewish Equality Law of

1867, allowed the Jewish population to take part in the

political arena of Hungary by granting them political and

civil equality with Christians, and industrialization

provided them with an economic niche.4 They became the

leaders of the industrialization of Hungary, filling the

economic gap created by the rise of industrial capitalism

and the aversion of nobles and gentry to economic change.5

Jews became, in other words, the major component of a small

Hungarian industrial middle class that grew and prospered in

the cosmopolitan atmosphere of turn of the century



Leo Szilard was born into this turn-of-the-century

Budapest, struggling to make sense of itself, caught between

"the modern world" of industrialization and liberal

nationalism and the "old world" of rural agriculture and the

noble hierarchy. His family was Jewish and middle class. His

father was an engineer and his mother "selfless and moral."7

He lived in the cottage district of Budapest in a large

house that his mother and her sisters had inherited from

their parents. He had governesses in his home to teach him

French and German, and he attended the heralded Minta or

model Gymnasium founded by Theodore von Karmen's father. In

1916, he began his college studies in electrical engineering

at the King Joseph Institute of Technology

Called to serve the Empire in 1917, he spent his

military time in officers' training school in the

Kaisergebirge until he became ill with the flu, went home on

leave, and, through "family connections," recuperated in a

hospital in Budapest. After his service, he returned briefly

to the Institute of Technology to continue his studies in

electrical engineering before deciding that it would be best

to pursue an academic career in Germany. After a lengthy

struggle with the Hungarian bureaucracy, in disarray because

of the collapse of Bela Kun's communist revolution and the

coming to power of Nicholas von Horthy, Szilard finally

obtained a passport and arrived in Berlin in early 1920,

where he would discover the world of German physics.8


This brief synopsis of Szilard's early life establishes

a context for understanding Szilard's allegorical

"Recollections" of his early life. Szilard's story can be

understood within the historical context of Hungarian

industrialism, liberalism, nationalism, conservatism and

Judaism. As a part of the middle class in Budapest, Szilard

benefitted from the opportunities available to those in the

Budapest bourgeoisie. His early life and educational goal,

electrical engineering, recall the story of the industrial

middle class in Hungary caught up in and committed to

industrial development, and the liberal policies of the

Magyar nationalists allowed Szilard to participate in the

cosmopolitan culture of Budapest imbued with concepts

associated with modern industrial development. The economic

opportunities that he and his family enjoyed were largely

the result of a liberal policy that encouraged industrial

development and prescribed a civil order that allowed for

Jewish participation in this development. Jews were given

civil rights. They were not persecuted en masse as they

would be later, and, while anti-semitism did not disappear,

Jews were allowed to become a part of an industrial middle

class that wielded power and influence in Budapest. This

provided a stable environment for Szilard's family and for

Szilard himself. His father was allowed to work as an

engineer. His mother's family followed their religion

without political persecution. Szilard went to public


schools and pursued an engineering career at a public

university, absorbing in the process those liberal ideals

that structured his early existence and formed the basis for

his commitment to individual freedom and scientific


The Magyar nationalists also attempted to assimilate

the urban Jewish population of Budapest into Magyar culture

in the last part of the nineteenth century. Whether they

ultimately succeeded or not, the assimilation process

provided opportunities for the Jewish population to

participate in the economic and social structure of Hungary.

Szilard's family did exactly that, as his ample references

to his "family connections" in Budapest affirmed. Szilard

attended one of the Magyars' main vehicles of assimilation,

the public schools. The opportunities afforded Szilard

because of the nationalist aims of the Magyars, therefore,

were important for his social and mental development.

Through his family and the public schools, he became

Hungarian. This did not mean that he or his family were

ardent Magyar nationalists, only that his thoughts and

values stemmed from those early educational experiences that

were made possible and prescribed by Hungarian nationalism.

In addition, the conservative nature of the Hungarian

upper classes allowed the Jews of Budapest to participate in

the economic development of the city. Leading figures from

the dominant social strata of Hungary displayed a


traditional disinclination to become industrial leaders and

financiers; hence, in Budapest, as in Western Europe, the

Jewish segment of the population moved into industry,

finance and the other urban shopkeeping and professional

positions. The Jewish population had "freedom" because of

the acquiescence of the noble classes and the civil service

gentry. The Jews had to be given freedom, and that gift,

that recognition of "right," emerged from a society

comfortably controlled by a ruling elite. Leo Szilard,

educated in public schools and aspiring engineer, was a part

of all of this, and the social conservatism of the time did

as much to prescribe the parameters of Szilard's early life

as industrialization, liberalism, or nationalism.

The success of Szilard's family and his wealth of

"family connections" in Budapest illustrated the success of

the Jewish industrial middle class in turn of the century

Budapest. This was a surprising positive dynamic in the

early life of Szilard and a problematic one. Anti-semitism

never disappeared in Hungary, and the Horthy regime made

great use of it. Szilard nevertheless seems to have been

unaffected in his youth, and he left Budapest just as the

ugliness of the Horthy terror began.

There are, of course, other possibilities, other

dynamics that might be at play if we broaden our

understanding of the historical dynamic involved in

Szilard's early religious life. The influence of religion in


the life of Szilard might be represented by Szilard's

participation in Jewish religious culture. Szilard's

extended Jewish family and his early development indicate

that Judaism may have played a major role in his

intellectual development. Since Szilard described such an

important role for his mother and the stories that she used

to tell him, these stories might be seen as an indication of

his religious upbringing:

Very often it is difficult to know where one's set
of values comes from, but I have no difficulty in
tracing mine to the children's tales which my
mother used to tell me. My addiction to truth is
traceable to these tales and so is my predilection
for "Saving the World." My mother was fond of
telling tales to her children and she always had
some particular purpose in mind. Why she wanted to
inculcate addiction to truth in her children is
not clear to me.9

Given this perspective, one might also expect that Szilard

would have considered his religious upbringing as he

recalled his childhood, but he did not describe himself or

his mother's stories in this context in the "Recollections."

Szilard did not consider his early life in terms of the

social or intellectual structures or strictures of the

Jewish religion. There were no references to the rituals of

any religion or to belief in God.

Our historical presentation of Szilard fills this

silence, nevertheless. The historical context of the story

identifies Szilard's "Recollections" within a familiar

historical hermeneutic by integrating and interpreting

Szilard within those historical parameters usually


identified with the origins of modern society-

industrialism, liberalism and nationalism. It also includes

those structures antithetical to modern society-

conservatism and religion. Within this dialectical

historical framework, Szilard's "Recollections" represents

the context of the development of modern society.

Szilard developed within a social structure determined

by the industrialization of the late nineteenth and early

twentieth century. This industrialization depended on the

ideological environment of the liberal nation state. The

modern state, committed to individual freedom, provided the

proper environment for industrialization and, by inference,

the science and technology on which that industrialization

was based. Szilard's allegory of science and self, in this

context, became a gesture that re-affirmed the necessary

link between individual freedom and science- liberalism- and

rejected a dogmatic social and philosophical hierarchy-

conservatism and religion. In his allegory, Szilard

encapsulated his and science's values in the phrases

"addiction to truth" and "predilection for 'Saving the

World'."'0 These terms seem to re-affirm a classical liberal

and scientific concern with an Enlightenment-like truth that

was manifest to all if one simply remained open to it, like

an inquisitive child unfettered by the chains of

intellectual old-age- dogmatism.


Despite this neat historical wrapping, an interesting

contestation lingers in Szilard's allegory that cannot be

explained by the traditional historical display of

modernity. How is it that inquisitive, open-minded children

or scientists innocently observe the world around them and

interact with the environment in which they develop?

According to Szilard's story, innocent children or

scientists cannot escape the forceful nature of their

molding surroundings, and children and scientists must be

molded in a way that inculcates the importance of an

inquisitive nature. This corruption of innocence must be

limited so that a childlike nature can be maintained, but

how does one, then, maintain the open-mindedness, the

inquisitiveness of children or scientists while all around

them forces seek to possess them physically and mentally?

If we examine the "Recollections" carefully, Szilard

offered a formal answer that defied the usual juxtaposition

of reason and faith in its description of modern science. In

one stroke, Szilard identified both scientific values and

the origins) of those values by encapsulating his "set of

values" in the phrases "addiction to truth" and

"predilection for 'Saving the World'." Addiction is usually

defined as the quality or state of being devoted to

something habitually or obsessively. Predilection signifies

a prepossession in favor of something. By using these two

words, Szilard indicated that his values were not something


to which one could be led to rationally. He did not describe

his "set of values" as a process of coming to know truth.

His "set of values" reflected a state of being dedicated to

truth habitually- because of habit, custom, tradition- or

obsessively- because of a persistent preoccupation. One came

to know truth through habit or because of a preoccupation.

In the same way, one prepossessed a tendency to "Save the

World." It was not something which one rationally decided to

do. Either you would want to do it, or you would not. It was

not something which one would come to know as morally

correct through reason. Both addiction and predilection

precede truth and "Saving the World." You could not have the

latter without the former, and the former involved an

a-rational commitment to an object, a primordial attitude of

being. Before all else one must crave truth.

While offering this prescription for scientific values,

Szilard's story did not attempt to define the object of

desire, truth. Within Szilard's "Recollections," truth

displayed a dichotomous nature. There were those verifiable

facts of our experience that can be reproduced for others,

what Szilard called science. There were also moral truths,

defined as truths about how one should act, agreed upon by

all and manifest. For Szilard, both categories of truth were

implied in his phrase "addiction to truth," and they were


In addition, Szilard's notion of "remaining a child"


and his use of the words "addiction" and "predilection"

suggested an a priori commitment to truth. One had to commit

to an attitude of being before adopting or maintaining a

childlike or scientific attitude which would lead to truth.

Thus, the child and scientist were corrupted from the

beginning because they must adopt a specific attitude to

assert truth, and they could not arrive at truth

independently of being addicted to it. Szilard implied the

same understanding of truth in his phrase "predilection for

'Saving the World'." Predilection implied a primal attitude

that preceded the recognition that one wants to save the

world. One must feel the need or know that one must save-

hold on to, retain- the world. This predilection did not

supply a description of the object to be saved, nor a

justification for itself. It was not from within the concept

of the world that one found the origin of the attitude. The

concept of the world and the idea of saving it were both

preceded by a primal attitude and from this attitude sprang

the notion of wanting to "Save the World." In the end, the

rationality of the physical and the moral world depended on

a prior a-rational commitment.

To explain his a-rational commitment to the maintenance

of truth and saving the world, Szilard told yet another

story in the "Recollections." This story stood in the place

of any analytical explanation for the necessity of being

addicted to truth and having a predilection for saving the


world. It also substituted for an attempt to locate the

origins of these values in the intentions of his mother. His

explanation, in other words, was the story.

In his "Recollections," Szilard told the story of his

grandfather who was student assigned the task of monitoring

his classmates when the teacher left the room:

My grandfather, who was supposed to keep watch on
disorderly children, joined those who left the
school building and cheered the soldiers. When the
teacher turned up for class, all the children were
back in the classroom and my grandfather rendered
his report. He gave the teacher the list of those
children who violated orders and went out to the
street, and this list included his own name. The
teacher was so much taken aback by his frankness
that nobody was punished."

This could have been a typical children's story that

reinforced the importance of extreme obedience to societal

rules and superiors, even in the face of personal hardship,

but this was not the lesson that Szilard learned. Szilard

made it clear that frankness -honesty, addiction to truth-

was the reason the teacher did not punish anyone.

Without Szilard's caveat it would be impossible to

discern the motive of the teacher in rewarding Szilard's

grandfather. How would one know if the teacher rewarded

Szilard's grandfather because he had been frank or because

he was exactingly obedient? How could one tell from this

story the difference between strict obedience to an

unquestioned principle and addiction to truth? What

Szilard's story made clear was that this distinction could

not be decided except by the author of the story. Here,


Szilard re-told the story and outlined his first principle;

honesty or truthfulness would always be rewarded. Szilard

was committed to the idea that childlike honesty would

always be rewarded. There would never be any punishment for

being honest, for being addicted to truth, for having a

predilection for saving the world. Szilard's and science's

values, as expressed in the "Recollections," began with this


The logic and moral of Szilard's story made his

principle clear. The grandfather (the scientist) was chosen

to oversee the activities of others and to keep a list of

things as they happened. Independent, but still a part of

the class (society, nature), he frankly reported what he

saw, even to the point of including himself in his

observations. This self-inclusiveness, however, betrayed

Szilard's grandfather (the scientist), because he no longer

could say that what happened was not connected with him. He

was not open and free any longer, because he was

inextricably intertwined with an authority outside himself

that had defined the reason for making the list. That

authority was the teacher who was absent, but always present

in the definition of the task and in requiring that

Szilard's grandfather (the scientist) act in a certain way.

Szilard's grandfather (the scientist) had to be frank and

included himself in his list, and to be frank he (the

scientist) had to be totally obedient to the task that had


been assigned to him, to the point of including himself in

his observations. His grandfather (the scientist) was a

slave to the unknown teacher that demanded his obedience and

required him to be totally honest about what he saw. The

teacher was never questioned in the story. The list was

simply compiled, without the grandfather really knowing why-

until the end, when the teacher returned and whimsically

rewarded Szilard's grandfather for his honesty. In this

final instance, both the purpose of the task and the reward

was decided. The purpose of the task was to be honest, and

reward was given on that basis. The moral to the story was

that honesty will always be rewarded.

This simple morality, displayed through the story of

Szilard's grandfather, betrayed a deep sense of Szilard's

"frankness" by making explicit the fact that the raison

d'etre of Szilard's commitment to truth could not be known

ahead of the act of being honest, of compiling the list, of

being addicted to truth, of doing science. One must simply

do it, as Szilard's grandfather did, and have faith that

what one did would be rewarded.

In the "Recollections," Szilard often repeated this

theme of "frankness" and coupled it with the "child-like"

metaphor of his opening statement. For example, he recounted

how he was "a favorite" of his classmates when he attended

public school and attributed his popularity to the fact that

he "somehow cut a favorite figure from the point of view of


the set of values which were prevalent at that time in the

city of Budapest."12 Here, he again related these values and

his popularity to his "frankness," this time coupled with

"lack of aggression."'3

Szilard also described how he made a "strong

impression" on his schoolmates by making the unique

prediction that World War I would end with the defeat of the

Austro-Hungarian monarchy, Germany, and Russia. He ascribed

this remarkable prescience to an intuitive understanding of

the political weakness of these countries and to his child-

like mind which was not as emotionally involved as the minds

of the adults around him:

A man's clarity of judgement is never very good
when he is involved, and as you grow older, and as
you grow more involved, your clarity of judgement
suffers. This is not a matter of intelligence;
this is a matter of ability to keep free from
emotional involvement.14

This portrayal of the pristine state of his youth,

uncorrupted by emotional commitment, played on the notion of

the child or scientist operating in an idealistic atmosphere

and producing astounding observations and insights into the

world or nature. Through these insights, the child or

scientist made a strong impression on society, and society

rewarded them for their openness and honest reflection. Here

again Szilard had described the first principle of his

child-like values and the values of an a-rational science

imbued with moral principle.

All of Szilard's proverbial tales of himself and


science in the "Recollections" prescribed a categorical

answer to the question of origins) quite different from the

calm, manifest reason usually associated with science.

Szilard's comprehension of himself and science conveyed a

sense of a zealous, principled, almost religious attitude

toward truth in which commitment to science came before

truth and knowledge came from child-like revelation. Thus,

his principled presentation of his and science's values in

the "Recollections" described an unusual religious attitude

toward science and displayed a certain religiosity, couched

in the language of "addiction" and "prediliction."

Despite this apparent religiosity, Szilard did not

mention God, the Jewish religion, or even his Jewish

heritage in the "Recollections."'5 On these religious

questions he remained explicitly silent. And yet he was not.

In telling the story of his childhood, he described himself

and science in terms of a devotion to truth and a commitment

to saving the world, both of which echoed a kind of

religiosity. In a seemingly contradictory way, Szilard

retained religious "devotion" without maintaining a

religious object as the focus of his or science's devotion.

All was not lost, however, in the crosscurrents of

Szilard's allegorical gesture in the "Recollections."

Szilard revealed another source for understanding the aim of

his and science's devotion to truth:

Apart from my mother's tales the most serious
influence on my life came from a book which I read


when I was ten years old. It was a Hungarian
classic, taught in the schools, The Tragedy of
Man. I read it much too prematurely and it had a
great influence on me, perhaps just because I read
it prematurely. Because I read it, I grasped early
in life that "it is not necessary to succeed in
order to persevere."16

This tragic principle bound the "Recollections" of Szilard's

life together and played an important role in mitigating the

dilemmas intrinsic to Szilard's presentation of himself and

science in the "Recollections." Szilard's answer to the

question of how one knew that honestly observing the world

would always be rewarded was that one did not know and

cannot know. Indeed, one will not always be rewarded, but

one could persevere or persist in a state, enterprise, or

undertaking in spite of counter influences, opposition, or


This was his and science's tragedy according to

Szilard. We cannot know that the child or scientist will not

be corrupted. Nevertheless, we persevere to maintain our

childlike or scientific attitude. We cannot know that our

all inclusive "frankness" is nothing more than dogmatic

obedience, but we must persevere. We cannot know that honest

observations of the world--science--will always be rewarded,

but we must persevere.

This tragic presentation of science represented a kind

of religious devotion without a religious relic. Szilard's

"Recollections" shifted the question of origins) from one

of location--space, time, group, intellectual category--to


one of moral imperative and asked the reader to confront The

Tragedy of Man. To do so would not necessarily be a

pointless exercise, because, with Szilard as our guide,

"tragedy" appeared at the center of the question of the

origins) of Szilard and his science. Traces of The Tragedy

of Man "prematurely" affected Szilard as a child, and this

suggested a supplement to our understanding of Szilard and

science that included "tragedy" as an important concept

within a representation of Szilard and his science, even if

that understanding could not be punctuated except by an



1. Leo Szilard, "Recollections," 3 in Leo Szilard: His
Version of the Facts, Spencer R. Weart and Gertrude Weiss
Szilard, eds. (Cambridge, Mass.: The M.I.T. Press, 1978).
Hereafter cited as "Recollections."

2. If we take Szilard at his word, then our story can begin
with a further question. What about the origin of this
understanding of Szilard and science? Szilard would have us
believe that in understanding the essence of his idea of
science, we will comprehend Szilard and science, but is this
really the beginning, the origin of Szilard and science? Is
not the historian obligated to seek the origins) of this
metaphor, to explain Szilard's scientific reference by
locating Szilard in space and time? Is it not here that the
"historical" hunt begins, ends, and, through historical
facts, displays Szilard? If so, then let us begin with a
description of the facts surrounding the birth of Leo

3. Paul Ignotus, "The Hungary of Michael Polanyi" in The
Logic of Personal Knowledge (London: Routledge and Kegan
Paul, 1961): 4.

4. George Barany, "Magyar Jew or Jewish Magyar," Canadian
American Slavic Studies 8, no.l(Spring, 1974): 27

5. In the Budapest of 1910, the center of Hungarian
industrialization, Jews made up 52.5% of all people engaged
in industry, 64.5% of all people engaged in finance and
trade, 58.8% of all medical personnel and 61.5% of all
people practicing law. Arthur J. May, The Hapsburg Monarchy,
1867- 1914 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
1951): 363; William 0. McCagg, Jr., Jewish Nobles and
Geniuses in Modern Hungary, East European Monographs, III
(Boulder Col.: East European Quarterly, distributed by
Columbia University Press, 1972): 30.

6. This Jewish middle class has been characterized by some
as a "service bourgeoisie" to the Magyar nationalists, and
by others as an "influential foreign colony not
hostile, and in many aspects of value to Hungary, but
lacking comprehension of Hungarian life and ways." Oscar
Jaszi, The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1929): 173-175; Denis Sinor,
History of Hungary (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd.,
1959): 276.

7. Tristram Coffin, "Leo Szilard: The Conscience of a
Scientist," Holiday, 35 (Feb., 1964): 94-95.

8. Szilard, "Recollections," 3-8.

9. Ibid., 3

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid., 4.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid., 5.

15. Szilard did not express his religiosity in terms of
religious practice or belief in God. Szilard's religiosity,
therefore, cannot be comprehended by reducing his
religiosity to a particular religious affiliation. Such a
reduction would simply emphasize the necessity of the
non-religious in Szilard comprehension of himself and
science and offer no insight into why Szilard considered
"addiction" and "predilection" to be so important. In
addition, it would reiterate the importance of the negation
of the religious category in the modern historical matrix
without offering any insight into the origins) of Szilard's
or science's devotion to "frankness" or honesty. The
question of the origins) of Szilard's principled attitude
as represented in the "Recollections" would still remain.


16. Ibid., 3.


In his "Recollections," Szilard's conveyed an

understanding of himself and science in terms of his

"addiction to truth" and his "predilection for 'Saving the

World'." The religiosity of this description of science had

the effect of placing scientists in the paradoxical

situation of having to believe in rationality before the

world could become rational.' Szilard's science did not have

its own rational justification, but Szilard did not

apologize for this religiosity. He only said "it is not

necessary to succeed in order to persevere," characterizing

his and science's values in tragic terms that explained

everything in their brevity. The fullness of meaning

contained in this tragic admonition will be explored in this

chapter by examining science in the tragic context that

Szilard offered in the "Recollections," Imre Madach's The

Tragedy of Man.

Szilard's reference to The Tragedy of Man and his

tragic characterization of life were not confined to his

"Recollections." As will become clear below its influence

extended throughout his life. He counseled in a piece from

1940 called "Ten Commandments" to "Let your acts be directed


towards a worthy goal, but do not ask if they will reach

it."2 In an interview conducted in 1945, he acknowledged a

similar sense of the tragic and again invoked Madach's The

Tragedy of Man when queried about the problems of atomic

energy and the bomb:

When I was a boy of 10 I read a novel called
'The Tragedy of Man' by Madach, which influenced
my whole life. In that book the devil shows Adam
the history of mankind, with the sun dying down.
Only the Eskimos are left and they worry chiefly
because there are too many Eskimos and too few
seals. The thought is that there remains a rather
narrow margin of hope after you have made your
prophecy and it is pessimistic. That is exactly
the situation in regard to the atomic bomb. We
must concentrate on that narrow margin of hope.3

Here one can see clearly the thematic importance and

chronological continuity of Szilard's signification of

himself and science as tragic and hear the echoes of God's

final words to Adam in Imre Madach's The Tragedy of Man:

The Lord to Adam:
Hark to Me, Man! Strive on, strive on, and trust!

If we are to understand Szilard's "tragic science," then we

must examine carefully the way in which Szilard's use of

these final words emerged from the critical tradition that

has sought to understand the Lord's final admonition to Adam

in The Tragedy of Man.

Madach's Tragedy was a dramatic poem consisting of

fifteen scenes. It began as a conversation between God and

Lucifer in which it was decided that Lucifer shall have his

corner of earth, the trees of knowledge and life. Lucifer

accepted this meager foothold for his kingdom of negation


and vowed to use it to destroy the world of the Lord. The

conversation between the Lord and Lucifer set the stage for

the fall of Adam and Eve, who chose to eat of the trees of

knowledge and life. Thrown out of Eden, Adam and Eve began

a life on and of the earth, a life of youthful curiosity

about nature and about the purpose of Man's toils on earth.4

When Lucifer asked Adam to be patient in his quest for

knowledge, Adam replied:

That is the retrospect of one grown old,
And not the object of my ardent youth.
I long to look into my future life,
To know for what I have toiled and why I suffer!
And I would know if, in all those revivals,
My charm and beauty will not fade and wane!
So be it. I will cast a spell on you;
And, in the visions of a drawn-out dream
Your far-off future ye shall clearly see.
And when ye see how vain it is to strive,
How hard the fights ye'll fight upon your way,
Lest ye should lose your courage and, like cravens
Be tempted to desert the field of battle,
A tiny ray I'll set amid the skies,
To cheer you and to tell you all ye dreamt
Was mere illusion. In that ray take Hope!5

After comforting Adam and Eve with this illusory hope,

Lucifer then took Adam and Eve on a journey through future

history, beginning with ancient Egypt and ending with the

nightmarish vision of the cold desolate world of the Eskimo,

which Szilard so vividly recalled as he pondered the fate of

an atomic world. In each of the scenes Adam and Lucifer

became a particular character of the times--a pharaoh, an

emperor, a scientist (Kepler), a French revolutionary

(Danton)--and they held an eternal conversation that was


renewed in each particular historical setting. Eve appeared

in all the scenes and also became a character of the times,

although her identity as Eve was often hidden from Adam

until Lucifer felt it was appropriate that her identity be


In this manner, the dream visions were played out, and

in each scene Adam was forced to confront the knowledge

which he sought, until he was finally confronted with a

desolate world dying from the heat death envisioned by

nineteenth century thermodynamics. So overwhelmed was Adam

by this vision, by this final disillusionment, that he

contemplated suicide. At the last minute, however, Eve

informed Adam that she was with child. This revelation moved

Adam to appeal to the Lord for forgiveness, but his quest

for knowledge did not leave him:

O, Lord! Appalling visions have distressed me.
I know not what is true in them, or false!
Ah, tell me, tell me now what fate awaits me.6

The Lord then told him that it was better that he not know

because it was only in his not knowing that his struggle

remained a virtuous one. The Lord explained that if Adam

knew that there was or was not eternal life after death,

then he might not struggle for his high ideals. Therefore,

Adam must remain ignorant about his fate if "greatness" and

"virtue" were to be maintained, and he bid Adam and Eve to

struggle and trust: "Hark to Me, Man! Strive on, strive on,

and trust!"


The story of Madach's tragedy, told in brief here,

recalled other romantic dramas of the nineteenth century,

especially Goethe's Faust. The character and predicament of

Adam echoed Adams Faustian father, as many critics have been

quick to point out. The language and themes of the play

mimicked this literary ancestry.7 Equally unanimous,

however, has been the critical view that Madach's Tragedy

should not be considered simply a pale copy of Goethe's

work. It offered its own tragic vision related to, but not

encapsulated by Goethe's Faust.8

Madach's Adam was a younger, less repentant Faust tied

more closely to Lucifer and "the earth bounded nature of his

will to know all and to be free to pursue it [wisdom]."9

Lucifer was in many ways a more potent Mephistopheles who,

according to one critic, merged more with the human

character, while maintaining his part as an "original

element" of the universe. This made Madach's Lucifer a

"dialectical antithesis to God the ruler" and signified

Madach's more dialectical vision of tragedy as opposed to

Goethe's "three dimensional" characterization of tragedy.'0

Madach's Eve was also quite different from Faust's

Margareta. While Eve still represented the manifestation of

the ideal in the world and the generative force of nature,

as a character, she was more idealized, according to one

critic." These characteristic differences have outlined a

critical consensus that the great works of Goethe and


Madach, although related, were conceived and should be

conceived of differently.

Beyond this there has been little critical agreement on

the tragic father of Madach's tragedy. While critics have

conceded that Goethe's Faust was the grandfather of Madach's

tragedy, The Tragedy of Man had many fathers. First there

was the historical father, Hegel and his "Vorlesungen fiber

die Philosophie der Weltgeschichte." The Tragedy had a

strong sense of the dialectical movement of history as

enunciated by Hegel. Some commentators have even gone so far

as to outline the fifteen scenes of the play in terms of the

Hegelian dialectic between the altruistic and the


But most have noted that the phalanstery scene of the

play, in which Adam confronted the stifling monotony of a

socialist state, reflected Madach's ultimate rejection of

Hegel's belief that the spirit of the individual can only

emerge within the framework of the collective state and

showed that Madach was quite skeptical of the idea of the

liberation of the individual through the collective state.

Madach's state, as represented in the phalanstery scene in

The Tragedy of Man, reduced all individuality and creativity

to dull sobriety, scorned Luther, Cassius, Plato and

Michelangelo, and sought to destroy even the most precious

of individual relationships, that between mother and child.

In this scene, Madach's Adam could not bear it as he watched


the state take away Eve's child, and he proclaimed his love

for her. When the aged men of the collective society greeted

his love with contempt, Adam replied:

Nay, do not pity us.
This madness is our own.
We do not envy Your dull sobriety.

This depiction of the state and the final lines of the play,

which offered no final resting place for the liberation of

the individual, especially not a state, punctuated the

difference between Madach and Hegel.3

The ambiguity of The Tragedy of Man has led one

important commentator to point out that it was not Hegelian

history that drove the drama as much as the "human urge for

liberty.""14 Dieter Lotze has suggested that The Tragedy of

Man should be thought of as a part of a larger European

literary movement which grew out of the clash between a

dying romanticism and an emerging positivism in the middle

of the nineteenth century. Lotze and other scholars have

identified this literary genre as the poeme d'humanite or

Menschheitsdichtung. This poetic movement sought answers to

the question of "man's purpose on earth" through its

attempts "to show in dramatic or epic form the development

of mankind through one or more of its outstanding

representatives."'5 Lotze suggested that Madach's Tragedy

was a "realization" of the "potentialities" in this poetic

movement. In particular, Lotze identified Victor Hugo's La

L6gende des siccles as the work most "parallel" to


Madach's.16 Ultimately for Lotze, these two works were

joined philosophically by their preoccupation with

"humanity" struggling to maintain freedom and progress in a

world of religious, political and economic constraints.7

Nevertheless, the differences between the two works

remained significant for Lotze. Madach's work was more

uniform in style and more realistic. It maintained a central

hero instead of thematic unity and tended to concentrate on

"great historical personages" much more than Hugo's work. It

maintained a dialectical historical structure as opposed to

the diffuse structure of Hugo, and the context of Hugo's

work was much more explicitly related to Hugo's native

country than was Madach's Tragedy.'1 Hugo often referred to

France and French History. Madach's Tragedy had only one

Hungarian reference.'1 These dissimilarities indicated,

according to Lotze, that Hugo's L6gende and Madach's Tragedy

should be thought of as exemplary relatives in the family of

the poeme d'humanit6, and not as literary father and son.20

This literary discussion of the Hungarian nature of

Madach's Tragedy has circumscribed the philosophical

heritage of the work. The pobme d'humanit6 has usually been

represented as the product of the philosophical conflict

between romanticism and positivism. As a poeme d'humanit6

then, Madach's Tragedy lies somewhere in the crosscurrents

of these philosophies. Many commentators on the Tragedy have

noted the way in which Madach criticizes positivism, but


perhaps the most thorough examination of Madach's critique

of positivism can be found in the work of Mihaly Szegedy-

Maszak. Szegedy-Maszek has argued that the entire dialogue

between Lucifer and Adam in the Tragedy "was nothing but the

projection of an inner debate between the teleology of

romantic liberalism and the cyclical life-conception of

positivism.""2 Furthermore, Szagedy-Maszak has contended

that the positivist state portrayed in the phalanstery scene

indicated Madach's fear of the realization of a positivist,

scientific technocracy.22

The Tragedy was, in this view, a critique of positivism

similar to that of Nietzsche and Bergson. Szegedy-Maszak

noted that the absence of God throughout the play has been

used by many critics of the drama to argue that the Tragedy

expressed the irreligious pessimistic view of positivism.

The positivist world ran in a self-contained, never ending

cycle, and God was little more than a complacent

handicraftsman or a Spencerian "symbol of the restrictions

of cognizance."23 According to Szegedy-Maszak, Madach did

not relegate God to such an inconsequential role. Instead,

Madach's dialogue between Adam and Lucifer showed how Madach

thought in terms of a continuous dialectic of thesis and

antithesis, but without synthesis.24 Madach's pessimism lay

in the fact that he thought of Lucifer (or negation) as "an

inalienable attribute of God." This was far different from

denying the importance of God or of religion. Certainly it


was not traditionally Christian, but it did not eliminate

the daily importance of God. That importance was merely

transferred into purposive activity--striving after that

being which has set the purpose of my existence.5 God was

present in his absence because He gave purpose to our

striving, and Lucifer, through his negation, served as guide

for our progress. In denying negation, we were able to

realize progress. This view of God and striving man, with

its emphasis on action inseparable from purpose and thought,

according to Szegedy-Maszak, illustrated how Madach's

Tragedy was a "forerunner of Nietzsche's criticism of

positivism."26 Madach did not, however, offer a way to

transform values. There was no Wille zur Macht in Madach's

Tragedy--only the ambiguity of striving and the

problematization of all metaphysical systems, including

positivism, and therein lay its "tragic" nature.2

Critical recognition of Szegedy-Maszak's "tragic"

nature in Madach's play has led to a analytical choice when

interpreting the Tragedy. One is forced to describe Madach's

drama as "salvation or tragedy?""2 The sociological

explication of Dieter Lotze has led to the consideration

that the play represented in some sense "post-revolutionary

Hungary." This explanation of the play encapsulated "the

tragic" in a political and personal response by Madach to a

particular time in Hungary. This political comprehension of

the Tragedy has had the effect of defining the Tragedy in


terms which are not tragic. That is, it defined tragedy in

terms of a particular cultural system in which the Tragedy

can be said to have rested, thereby freeing the reader to

respond to the Tragedy as something other than tragedy and

as offering salvation of one kind or another. It could be

the salvation of the Hungarian state that can be found in

the Lord's final admonition, or it could be a form of

reassuring religious salvation. In either case, the Tragedy

was not really tragedy, but salvation, and the tragic

ambiguity of the Tragedy was only apparent, and not real. It

was and is only a mirage of Madach's times.29

Or the Tragedy was really "tragedy" and rejected any

metaphysical system which has been offered as salvation from

the ambiguity of time, including a sociological explanation

for "tragedy." That is, the Tragedy offered no respite in

"post-revolutionary Hungary" or any other temporal framework

when it came to defining or finding man's purpose here on

earth. Each time, or rather, each scene had its own

legitimacy, its own meaning, and tragically we can only

accept God's final admonition to strive on in a world devoid

of meaning and "shoulder the full burden of the anxiety of


Thomas R. Mark, in his article, "'The Tragedy of Man':

Salvation or Tragedy?", has explored this "tragic" argument

and criticized Hungarian interpretations of the Tragedy for

not "facing the tragic as tragic" and substituting "some


kind of vision of an ultimately benign cosmic order.""31

Mark has argued that both salvationist readings reflected an

unwillingness on the part of most critics to see the play in

its proper "tragic" form, and an unwillingness to confront

the "Eskimo Scene."32 This scene was, after all, the "final"

vision of Madach's "future history" and cannot be left out

without transforming the Tragedy into something other than

"tragedy." This, according to Mark, was a "tragic" mistake.

The context of this debate is important for

understanding the position of Madach's representation of

science in The Tragedy of Man. As Mark so eloquently pointed

out, scenes eight through fourteen of the drama explicitly

critiqued "science and the social hopes founded on it.""33 In

scene eight, Adam was reincarnated as Kepler, and Lucifer

was Kepler's assistant Famulus. Kepler (Adam) was a man who

struggled with the new knowledge of science in an age of

superstition and religious darkness and dreamed of a time

when the ideals of science would be "the anthem of the

Future," "the mighty talisman, That will restore the youth

of this old Earth!"34 Scene nine was that dream within a

dream, as Adam became Danton in the French Revolution. Here

Adam, as Danton, faced the realities of his dream and became

a casualty of his own dream when the angry mob crushed all

those that stood in the way of Liberty. In scene ten, Adam,

as Kepler again, awakened from his nightmare, but he was not

disheartened. He said of the mob:


How great, how glorious were their crime and
And how amazing both did seem to be--
For Strength had set its seal upon them both.
Ah, why did I awake, if 'twas to see
More clearly all the squalor of the age,
That hides its sins behind a smiling face,
And owes its virtue but to force of habit!35

He then encouraged a student who longed to gain the

knowledge of nature that his master possessed, but

Adam/Kepler told him not to look for knowledge in schools

and books:

Take, then, these old and rotting yellow
parchments, These mouldy folios, overlaid with
And throw them into the fire. For they prevent us
From standing, as we should, on our own feet,
And only spare us the fatigue of thinking.
They bring the errors of times past and dead,
As superstitions, into our new age.
Into the Flames with them! And let us go
Where we shall find the open air of Heaven!36

Kepler's manifesto of experimental science, so scornful

of book learning, set up the last scenes as a critique of

the ideals of science.3 Madach's references to science in

the final scenes of The Tragedy of Man offered an explicit

understanding of "the tragedy of naturalism."38 In the

London scene, Adam and Lucifer appeared at a fair in a

future industrial society guided by the philosophy of

individualism and competition. Each person in this society

was left to his or her carefree nature, and high ideals

ignored in the pursuit of individual gain. Scholars were

manufacturers, and Eve, the ideal of beauty, was a middle-

class woman committed to the trappings of wealth and status.


In this society The Quack spoke for science:

The Quack
Make way, make way, make way! And feast your eyes
On me, a man grown grey because he's wise!
The secrets Nature had so long concealed,
Thanks to my tireless labor, she's revealed!
What is that crack-brained creature, Lucifer?
Science itself, which lives by quackery...
Just as it did when once thou was so learned.
But now it has to cry its wares more loudly.39

One should not conclude from this presentation of

science that Madach believed science was quackery. He was

merely representing the character of Kepler in this

different time. Even in this future, technological age,

Kepler's insightful science had not found its proper

respect. It was, therefore, confined to practicing what the

people wanted in order to survive, just as Kepler had been

forced to practice astrology in order to pay his bills.

Furthermore, Kepler, as the Quack, was no more appreciated

in this time than he was in his own. In this society the

scientist had become a tiresome old peddler of wares whose

miraculous knowledge seemed empty, and-who had lost the

sense of importance that made Kepler so great and his

vision's of a scientific world so grand. The order and

grandeur of science had been lost in the chaos of


This moved Adam to dream of a different scientific



Instead, I dream of a Community,
To guard, not punish, to inspire, not check,
Endeavor, by a great Co-operation,
Such as the Mind of Science could conceive
And o'er whose Intellect would watch.
'Twill come some day, I feel, I'm sure, I know...
Oh, Lucifer, now lead me to that world!4

Lucifer obliged Adam, and they moved on to a phalanstery.

Here science was the "honoured sentinel," "watching over

life's soft-flowing course."41 Adam and Lucifer, in the garb

of the phalansterists, conversed with a busy scientist. The

Scientist was a chemist who espoused a deterministic,

materialistic philosophy of science.42 Science, according to

The Scientist, had domesticated all animals and plants on

earth, disposing of the inefficiency of "bungling Nature" in

the process.43 This had enabled science to provide a

comfortable material existence for all. Science had also

done its best to do away with the "play-things" of Man's

past, such as poetry, literature and art, which had wasted

so much of the strength of Man and contained a poison that

moved men to activities that upset the order of the

community. For example, the "fairy-songs," which used to

warm the hearts of children, had been replaced by "higher

equations and geometry.""

Adam, soon disenchanted with this heartless world

devoid of life and individuality, sadly lamented:

So Science, too, has disenchanted me.
To me it seems a dull and childish school,
And not the happy field I had expected.

The Scientist objected and asked Adam if brotherhood had not


been established by providing for man's material needs.

Adam, however, remained skeptical of the "uniformity" of The

Scientist's scientific society and asked about the source of

that uniformity. The Scientist explained that the guiding

principle of this scientific society was that all people

should have enough to live on. The aim of the scientific

society was to stop the wasteful use of the earth's natural

resources that was so prevalent in the times of "romantic

theories" and poetry. There was little time to waste in this

scientific endeavor also, because:

Within four thousand years the sun will cool,
And there will be no vegetation left
On Earth. But those four thousand years are ours,
To seek a substitute for the sun-rays!
That should be long enough, methinks, for Science.45

With that explanation, The Scientist returned to his

alembics, and watched in anticipation as his chemical

experiment to transform matter into organic life began to


The Scientist
See! See thou! How it surges! How it flames!
Look! Here and there are hazy forms that stir,
Pent up within this hot and well-closed glass.
The chemical affinities and reactions
All tally, and ere long we'll find that
Matter will be compelled to do what I have

Lucifer, impressed by this feat, asked The Scientist for the

basis of his knowledge, and he replied that "It is a law,

that's all."47 Lucifer then ridiculed The Scientist's answer

and called him "Nature's stroker."48 Adam also declared The

Scientist ignorant of the "spark" of life and in that


instant, as The Scientist's experiment exploded, The Spirit

of the Earth proclaimed of the holy secret of life: "No man

will ever take it!"49

As The Scientist turned, nevertheless, to begin his

work again, he was interrupted by a tolling bell signaling

the end of the work day, and a parade of those who had been

derelict in their duty to the phalanstery began. Luther,

Cassius, Plato and Michelangelo were called forth and

castigated. Eve was brought forth with her child, and The

Aged Man of the phalanstery ordered that Eve's child be

taken away from her. Eve cried out in horror, and Adam spoke

out on her behalf, proclaiming his love for her. For this

emotional outburst, he was repudiated by The Aged Man and

The Scientist who decided:

A romantic man and a nerve-ridden women
Beget weak offspring. They're unfit to mate!50

The horror of this situation and this scientific society

moved Adam to cry out that he be taken away from the earth

"to loftier sphere." Lucifer complied, whisking himself and

Adam off into space (scene thirteen).51 He did not want to

see this world of science anymore.

The critique of science in this scene aimed directly at

a "science" that portrayed itself as the spokesman for

wisdom and values in society and reduced value to material

reality, just as it sought to comprehend life in matter.

This materialistic science had lost its ability to reflect


upon itself. Laws had replaced wisdom, and, in the end,

science had nothing to say about the purpose of life. Its

only vision was one of thermal death, rigorously established

by scientific law.

Adam sought refuge from this scientific mind as

represented by the collective society of the phalanstery,

and he and Lucifer flew off into space. Now separated from

the earthly world, Adam cried out his defiance of his

earthly body. He declared to The Spirit of the Earth:

Yet I defy thee! And I fear thee not.
My body may be thine--my soul is mine!
For thought and Truth I know are infinite!
They were long, long before thy world of matter!52

Solemnly, The Spirit of the Earth reminded him that he could

not survive without Him and that "All Beauty, Ugliness, all

Heav'n and Hell, Are but expressions of my living Spirit."5

Adam, realizing his predicament, remained defiant and

proclaimed the immortality of his soul, just as he was

snatched back from death at the last minute by Lucifer.

Despite all of this, Adam did not forsake science at

this point in the Tragedy. He did not give up on science and

its hopes of enlightenment and progress. He merely stated

that now he understood that value and purpose had to be an

integral part of the enlightenment and progress of science.

He believed this despite Lucifer's reminder of the words of

The Scientist:

Hast thou forgot what said The Scientist?
Four thousand years or so from now, maybe,
The world would freeze, the struggle would be

Provided that our Science won't forestall it.
But I feel, yea I know that Science will.m

Adam's response displayed the confidence that Adam had in

the power of science. He recognized the limitations of a

materialistic science and believed that conception of

science would fade away. But "the Idea, which gave it

[science] life, again will rise triumphant.""55 Adam still

longed to see what new idea would arise to inspire Man, and

he remained optimistic about a future scientific world that

transcended the collective dogma of materialism.

In the end Adam's idealistic science did not triumph in

The Tragedy of Man. Lucifer showed Adam the fate of mankind

four thousand years in the future. It was the world as

prophesied by The Scientist, a cold desolate world peopled

by only a few Eskimo who fought over the remaining seals.

Lucifer mockingly noted:

We are here now. That red ball is thy sun.
Beneath our feet there lies the Earth's Equator.
So Science has not triumphed over Fate!56

Adam was stunned by it all and cried out in anguish:

Was't struggling bravely, in a noble way,
Or miserably, waning more and more,
Devoid of greatness, worthy of no tears?57

It seemed not, as Adam, reincarnate as an old broken-down

man supported by a staff, spoke to one of the Eskimos. The

Eskimo told Adam of his disenchantment with the gods and his

anger at having to struggle to exist even for a day. He then

pleaded to Adam: "Oh! If thou art God, I beg of thee, let us


have fewer men, And send more seals!"58

The heartless appeal of the Eskimo in this final scene

displayed how the thermal death so accurately predicted by

science had killed science's own hope of a fraternal

society. In its own truth science had destroyed Man and all

the noble values which it had proclaimed for itself. Even

idealized Eve has been transformed in this deterministic

scientific vision to a mere "beast."59 Madach had shown "the

tragedy of naturalism" through the realization of its

inescapable materialistic vision. Science, in basing itself

on the laws of nature, could not escape itself and doomed

Man to its lawful vision. Man, in the end, became the inert

matter with which science comprehended all things. Lucifer

had shown Adam the idea of science, just as he had wished.

This tragic characterization of science and the vision

of science in Madach's Tragedy outlined a "tragic science"

that retained both meaning and ambiguity. In the final scene

The Lord/Madach did not offer a falsification of the Adam's

visions of science, especially his vision of a world dying

of thermodynamic heat death. The Lord/Madach only showed

Adam the juxtapositions of life which made it tragically

meaningful--death (Adam's thoughts of suicide), birth (Eve

with child), Good (God), Evil (Lucifer)--and admonished Man

to strive to make life meaningful. These final words of God

were an admonition to tragic man who could not escape the

always already present questions of the meaning of life. The


tragic man must always strive for knowledge because it was

only in that process he/He became meaningful. This process

defined "tragic science," and tragic man had to do it in

order to make life meaningful. So sayeth The Lord: "Hark to

Me, Man! Strive on, strive on, and Trust!"6

Leo Szilard concluded that: "It is not necessary to

succeed in order to persevere." By his own admission Leo

Szilard learned this tragic lesson from Imre Madach's The

Tragedy of Man. This principle formally served the same

purpose within Szilard's presentation of himself and science

as it did within Madach's Tragedy. Szilard recognized the

ambiguity of the meaning of life and tragic man's necessary

pursuit of knowledge. This a-rational telic principle of

tragic man could not be found within the rationality of

science, but when it was coupled with science, a "tragic

science" emerged that called for persevering toward

knowledge, but did not define itself in terms of

epistemological certainty. Its purpose came from The Lord's

tragic admonition and its tragic nature from Adam's youthful

longing: "I long to look into my future life, To know for

what I toil and why I suffer!" As a tragic scientist, Leo

Szilard retained Adams childlike curiosity and was born a


As far as I can see, I was born a scientist. I
believe that many children are born with an
inquisitive mind, the mind of a scientist, and I
assume that I became a scientist because in some

ways I remained a child.6

The voice of Madach's Adam echoed in this childhood

reference to himself and science. He was the tragic man born

with Adam's need to know, and from his dream-like

"Recollections," just as from Adam's visions, "tragic

science" emerged, always in pursuit of Truth and guided in

its always ambiguous undertaking by the admonition of The


Hark to Me, Man! Strive on, strive on, and trust!


1. Religious here means a prior, a-rational commitment.

2. Leo Szilard, "Ten Commandments," in Leo Szilard: His
Version of the Facts, Spencer R. Weart and Gertrude Weiss
Szilard, eds. (Cambridge, Mass.: The M.I.T. Press, 1978).

3. Leo Szilard as quoted by Oliver Pilat, "Let's Share
Atomic Energy," Weekly Picture Magazine of the New York Post
(Nov. 24, 1945).

4. Please note that I have used "Man" here and will continue
to use it and "Mankind" throughout my discussion in this
chapter. I will do this because I think it is necessary in
order to highlight the masculinity of Madach's Tragedy, of
science as it is portrayed in the Tragedy, and of "tragic
science" which so closely identifies itself with the
character of Adam.

5. Imre Madach, The Tragedy of Man. Trans. by J.C.W. Horne
(Budapest: Corvina Press, 1963): 51-52. This is the
translation that will be referred to throughout this

6. Ibid., 296.

7. See Dieter P. Lotze's chapter entitled "The 'Hungarian
Faust'? Madach and the Faust Tradition" in his Imre Madach
(Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981), for perhaps the best
summary of Madach's Faustian roots.

8. George Bisztray, "Man's Biological Future in Hungarian
Utopian Literature," Canadian-American Review of Hungarian
Studies, 3 (1976): 4.

9. Esther H. Leser, "A Hungarian View of the World,
Expressed in a Faustian Tragedy: Some Considerations upon
Madach's The Tragedy of Man," Canadian-American Review of
Hungarian Studies, 5, No.2 (1978): 47-48. Jane K. Brown in
her article entitled "Faust" in European Romanticism:
Literary Cross-Currents, Modes and Models, Gerhart
Hoffmeister, ed. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press,
1990): 194, implicitly does not agree with Leser's and
others' assessment of Adam as being younger than Faust. She
argues that in the late romantics, which included Madach,
Adam resists the pact with the devil, and this transforms
the Faust story and makes Faust into "an older and wiser
Adam." This only makes sense if one defines "older and
wiser" as more cynical and less trusting of anyone and
anything, especially the devil. Leser perhaps would agree
with this, but thinks of Adam as younger because he is also
more cynical and less trusting and respectful of God. The
same attitude, it seems, is young and unwise if one is
speaking about Adam's relationship to God, and old and wise
if it is the relationship to the devil. In any case, Adam
seems to have quite an attitude problem, more so than Faust.

10. Leser, "A Hungarian View of the World," 46-47. Gerald
Gillespie's comparative analysis of "The Devil's Art" in
European Romanticism seems to confirm this understanding of
Madach's Lucifer. He comments on Madach's tragedy in the
following way: Madach's The Tragedy of Man is "another
extraordinary work using the basic Goethean outline .
The 'open' ending, the mandate to endure, scarcely mitigates
the horror of the perceived slice into a soulless future
emptied of values...developmental hope is muted....The
devil, who elaborately demonstrated his archetypal
relationships with the range of myth in Goethe's Faust,
tended to disappear again into the web of allusions and
motifs that became standard elements in the repertory of
modern writers." See pages 94-95.

11. Jane K. Brown, "Faust" in European Romanticism, 192-93.

12. Charles Wojatsek, "The Philosophical and Ethical Concept
of the Tragedy of Man." Etudes Slaves et Est-Europeennes, 6
(1961): 214.

13. Dieter Lotze in Imre Madach has suggested that perhaps
it is not the Hegelian dialectic that we should perceive
within The Tragedy of Man, but that of Karl Marx. He says
that after the Paris scene, "Madach seems to move closer to
Marx than to Hegel. The focus is no longer on individual

consciousness but rather on societal structure." See pages
84-85. He adds later on: "What separates him from Marx is
his negative view of the society of the future and his
Hegelian interpretation of history as theodicy."
What has to be noticed is that Madach wrote tragedy.
Hegel and Marx did not. Madach may have used historical
dialectic, but he does not comprehend mankind through
dialectic. He offers tragedy, and tragedy has no final
resting place in the Volkgeist or in the utopian communist

14. Ibid., 140. Here I will be following the argument of
Dieter Lotze in Chapter Six of Imre Madach. His work, as he
states explicitly, is founded on the dissertation of Eniko
Molnar Basa, "The Tragedy of Man as an Example of the Po&me
d'Humanite," University of North Carolina, 1972.

15. Ibid., 130.

16. Lotze has noted that Madach belonged to "the generation
of Hungarian writers after 1830 for whom revolutionary
France had become the cultural ideal," and he discussed the
many thematic and structural similarities between the two
works. Ibid., 137-140.

17. Ibid., 139-140. "In both works there is a continuous
disillusionment but also some progress, and both writers see
the human urge for liberty as a driving force." See page

18. Ibid., 140-142.

19. The only explicit Hungarian reference in the drama is a
brief allusion to Hungarian general Janos Hunyadi who
conquered the Turks.

20. Lotze's generic understanding of Madach's Tragedy
emphasized the nationalistic uniqueness of Madach's tragedy
within the European family of the pobme d'humanit6. The
necessity of this nationalistic qualifier explained the
tendency of many critics to label the drama primarily a
"Hungarian" play. This play, according to most critics and
Hungarians, represented what was meant by "Hungarian" in the
middle of the nineteenth century. This latter statement was
almost taken for granted by every critic who wrote about the
play. Esther Leser writes of the "Hungarian mental climate"
and the "Hungarian Geist." (See Leser, "A Hungarian View of
the World," 43.) Alexander Hevesi identifies Madach's
starting point as "the national struggle and agony of the
fifties." (See Alexander Hevesi "Madach and 'The Tragedy of
Man.'" The Slavonic and East European Review, 9 (1930):
401.) These are just a few of the many ways that critics

related Madach's Tragedy to "Hungary." Even the absence of
any references to Hungarian history served as proof for most
Hungarian writers that the play is about Hungary. Mihaly
Szegedy-Maszak says of Madach's intent in writing the play:
"By adopting the common symbolic of mankind and leaving
national references out, Madach raised the Hungarian tragedy
of his age on the level of national existence." (See Mihaly
Szagedy-Maszak, "Life-Conception and Structure in 'The
Tragedy of Man.'" Acta Litteraria Academiae Scientiarum
Hungaricae, 15 (1973): 327.)In particular, most Hungarian
critics argued that Madach's Tragedy referred to the failure
of the Revolution of 1848 to produce a nation state for the
Magyar people. According to this view, Madach's Tragedy
"suggested a loss of illusions characteristic of a post-
revolutionary age" and described the political despair of
Hungary and of Imre Madach in the early 1850s. (See Szagedy-
Maszak, "The Tragedy of Man: A Reading," 133.) The Tragedy
of Man represented the political reality of the 1850s and
the perseverance of the Hungarian people in the face of that
reality. The Lord's final admonition, therefore, was meant
as a kind of sanctuary for the Hungarian people and offered
salvation in faith and the continuous struggle to make
"Hungary" a reality. (See Lotze, Imre Madach, 143. See also
Istvan Soter, "Imre Madach's 'The Tragedy of Man,'" The New
Hungarian Quarterly, 5 (1965): 66. For a delineation of the
Hungarian critics view of the play, see Thomas Mark, "'The
Tragedy of Man': Salvation or Tragedy?" Acta Litteraria
Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 15 (1973): 291-308.)
Madach's Tragedy, of course, can refer to the play or to
Madach's personal life which most commentators on the play
portray as a tragedy because of his participation in the
revolution of 1848 in Hungary.

21. Szegedy-Maszak, "Life-Conception," 327.

22. Szegedy-Maszak, "A Reading," 146.

23. Szegedy-Maszak, "Life Conception," 328.

24. Thus distinguishing his work from Hegel.

25. Szegedy-Maszak describes this "polemic consciousness" in
the following way: "my existence must have a purpose, I
cannot see this purpose, it must have been set by
something/somebody mightier than me, to learn the purpose of
my existence I have to find this something/somebody."
Szegedy-Maszak, "Life-conception," 329.

26. Ibid., 331.

27. Ibid., 334.

28. This quotation refers to the subtitle of Thomas R.
Mark's article, "'The Tragedy of Man': Salvation or
Tragedy," 291.

29. Here I am repeating the observations of Thomas R. Mark
and his survey of the salvationist interpretation of the
Tragedy and its relationship to the sociological
representation of the "tragic."

30. Thomas R. Mark, "'The Tragedy of Man': Salvation or
Tragedy," 307. Mark's understanding of "tragic" is largely
shaped by Ludwig Wittgenstein and M. Peckam, Beyond the
Tragic Vision (New York, 1962).

31. Ibid., 291. Mark rather sarcastically goes on to say:
"It's as if the English-speaking world were to celebrate
King Lear as asserting that God is in His heaven, and all is
right with the world. And it's as if the many fine critics
who have pondered The Tragedy of Man had forgotten what the
title of the work was."

32. In his critique, Mark has noted that the salvationist
interpretations of the play developed from the form of the
drama, which forced the reader to confront the simple
question "Is it True?" The London scene, the phalanstery
scene, and the Eskimo scene were written as "future history"
and not as a dream within a dream, as is the French
Revolution scene. The reader, therefore, confronted the
historical reality of the Tragedy.(The London scene is scene
eleven. The phalanstery scene is scene twelve. The thermal
death scene is scene fourteen, and the French Revolution
scene is scene ten, which is a dream within the Kepler
scenes, scenes eight and ten.) This has led many critics to
feel that they had to answer the question of The Tragedy of
Man. Thus, critics have read the play in salvationistic
terms, ignoring the historical necessity of the London,
phalanstry, and Eskimo scenes which made the drama into a
tragedy. It was as if the salvationist readers came to the
French Revolution scene, stopped, and skipped over to the
final scene where God gave his final admonition to strive
and trust, ending the tragedy with a liberating "Hungarian"
state, free of the errors of nationalism exposed by Madach's
Tragedy. Or the critics read the French Revolution, London,
and Phalanstery scenes as one, ignoring their formal
differences, and then skipped the Eskimo scene in order to
find religious salvation, in contra-distinction to the
worldly salvation of nationalism (French Revolution),
capitalism (London), or socialism (phalanstery). The final
words, then, were of the Lord, and that indicated the
religious salvation of The Tragedy.

33. Mark, "Salvation or Tragedy?," 302.

34. Madach, The Tragedy of Man, 163.

35. Ibid., 183.

36. Ibid., 192-193.

37. The London scene is a study of the extremes of Liberty.
The Phalanstery scene displays the perils of Equality, and
the Eskimo scene recreates a world devoid of Fraternity. In
this way, the Tragedy becomes "the tragedy of nature" or
"the tragedy of naturalism".

38. This is basically Thomas Marks' thesis and will serve as
a way to explicate science in The Tragedy, although we will
postpone here a discussion of Mark's conception of "tragic."

39. Madach, The Tragedy of Man, 220-221. The reference in
Lucifer's speech is to when Adam as Kepler practices
astrology in order to support his research and his wife in
scenes eight and ten.

40. Ibid., 233.

41. Ibid., 238.

42. According to Dieter Lotze, Madach was quite familiar
with popular science materials--especially Ludwig Buchner's
Force and Matter.

43. Madach, The Tragedy of Man, 245.

44. Ibid., 247-248.

45. Ibid., 251.

46. Ibid., 252.

47. Ibid., 253.

48. Ibid.

49. Ibid., 255.

50. Ibid., 264.

51. Ibid., 266.

52. Ibid., 270.

53. Ibid., 271.

54. Madach, The Tragedy of Man, 275.


55. Ibid., 276.

56. Ibid., 278.

57. Ibid., 278-279.

58. Ibid., 286.

59. Ibid., 287.

60. Madach, The Tragedy of Man, 300.

61. Leo Szilard, "Recollections," 3.



Szilard's reference to Imre Madach's The Tragedy of Man

in his "Recollections" highlighted the a-rational, neo-

romantic context of Szilard's science. The tragic situation

of science in Madach's Tragedy made Szilard's science as

represented in his "Recollections" comprehensible. The

childlike nature of Szilard's science echoed Adam's youthful

yearning for knowledge in the Tragedy, and Szilard's

teleological principle, "It is not necessary to succeed in

order to persevere," recalled the admonition of the Lord in

Madach's Tragedy. His reference to Madach's work, therefore,

displayed Szilard's embrace of a "tragic science" that

understood itself and the world in terms that reiterated the

drama of The Tragedy of Man. In phrases such as "addicted to

Truth" and "predilection for 'Saving the World,'" Szilard

engaged the scientist in a tragic struggle against the

thermodynamic degeneration of the world (the Eskimo scene)

and dogmatism.

Szilard's tragic science displaced the traditional

categorical boundaries of science. Tragic science, as

Szilard so eloquently described it in the principles of


"Recollections," encompassed epistemological truth and moral

action to save the world. For Szilard the extension of

"science" into political and ideological realms was both

natural and inevitable, because science had a special role

to play in both knowing the truth and acting on that

knowledge to "save the world." This aspect of Szilard's

tragic science, implied by his description of it in his

"Recollections," explicitly emerged as Szilard confronted

the political problems of Weimar Germany.

While reflecting on the fate of Germany in the post

World War II era, Szilard recalled the Germany he had known

as a student and Privatdozent at the University of Berlin in

the 1920's. He remembered "the times of the worst

inflation," the Kapp Putsch and the organized resistance to

it by the "working class and the victorious allies," the

"genuine progress which [the German people] made towards

democracy," the depression of 1929, and the rise of "another

aggressive nationalist movement."' He did not blame the rise

of Hitler on the depression. Instead, what Szilard recalled

was the "absence of any constructive attempt to cope with

[the depression and unemployment]" and the "conspicuous

absence of any resistance to [the nationalist movement] on

the part of those who opposed it."2 All of this convinced

Szilard by the middle of 1931 that the nationalist movement

would come to power eventually, and he decided to leave



In these political circumstances Szilard did something

else besides simply leave Germany. In late 1929 and early

1930, at the time when he first began to believe that

parliamentary government in Germany would not survive for

more than "one or two generations," Szilard composed a short

political proposal that was never published, entitled simply

"Der Bund":

In the "Society of the Friends of the Bund" those
persons should come together who wish to further
the creation of a closely knit group of people
whose inner bond is pervaded by a religious and
scientific spirit. The external frame into which
such a group should grow would be the "Bund"

The ideology of this document, succinctly displayed in the

above quotation, became a significant part of his political

expression.4 In 1930, he unsuccessfully tried to interest

some of his colleagues in founding an organization patterned

on the ideas in "Der Bund." During his years in England from

1933 to 1938 he revised and expanded his thoughts on the

Bund, and in 1949 he commented on the origins of this

political proposal in a memo he prepared for the Ford


The significance of "Der Bund" has been little

recognized by the commentators on Szilard's political

thought. The editors to the second volume of The Collected

Works of Leo Szilard, which contains a translation of most

of the information on "Der Bund," listed its significance as

being a representation of the "private dreams which lay


behind many of Szilard's later plans."5 Barton Bernstein, in

his "Introduction" to the third volume of The Collected

Works of Leo Szilard, noted that this was "the first of

various bold, elitist ideas" and served as "a forerunner of

his many postwar projects."6 Little other than this has been

said about it other than noting Szilard's reference to the

pre-World War I German youth movement in his 1949

explanation of "Der Bund" and noticing that Szilard's

writing of "Der Bund" coincided with Szilard's interest and

contact with H.G. Wells.7 This explanation of "Der Bund" has

created the impression that this proposal simply represented

Szilard's version of H. G. Wells's "open conspiracy."8

Such a presentation has failed to account formally for

Szilard's political expression. Szilard's political

proposals from 1929 to (at least) 1949 incorporated the idea

of the Bund and therein lay the significance of this

political expression. To understand Szilard's political

proposals, therefore, "Der Bund" must be de-scribed by

understanding it as formally representing its own political

situation, its own political reality. By examining "Der

Bund" in this fashion, this chapter will display the

political reality described by Szilard's proposal. First,

Szilard's proposal will be outlined. Then we will exam the

context of the rhetorical heritage of Szilard's Bund by

explicating the history of the German youth movements. This

context will then be used to display the political meaning


of Szilard's "tragic science."

According to Szilard, the "society" (Gesellschaft)

described in "Der Bund" was to be composed of the "best"

boys and girls who would become junior members of the Bund.

Junior members would study and attend workshops together, so

that they might "get acquainted with each other's

thinking."9 They would be together for several years, and

then the junior members would elect from among themselves

the "best" who would then become senior members of the Bund.

After graduating from university, members would have the

option of becoming loose members of the Bund, and going home

to pursue their careers, or entering the "Order" of the

Bund, which "imposes on its members a life of sacrifice and

service."'1 Members of the "Order" would be allowed to

pursue their careers, but certain sacrifices would be

required, such as turning over all money except that needed

for basic existence, and for some perhaps even celibacy."

The "Order of the Bund" would be directed by a

"governing body" of about 40 people to whom the

responsibility for running the Order would be delegated by

the "individual cells" out of which the "Order" was

composed.12 This body would consist of members of the Bund

between the ages of 25 and 60 and should be evenly composed

in terms of age. The members of the governing body would be

delegated for life and could not be recalled. The governing


body would be replenished, however, by releasing certain

members from active membership and putting them in a

"reserve body." These reserve members could attend

deliberations and be elected into the leadership of the

"Order," but they could not vote in the governing body of

the Bund.13

Three people selected from the governing body would act

as the leadership of the "Order," but these three people

were not to be individually elected. They would be elected

as a group. In a separate ballot, a second group of three

would be elected as an opposition leadership. The opposition

would not have an active roll in managing the "Order," but

would simply observe and control the "Order's" leadership by

calling for a new election when it felt it was necessary. In

addition, members of the opposition group could never become

members of an "Order" leadership triumvirate later on.14

Szilard hoped that the "Order" would be the ultimate

political expression of his Bund, and he believed that:

If such a group, profoundly cohesive in spirit,
were to exist, then presumably it would exercise a
potent influence on the shaping of public affairs
even without any particular inner structure and
without any constitutionally determined rights.
There are sufficient examples from the past where
certain groups of people or institutions exercised
a decisive influence without occupying a position
specified by the constitution.15

This description of his Bund, a representation of the German

political expression, captured the connotations of the

German words Gessellschaft and Gemeinschaft. His Bund was to


be the broadest of political entities which had both

political structure and political ideology but could not be

reduced to either. His political organization was to be both

a political structure and a political ideal, although it was

neither strictly one or the other. It was not be thought of

as a political party or a political platform, although it

incorporated both. Perhaps it could be best described as the

idealized state itself within which politics was to be

played out.

Szilard reiterated a similar definition in his Ford

Foundation Memo of 1949 as he attempted to define his Bund

for an English audience. He specifically stated in that memo

that it was "not supposed to be something like a political

party but rather it was supposed to represent the

state.'16 Szilard's state was to be a future state which

developed out of "the then existing political system" and

could take over the functions of government "if and when the

parliamentary system in Germany collapsed, one or two

generations hence."17 He designed his Bund, therefore, to

represent the then existing system of parliamentary

democracy in Weimar Germany in late 1929 and 1930 and a

future state which evolved out of the political system of

Weimar Germany.

In one sense then, Szilard's "Der Bund" should be

understood as a depiction of Szilard's understanding of the

Weimar Republic. In "Der Bund," Szilard noted the


"indispensable" nature of democracy "in the sense that what

government does must not run counter to the public opinion

of the broadest stratum"--explicitly aligning himself with

the democratic principles of the Weimar republic. He also

structurally embodied the parliamentary nature of democracy

in the Weimar Era in the "ruling body" of the "Order of the

Bund."18 The team leadership style of government in the

"Order" and the ever present opposition, able to call for

elections at almost any time, presupposed a parliamentary

style of government in which power and authority were

delegated to leadership groups (not to individuals), and

coalitions representing different perspectives counter

balanced one another and prevented a monopoly of power. At

the "cell" level as well, there was also a spirit of

representation as members delegated responsibility to other

members deemed worthy to serve in the "ruling body."

In reviewing parliamentary democracy in the Weimar Era

in "Der Bund," Szilard also captured the disorder of Weimar

democracy. "At this time," Szilard noted, "there exists

hardly anything resembling the formation of a community

purpose (Willensbildung in der Gemeinschaft)," and he

lamented "the political parties working against one

another," "the brief periods in office of the successive

governments," and the "primitive" way in which community

purpose was established by "the misinformed newspaper

reader.""19 This disorder in the parliamentary system


resulted from the over-representation of individual

interests in the democracy of the Weimar Era, according to

Szilard. This problem stemmed from the long standing

relationship between parliamentary democracy and the laissez

faire economic system. According to Szilard, this economic

system was "to a certain degree built into the

parliamentary-democratic system," and for that reason, he

accepted and believed in parliamentary democracy.2

Even in his acceptance of parliamentary democracy,

however, Szilard remained ambivalent toward it. Szilard

criticized the fact that parliamentary democracy implied a

certain hands-off approach to the political parties that

allowed them to do whatever they wanted. At the same time,

Szilard wrote of an undeniable structural connection between

the laissez faire economic system and the parliamentary

democratic political system. In "Der Bund," he vaguely

talked about the "life-styles" (Lebensformen) of civilized

countries being "determined by the mechanics of those forces

which appear as the moving forces behind this [laisser

faire] economic system."21

Szilard's ambivalence toward parliamentary democracy

and laissez faire economics can also clearly be seen in an

unpublished section of "Der Bund" entitled "The Convictions

of the Friends of the Bund" (Die Gesinnung der 'Freunde des

Bundes'). Here he focused on the evil of the "egotistical

impulse" in a capitalist, democratic society that


"psychologically" isolated people "so that they are forced

to struggle against their fellow man."22 At the same time,

Szilard did not relegate egoism to an unimportant roll in

his hypothetical society. To that point, Szilard noted that

within the members of "The Friends of the Bund" there will

be divergent opinions about "how important egoism still is

today, and the importance one must probably admit to it in

any society," but, Szilard concluded, a certain type of

social egoism must be considered bad--a divisive egoism in

which social entities were forced to compete with one

another. He gave as an example of this social paralysis,

Berlin of the post World War I era, and described how the

unification of the city failed "because the representatives

of Sch6neberg could not decide to agree on a unification

which would have thrown the Sch6neberg taxes in a pot with

the Charlottenberg taxes and become property uniformly of

the city of Berlin.""23 "What could Sch6neberg have won by

that?," Szilard wondered, and he noted in the next

paragraph, "With someone who acts in his own interest, one

will always feel less complete than with someone of a

different opinion or a group."24

"Der Bund" reflected Szilard's thoughts on egoism. The

Bund was to provide a group in which one could feel

complete. Szilard's search for completeness in the Bund

emerged in this sense from his perception of the political

discord and egoism of Weimar Germany, and he signaled this


concern by adopting a political expression that harmoniously

reconciled the self with the group through the body politic.

That is, he circumscribed his political concerns and his

political "science" in the idea of a Bund.

In accomplishing this Weimarian political task, Szilard

recalled the rhetoric of the German youth movements. As he

said in his "Recollections":

I drew upon the experience provided by the history
of the so called youth movement, a spiritual and
moral movement among the youth of Germany, which
originated and culminated before the First World
War. This movement had represented what was best
in Germany and had a profound and on the whole
beneficial effect, extending for about one
generation beyond its cessation.25

Despite giving this credit to the youth movement, Szilard

never belonged to any particular youth organization while he

was in Germany in the 1920's.26 The only particular

reference that Szilard made to a youth movement organization

was a vague reference to a "V61kerbund" in an unpublished

version of "Der Bund.""2 This could have referred to the

"Wandervogel V6lkischer Bund" (WVVB), one of the four

WandervogelbUnde of the late teen period. Such an

interpretation would be consistent with his description of

the inspiration for "Der Bund" coming from the pre-World War

I youth movement since the WVVB descended from that period,

but Szilard never claimed that a social connection to one of

these groups led to his writing "Der Bund." Instead, he saw

himself as echoing their political rhetoric and not


repeating it. He "drew on the experience provided by the

history" of the early youth movement, and their history

echoed in Szilard's description of "Der Bund".

The historical voices that Szilard referred to echoed

the concerns of late nineteenth-century teenagers who

demanded to be heard:

Youth, until now only an appendage of the older
generation, excluded from the public affairs of
the nation and forced into a passive role of
learning into a frivolous, negative role in
society is beginning to assert itself .
Youth wants its capacity for pure enthusiasm about
the highest tasks of humanity and its capacity for
unbroken faith and belief in the noble existence
to be developed into a refreshing, rejuvenating
element in the spiritual life of the nation. And
youth believes that our nation needs nothing more
today than such a spiritual rejuvenation.2

The pre-World War I youth movement, known as the

Wandervogel, reflected a romantic middle-class teenage

reaction to the culture and strictures of Wilhelmian

Germany.29 It began in 1896 when Hermann Hoffmann, a student

at the University of Berlin, organized group excursions for

a study circle of students at the grammar school in

Steglitz. At first, the students went on day long walks to

the Grinewald. Later they went on longer trips over the Harz

mountains. By 1899 they were going on four week trips

through the Bohmerwald between Bavaria and Bohemia.30 A

national youth movement grew out of this small group of

youths, which emphasized getting out of the city and

wandering through the countryside. Following a 1901 meeting

in Steglitz of five group leaders, the movement spread


throughout Germany. By 1911, fifteen thousand German youths

participated in the movement and by 1914, there were 25,000

members in 800 local branches.31

There were no set rules for the various Wandervogel

groups set up through out Germany, but they shared "a

certain style in their activities," which was exemplified by

the group led by Karl Fischer, one of the early influential

leaders of the Wandervogel.32 This style included (1) a

simple, sometimes primitive lifestyle, (2) hiking in the

woods, and (3) the encouragement of personal expression

through theater, poetry, literature and music. This pre-war

youth movement was particularly successful at developing

music, bringing about what Walter Laqueur has called "a

renaissance of German folk song."33

Although these activities have indicated to historians

that the Wandervogel movement was clearly a part of the

general Kulturkritik of late nineteenth century modern

bourgeois German society, it has been difficult to

categorize the political ideology of the movement.3 The

various Wanderv6gel had no explicit economic or political

program. They did not adopt a socialist or right wing

revolutionary political platform. The movement was a

rebellion against the bourgeois culture of Wilhelmian

Germany, but in the Wandervogel period of the youth

movement, this rebellion was never transformed into a

political platform.


Membership in a Wandervogel did not require the

adoption of any sort of explicit political ideology. Its

middle class members wanted to escape what they perceived to

be the confining lifestyle of middle class, urban,

industrial life. Instead of political reform, they sought

freedom from the city, industry, and the authority of their

parents, in hiking, camping and fellowship among their

peers. In this new freedom they also hoped to find a new

wholeness, a new completeness, to fill the gap created by

what they perceived to be the fragmented life of modern

bourgeois society. Thus, the Wandervogel emphasized

cooperation, fellowship and personal expression, not

political dogma or revolutionary political change. The

emphasis was on individual development, and they copied the

style of the wandering scholars of the middle ages. As such,

membership involved not so much a political identification,

as a personal developmental experience.

Because it was a romantic (or at least idealistic)

Erlebnis, many who participated in the movement have

described its importance, but the character of the

Wandervogel experience seems to have been as varied as the

number of people who participated. Hans BlUher, the first

historian of the Wandervogel movement, found adolescent

eroticism. Karl Fischer and later Gustov Wyneken found an

impetus to educational reform. All felt it to be a positive

spiritual experience, that profoundly, if somewhat


nebulously, affected their lives, and this generation of

participants carried this experience with them into the

universities after the war.

The literature on the German youth movement has mostly

reflected this positive tone. Many of those who actually

participated in the movement have documented and extolled

the youthful virtues of the movement, in particular the

early Wandervogel movement and its pre and post World War I

ancestors encompassed in the so called Freideutsche

Jugend.35 Nevertheless, discussions of the Wandervogel and

the youth movement in general have not escaped the

scrupulous search for the origins of German fascism. A

considerable body of literature has described the early

youth movement as a precursor to the conservative reform

ideology of the Nazi party and the youth fanaticism of the

Hitlerjugend. According to this historical understanding of

the youth movement, even the Wandervogel conditioned its

members to accept more radical political movements like the


This negative indictment of the youth movement has not

been followed by all historians, however. The most recent

and comprehensive scholarship has taken a more developmental

approach to the youth movement, distinguishing between the

Wandervogel period (1898-1913), the tumultuous but somewhat

more politically conscious period of Freideutsche Jugend

(1918-1923), and the even more fragmented and politically


conscious period in which the political organization of the

Bund dominated--the so-called BUndische period (1924-1933).

The development of the movement, according to this

historiographical tradition, illustrated an idealistic neo-

conservative reformist context which was contiguous but not

conjugally related to Nazi fascist ideology or the


By 1920, the unity of the Binde within the youth

movement began to disintegrate as the character of each

individual Bund overshadowed the importance of a single

youthful alliance of BUnde, the grand political dream of the

pre-World War I youth movement.38 In 1923, a final attempt

was made to revive the idealistic spirit of the movement at

a final meeting at Hohe Meissner, a mountain to the south of

Kassel. This meeting failed to unite the various groups

within the youth movement and signaled the beginning of a

new phase in the movement referred to by most historians as

the BUndische youth movement.

The youth movement as a whole had always been a very

diverse movement consisting of various WandervBgel groups,

Jugendpflege organizations, Neupfadfinder groups (after

World War I), Catholic, Protestant and Jewish youth

organizations and many others. Any unity it might have had,

even if we look at only the Wanderv6gel groups, was at best

a tentative one, and the defeat of Germany in the war and

the revolution of 1918 destroyed most of the ideological


unity that might have existed within the youth movement. As

groups responded to the establishment of the Republic in

various ways, more politically oriented organizations

emerged. Left wing socialist and communist groups as well as

right wing organizations appeared during the political

turmoil and slowly became more closely associated with the

political parties which most closely represented their

ideological interests.39

In addition to political youth organizations,

traditional confessional youth organizations, which had been

inspired by the Wandervogel movement, began to assume a more

independent character. The Catholic youth movement grew and

consolidated throughout the 1920's. The Protestant movement

exploded after the war and several Protestant organizations

emerged within the youth movement. Jewish youth groups

started before the war became more stridently Zionist after

the war. The message of youthful empowerment in Catholic,

Protestant, and Jewish youth organizations gradually

submerged into religious institutions in the Weimar period

just as the politically oriented groups had submerged into

the political organizations.4

A number of groups remained at the center of the youth

movement spectrum nevertheless and claimed a primary

allegiance to the heritage of the Wandervogel and

Freideutsche Jugend movements. These organizations, which

included such vl6kisch organizations as the Blut und Boden,


Bund der Artamanen, and the Wandervogel-like umbrella

organization, the Deutsche Freischar, emerged from the

various Alt-Wanderv6gel and the Neupfadfinder groups in

1926. These diverse groups, described by historians as the

Bindische youth movement, voiced the neo-conservative,

youthful spirit of the Weimar era:

The Deutsche Freischar is a group of people that
wants, on the basis of its experience in the youth
movement, to lead its life towards itself and the
nation in unconditional personal freedom together
with a strong sense of responsibility The
basis of communal work is inner truthfulness,
respect for other views, and readiness for mutual

According to the historian Peter Stachura, the

political expressions of these groups "represented a more

serious minded, organized, disciplined, and activist phase

in the evolution of the independent youth movement."42 Each

group tended to place more emphasis "on the theoretical

basis of their activities."43 This created friction between

the different organizations as each group "stubbornly and

vociferously maintained its own individuality and

autonomy."" Walter Laqueur has differentiated between the

Wandervogel and the BUndische youth by saying that "the

former was more individualistic in character, whereas the

latter laid more emphasis upon the collective."45 Rudolf

Kneip has spoken of an awakening ("bUndische Erwachen") in

which "the solitary person was pushed back in favor of the

journey of entire groups, Gau or BUnde."46

Despite this gesture toward the collective, which has


led many historians to link the Bundische movement with the

Hitlerjugend and the rise of the NSDAP, the leadership style

and the rhetoric of the Bundische movement remained

significantly different from that of the NSDAP. Bund leaders

were always elected by their groups, whereas Hitlerjugend

leaders were appointed by higher ups.47 Bund youth groups

were also much more diverse and less categorical in their

commitment to a political ideology. The Deutsche Freischar,

for example, did not commit itself to an active role in

party politics until July 1930 when it became involved in

the formation of a centrist political party, the German

State Party (DSP), whose primary aim was to rise above the

politics of special interests.48 Even in the rhetoric of a

v6lkischer Bund such as the Adler und Falken, a reluctance

to join in the political fray could be found:

National Socialism is essentially related to our
fundamental outlook. We can never as a group
become involved in daily politics, nor do we wish
to. We none the less hope to be, in a higher
sense, politically effective.49

This has led many historians (and not just youth

movement apologists) to conclude that the NSDAP and the

Hitlerjugend can be distinguished by the Bundische

movement's romantic political "higher sense," which

conceived of political change as individual participation in

a self-fulfilling organization steeped in utopian

idealism.50 Such political dreams were elitist in nature to

be sure. The masses were considered worthy of human


consideration though not necessarily of inclusion in the

political process itself. The political process, however,

was thought of as an intellectual exercise in utopian logic,

and as such it remained outside and above the fray of daily

politics. The political ideology of the Bund was not as

wedded to the incorporation of political ideology in the

power of the state as was the NSDAP. Political effectiveness

for the Bundische movement remained in a higher realm of

political idealism which mediated the problems of the modern

German democratic state--economic dislocation, political

divisiveness and capitalistic individuality--in the extra-

political communal experience of the Bund. Such idealism, of

course, left them both open and unprepared for the Nazi

seizure of power in 1933.

Born in the idealistic historical context of the

Wandervogel Szilard's Bund echoed the idealistic, neo-

conservative voice of the Weimar youth movement just as the

Weimar Blnde echoed the neo-conservative ideological

elements of the pre-World War I youth movements.1 Szilard's

Bund reiterated the importance of community and the

development of individual character associated with the

primarily pre-World War I Wandervogel movement.52 Like the

Wandervogel movement, Szilard began with the understanding

that within western civilization there existed a problem of

"the formation of community purpose.""53 Also like the


Wandervogel movement, Szilard described a higher political,

economic, and spiritual order in his Bund. "Der Bund"

signified, in this sense, his attempt to regain a sense of


Szilard portrayed the Bund as the place where the

evolution to a higher stage of political development could

be conceived, although the exact nature of that development

could not be defined at the Bund's conception because

Szilard's Bund was not to be a politically ideological

organization. Instead, the social-spiritual bond, the social

covenant, if you will, would guide societies evolution from

a "primitive" sense of social purpose to a "progressive

development of public life." Parliamentary democracy and

laissez faire economic principles were not to be destroyed,

but simply served as the starting point from which a higher

and better system of government and economic organization

would develop. In a moral and spiritual sense, therefore,

the Bund was extra-political. It stood outside of normal

political influence while at the same time evoking the

highest moral political sense from its members. As such,

membership in "Der Bund" was not a dogmatic espousal of

doctrine or political activity aimed at power, nor did it

subjugate individuality. Instead it was to be a personal and

highly individualistic political experience (Erlebnis) in

which individual fulfillment came in the emotional

commitment one shared with others and the seemingly


boundless political possibilities of humanity within the

Bund: "Nobody should renounce even the boldest of hopes

before human nature has been given every opportunity to

demonstrate its limits."'

This idealistic explication of Szilard's Bund has

captured only part of the historical context conjured up by

Szilard's historical reference to the pre-World War I German

youth movements. The neo-conservative aspects of the German

youth movement were also recalled in Szilard's Bund,

reflecting a later historical context and echoing the voices

of a more conservative era in the history of the German

youth movement.

Szilard's Bund was to be an organization or society

which evolved over time and eventually would become an

extra-political group, "profoundly cohesive in spirit,"

which provided a "potent influence" on public affairs in a

utopian society.55 In this sense, Szilard's Bund reiterated

the utopian thinking characteristic of the BUndische youth

movement common in the Weimar period in the late twenties.

"Der Bund" did not describe itself in terms of political

ideology. Szilard specifically rejected both fascism and

communism because of their lack of commitment to some sort

of public forum.56 Szilard also described a general fear of

the growth of the bureaucratic state in which the power of

permanent civil servants grew with no structural check that

would "offer a guarantee of a well-thought-out, large scale


definition of aims.""57 He saw this happening even within the

parliamentary democratic systems in existence in 1930.

Szilard, therefore, designed his Bund to function outside of

any bureaucratic state wedded to a political ideology and to

remain an alternative to whatever the dominant political

system may be (present or future), so that the Bund could

provide a "Willensbildung in der Gemeinschaft."

Szilard made this ideological commitment to remain non-

political explicit in the structural details of his Bund.

For example, in choosing the "best" boys and girls to become

junior members of the Bund, great care was to be taken not

to allow the choices to be made by those (usually adults)

who might be subject to political influence: "Schoolmasters,

the Bund or the Friends of the Bund should hardly be

entrusted with the choice as they might be influenced by

political considerations.""58 Szilard also wanted to restrict

the political involvement of junior members of the Bund:

To keep [junior members of the Bund] open-minded
as long as possible, they should not be allowed to
join, even as a formality, any political party or
philosophical movement [weltansschauliche Partei]
before they have reached the age of 30 years. 59

Junior members nevertheless should be informed of a wide

variety of political movements, and they should be

encouraged to have a keen interest in public (not to be

confused with political) life. This interest in public life

would lead them to challenge traditional assumptions of

political ideology, but at the same time required them to


remain independent of any political ideology--including

democratic parliamentary ideology.

This ideological commitment to political independence

defined the political character of Szilard's Bund and

theoretically allowed Bund members to rise above the

political factionalism, confusion, and dislocation of the

modern bureaucratic state. It also logically permitted

members of Szilard's political society to develop an

ideological reality outside of political ideology that could

someday restructure all of modern political culture. In this

sense, Szilard's Bund reiterated the extra-political

character of the Bund in the Bindische youth movement.

The particular extra-political nature of Szilard's Bund

depended on a "religious and scientific spirit."" A

religious and scientific bond bound together the "best"

individuals who were trained to be "independent thinkers."

This "inner cohesion" allowed the Bund to "renew itself on

its own."61 In "The First Step" toward the founding of the

Bund, this religious and scientific spirit also served as a

guide for choosing who should belong and who should not. As

Szilard explicitly stated in "Der Bund," "What we want are

boys and girls who have the scientific mind and a religious


By choosing these characteristics, Szilard described a

political order dominated by a scientific elite that had a

religious sense of commitment to the Bund. His Bund


described in this sense a religiously scientific order, non-

dogmatic in its ideals and social configuration and

religiously devoted to the ideals of science, particularly

the objectivity of science. Members of the Bund were to

strive to remain extra-political and reasonably, using their

scientific minds, contest ideas. Younger members of the Bund

were to be taught to think independently and to "do so in

areas where for most people passions and emotions prevent

clear thinking.""6 By reiterating these objective ideals of

science in his Bund, Szilard joined the political nature of

the Bund with the ideals of science and expressed his belief

that a religiously scientific political order was "the only

weapon" against "the confusion of ideas existing today

[1930]."" "One has to trust", wrote Szilard, "that children

who are able to think, who have been educated to independent

thinking, and who seriously go about it will discern the

truth from the confusion of conflicting opinions.""6

In this youthful affirmation, Szilard's "tragic

science" emerged in the political culture of the German

youth movement. Szilard's ever inquisitive, youthful Adam-

the childlike scientist committed to his search for truth-

found political expression in the Bund, through which the

scientist remained forever the inquisitive child. The

scientist, in and through the Bund, could transform the

tragic pursuit of truth into the tragic task of "Saving the

World." Scientific knowledge and political action were

finally joined in "Der Bund".

Szilard's political utopia, as expressed by "Der Bund,"

was not a backward looking, nostalgic utopia. "Der Bund" did

not offer an escape from modern society in a lifestyle of

the past. Nor was it a politically ideological utopia

wherein hope lay in the empowerment of the fatherland, the

people, or the state. "Der Bund" did not demand a political

commitment in this sense." Instead, Szilard's political

"science" called for merging politics with an ideological

reality attained and maintained by science, and described

scientists as a freischwebende Intelligenz (a socially

unattached intelligentsia) that recognized the significance

of science in the pursuit of spiritual, political and

natural Truth. The political "science" of Szilard was,

therefore, a total ideology that guided all political action

and authorized scientists to distinguish between true and

false, between true ideology and political illusion.6 In

this sense, Szilard's "Der Bund" represented a Weimarian

prescription for science, politically and morally situated

before the Nazi seizure of power, comfortable in its elitist

sense of scientific authority, ideologically committed to an

extra-political "science" and hopeful of a scientific



1. Undated personal history document, Szilard Papers, Box
40, Folder 7, 1.

2. Ibid.

3. Leo Szilard, "Der Bund" in Leo Szilard: His Version of
the Facts, 23. Hereafter cited as "Der Bund". Most of what
is contained in the Szilard Papers concerning "Der Bund" can
be found in translation in this volume of the published
papers. However there are some significant omissions in this
translation. Any reference to these passages will be my
translation and it will be so noted with the appropriate
reference in the Szilard Papers. All the papers relating to
"Der Bund" can be found in the Szilard Papers, Box 22,
Folder 15 and Box 68, Folder 3.

4. Memorandum of January 26, 1949 in Szilard Papers, Box 68,
Folder 3.

5. Editors comments in Leo Szilard: His Version of the

6. Barton Bernstein, "Introduction" in Leo Szilard, Toward a
Livable World: Leo Szilard and the Crusade for Nuclear Arms
Control, Helen S. Hawkins, G. Allen Greb, and Gertrude Weiss
Szilard, eds. (Cambridge, Mass. and London: The MIT Press,
1987), xxv. Bernstein makes a similar kind of reference in
his article "Leo Szilard: Giving Peace a Chance in the
Nuclear Age," Physics Today 40(September 1987): 45; Michael
Bess in his article, "Leo Szilard: Scientist, Activist,
Visionary," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 41(December
1985), makes no reference to "Der Bund" in his explication
of Szilard's political thinking.

7. His Version of the Facts, editors notes, 22, n. 2.

8. See H.G. Wells, The Open Conspiracy: Blue Prints for a
World Revolution (London: V. Gollancz, 1928). It should be
noted that Szilard, in a memo to the Ford Foundation in
1949, describes the relationship of his "Der Bund" to H.G.
Wells by saying "'The Open Conspiracy' by H.G. Wells deals
with the problem and, while it offers no satisfactory
solution, it makes important contributions to it[the problem
of where parliamentary democracy can function] in the first
12 or 20 pages of the first edition."( Szilard Papers, MSS
32, Box 41, Folder 11, 6,7.) This statement seems to support
the conclusion that Szilard saw his understanding of the
political problems of democracy as being similar to Wells,
but he did not look to Wells for a solution. "Der Bund" was
to be a solution, and it is the form of Szilard's political
solution which is of interest if we are to understand his
political expression.

9. Leo Szilard, "Der Bund," 26.

10. Ibid., 27.

11. Ibid., 27-28.

12. These cells were also to be made up of about 30 to 40
people who were familiar with one another and kept in close
touch with one another. This comes from a section of "Der
Bund" which was not translated for the second volume of
Szilard's published papers. See Szilard Papers, MSS 32, Box
22, Folder 15, "Der Orden des Bundes."

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Leo Szilard, "Der Bund," 25.

16. Szilard Papers, MSS 32, Box 41, Folder 11, 11. My

17. Szilard Papers, MSS 32, Box 41, Folder 11, 8.

18. Leo Szilard, "Der Bund," 24.

19. "Der Bund," 23. See Modris Eksteins' The Limits of
Reason: The German Democratic Press and the Collapse of
Weimar Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975) for
an analysis of the press in Weimar Germany. Eksteins points
out that private ownership and large diversity made the
press during this period particularly vulnerable to
political influence during times of economic crisis--as in
the early twenties and then again in 1929 and 1930.
Financial constraints often played a role in newspapers
quickly rallying to popular political sentiment and
succumbing to political and economic pressure from political
parties and big business, making any semblance of political
independence hard to maintain.
Szilard's reference to the press here indicates his
distaste for this new reality of the press in the Weimar
period and the role it played in what might be called the
modern politics of the masses.

20. "Der Bund," 23. In a paragraph from a version of "Der
Bund" that has not been published, Szilard formulates the
relationship between the social system and the laissez faire
economic system this way: "The strongest form giving
influence, to which man is subjected, is the type of
relations he has with other men. These relations are fixed
in a definite way because of the present, prevailing
economic system [laissez faire]." See Szilard Papers, MSS
32, Box 22, Folder 15.

21. Leo Szilard, "Der Bund," 23.

22. Szilard Papers, Box 22, Folder 15. Szilard notes in this
regard that he uses the "unclear and confusing" term
"egotistical impulse hesitantly."

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid.

25. Szilard Papers, "Ford Memo", Box 41, Folder 11.

26. Szilard would have been too old to actually belong to a
particular youth group, but it is possible that he could
have been closely associated with German colleagues who had
been members of a particular Bund and who continued their
activities within the student organizations at the
university. Szilard, however, does not give us any personal
references, and indeed it would not have been necessary for
Szilard to have had close personal contacts in the youth
movement for him to have been exposed to the rhetoric of the
various manifestations of the youth movement. They were
quite common at the time and thoroughly penetrated
university life, prompting even scholarly analysis such as
Jugendbewegung and Universit&t by Heidelberg's Dr. Arnold
Bergstrdsser and Bonn Professor Dr. Hermann Platz
(Karlsruhe: G. Braun, 1927). Also, historical accounts of
the youth movement had been coming out since Hans BlUher's
account of the Wandervogel published in 1912.

27. Szilard Papers, Box 22, Folder 15.

28. From Peter Stachura's translation of the proclamation
announcing the youth meeting at the Hohe Meissner, 1913 in
The German Youth Movement 1900-1945, (New York: St. Martin's
Press, 1981): 169. Stachura's source is "Die Freideutche
Jugendbewegung, P&dogogishesd Magazin," no. 597 (1915): 9.

29. My discussion here owes a great deal to the work of
Peter Stachura's The German Youth Movement 1900-1945. The
introduction contains a nice survey of the monograph
literature on the youth movement which includes all of the
standard works.

30. Walter Z. Laqueur, Young Germany: A History of the
German Youth Movement (New York: Basic Books Publishing Co.,
Inc., 1962): 15.

31. George L. Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology (New
York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1964): 171; Stachura, The German
Youth Movement, 21.

32. Laqueur, Young Germany, 18.

33. Ibid., 17.

34. This characterization of the Wandervogel and its
ancestors of the 1920's as a youthful manifestation of the
more general Kulturkritik is a common one found in almost
all general descriptions of the movement and cultural
histories. See for example, Peter Gay's Weimar Culture (New
York: Harper and Row, 1968): 77-79.

35. Werner Kindt's documentary history of the movement is a
good example of this tradition as is the work of Rudolf
Kneip. See for example Werner Kindt ed., Grundschriften der
deutschen Jugendbewegung (Disseldorff, 1963); Rudolf Kneip,
ed. Jugend der Weimarer Zeit: Handbuch der Jungendverbande
1919-1938 (Frankfurt, 1974).

36. Perhaps the most blatant indictment, if not the most
complete, is by George L. Mosse in The Crisis of German
Ideology. Mosse argues that the youth movement's commitment
to the idea of the Volk was an implicit political act. He
sees in their folk songs, their rambling, their Bund
organization, and the words and deeds of the leaders of the
movement, a precursor of the elitist, right wing Nazi
organizations. According to Mosse, "it is erroneous to
absolve the youth movement of all and every guilt for the
Nazi catastrophe." George L. Mosse, The Crisis of German
Ideology (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1964): 188. Some
other examples of this critique of the Youth Movement are
the conservative characterization of the movement in Klemens
von Klemperer's Germany's New Conservatism: Its History and
Dilemma in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, 1957) and Harry
Pross's "Vom Wandervogel zum Jungenstaat" in Der Zerst6rung
der deutschen Politik (Frankfurt, 1959).

37. Peter D. Stachura's work, following in the footsteps of
Jakob MUller makes this argument. See Peter D. Stachura,
Nazi Youth in the Weimar Republic (Santa Barbara, Cal.: Cio
Books, 1975) and The German Youth Movement, 1900-1945: An
Interpretive and Documentary History ( New York: St Martins
Press, 1981); Jakob MUller, Die Jugendbewegung als deutsche
Hauptrichtung neukonsevitiver Reform (ZUrich: Europa Verlag,

38. Kneip, Jugend der Weimarer Zeit, 18.

39. This is easily seen in the emergence and growth of such
organizations as the Kommunistischer Jugendverband
Deutschlands on the left and the establishment of the
Jugendbund der NSDAP in 1923. The democratic and socialist
BUnde seemed to have clung to their political independence

maintaining a political orientation which aims at remaining
above the normal political fray. See Stachura, The German
Youth Movement, 94-117 for a full discussion.

40. For an account of the Catholic youth movement and its
relation to the Hitler Youth see Lawrence Walker's Hitler
Youth and Catholic Youth 1933-1936 (Washington D.C.: The
Catholic University of America Press)and Peter Stachura's
The German Youth Movement 1900-1945, chapter 3. The division
I have made here between religious and political youth
groups is not meant to imply that there was not considerable
overlap or that religious groups did not have political
agendas. I am merely recognizing that religious groups and
political groups began to stress their particular religious
and political qualities as opposed to their connection to
all other youth.

41. A definition of the Deutsche Freischar group from
Deutsche Freischar, 1928, no.l, 2ff, as quoted by Peter
Stachura in The German Youth Movement, 171.

42. Stachura, The German Youth Movement, 46.

43. Ibid., 45.

44. Ibid., 46.

45. Laqueur, Young Germany, 30.

46. Kneip, Jugend der Weimarer Zeit, 18.

47. Peter Stachura, Nazi Youth in the Weimar Republic, 94.
See his chapter entitled "The Hitler Youth and the Youth
Movement in the Weimar Republic" for a good general
discussion of the differences between the Bundische movement
and the Hitlerjugend.

48. Laqueur, Young Germany, 149-150.

49. Hans-Joachim Lemme, a leader in the Adler und Falken as
quoted by Stachura in The German Youth Movement, 172, from
Der FUhrer, 1929, no.4, 5.

50. This includes the work of Stachura, Laqueur, Kneip,
Seidelmann, Muller and others.

51. Within this idealistic, neo-conservative political
context, the echoes of the Wandervogel in Szilard's Bund
resound: "It does not seem unimportant to us that the
formation of a community purpose should take place in the
midst of a free struggle for some sort of public
opinion.....To remain democratic in this sense seems almost a

permanent requirement, while we may perhaps have to regard
parliamentary democracy as an outmoded form of government in
the not-too-distant future. In fact it would be outmoded the
moment one presumed in good conscience definitely to give up
laissez-faire through the progressive development of public
life." Szilard, "Der Bund," 24.

52. Szilard specifically cites the pre-World War I youth
movement as a source of inspiration for "Der Bund" in his
memo of 1945. See Szilard Papers, Box 68, Folder 3.

53. Szilard, "Der Bund," 23.

54. Ibid.

55. Szilard, "Der Bund," 25.

56. Ibid., 24.

57. Ibid.

58. Ibid., 25.

59. Ibid., 26.

60. Ibid., 23.

61. Ibid., 24.

62. Ibid., 25. Szilard never specifically stated how the
selection processes would be carried out except to say that
it would be some sort of self-selection process. For
instance, he suggested that about three children be chosen
out of a class 30 or 40. These three should at least partly
be chosen on the basis of asking the entire class to vote on
whom they thought were the best. Presumably, since they had
grown up together, the students would know each other better
than anyone else, and thus be better able to evaluate each
other than any outside party using tests or interviews.

63. Ibid., 26. This commitment to scientific objectivity
carried over into the social structure of Szilard's Bund.
Younger members were to associate freely with one another
and outsiders through club activities and seminars and were
not allowed to join any political or philosophical
movements. Each member was to be given the opportunity to
study or work in a foreign country, insuring their
objectivity on questions of nationality. For Senior members
of the Bund, foreign work was required. Also, selection into
the Bund was to be an objective process in which the members
from a particular class would be questioned to determine who
they thought were the "best" from among their peers and the

best would then be allowed membership. This selection
process avoided the problems of generational bias by taking
it out of the hands of the older members of the Bund.
Szilard, "Der Bund," 26, 27.

64. Szilard, "Der Bund," 30.

65. Ibid.

66. Szilard's Bund cannot be clearly categorized as
belonging to either the Bindische movement or to the
Wandervogel movement. To reduce it to one or the other has
not been my purpose. Instead, I hope that I have shown that
Szilard's Bund is related to Weimar culture, not in the
sense that it can be reduced to some intellectual category,
which we describe as being Weimar culture, but because it
displays some of the romantic/enlightenment features of
modernity associated with the Weimar political cultural
contexts in its elitist and reluctant embrace of
parliamentary democracy within the political/cultural
context of the possibility of a political synthesis which
confronted and transcended the problems of
parliamentary/capitalist society, ie. inflation, labor
strikes, socio-economic displacement and stifling political
factionalism. Within these context lies the possibility of
an liberal extra-political reality. It is this political
reality which Szilard's "Der Bund" represents.
My work here converges with Thomas Childers' attempts
to display Weimar political contexts by focusing on the
political rhetoric of Weimar Germany although it differs on
the matter of intention and its scientific focus from the
work of Childers. In its scientific focus it aims at a
political understanding of science similar to that of
Jeffrey Herf's work, but without reducing that understanding
to a "reactionary" modern intellectual archetype. See Thomas
Childers, "The Social Language of Politics in Germany: The
Sociology of Political Discourse in the Weimar Republic,"
American Historical Review, 95(April, 1990): 331-358;
Jeffrey Herf, Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture,
and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1984).

67. The phrase socially unattached intelligentsia is a
phrase used by Alfred Weber. The idea of a total ideology is
one developed by Karl Mannheim. See Dagmar Barnouw, Weimar
Intellectuals and the Threat of Modernity, (Bloomington and
Indianapolis: Indiana University, 1988), for an interesting
discussion of these two in relation to Weimar Culture.