Fact Check

Did Einstein Say, 'The World Will Not Be Destroyed by Those Who Do Evil'?

Every now and then the internet gets something right.

Published Mar 11, 2023

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Claim:
Albert Einstein once said, "The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them."

Thanks to the internet, Albert Einstein, the renowned 20th-century physicist and originator of the Theory of Relativity, is also famous for saying things he did not, in fact, ever say. 

That's not to say that every single quote ascribed to Einstein on the internet is bogus, however. Take this statement, which has circulated online for well over a decade: "The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything." 

In our searches of newspaper archives, we found instances of this quote being cited verbatim dating back to at least 2011. For example, San Angelo Standard-Times columnist Britt Towery wrote, in the Oct. 21, 2011, edition of the paper: 

Albert Einstein knew more than just a little science. He is credited with saying: "The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything."

However, in none of the scores of examples we examined was there a source, date, or location cited that would permit us to verify the attribution to Einstein. We finally found what we were looking for in one of our favorite (and one of the most reliable) internet reference sites, Quote Investigator

Quote Investigator located a variant of the statement, also attributed to Soros, that is a translation into English of something Einstein originally wrote in German:

[Pablo Casals] perceives very clearly that the world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.

The passage appeared in that form in the English translation of a book originally published in French in 1955, "Conversations with Casals," by Josep Maria Corredor. The passage by Einstein came from a note he wrote in German to the author in 1953. Here is that note in English (via Quote Investigator): 

It is certainly unnecessary to await my voice in acclaiming Pablo Casals as a very great artist, since all who are qualified to speak are unanimous on this subject. What I particularly admire in him is the firm stand he has taken, not only against the oppressors of his countrymen, but also against those opportunists who are always ready to compromise with the Devil. He perceives very clearly that the world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.

We were able to find instances of this variant in other sources dating back much further than the internet version. For example, it was cited verbatim in 1964 in the Dec. 12 edition of the Santa Maria Times, which contained an article entitled, "Casals: A Legend in His Own Time."

Quote Investigator "conjectures" that the popular internet variant of the quote (among others) was derived from Einstein's 1953 statement about Casals, stipulating that "it remains possible that Einstein made a separate statement in this family which QI has not yet discovered." Despite that possibility, Snopes concludes that since both variants convey the same message, with the same meaning, and using similar verbiage, that "The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything" is correctly attributed to Einstein. 

Sources

Casals, Pablo, and Josep Maria Corredor. Conversations with Casals. Dutton, 1957.

Towery, Britt. "Is Wall Street out of touch with Main Street?" San Angelo Standard-Times, 21 Oct. 2011, p. 5. newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/120311223/san-angelo-standard-times/.

"Casals: A Legend in His Own Time." Santa Maria Times, 12 Dec. 1964, p. 25. newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/120327026/santa-maria-times/.

Emery, David. "Did Einstein Say 'The Only Thing More Dangerous than Ignorance Is Arrogance'?" Snopes, 29 Dec. 2022, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/einstein-dangerous-ignorance-arrogance/.

Lee, Jessica. "Albert Einstein: Quotes He Never Said and Other Facts." Snopes, 15 Feb. 2022, https://www.snopes.com/collections/albert-einstein-collection/.

The World Is in Greater Peril from Those Who Tolerate or Encourage Evil Than from Those Who Actually Commit It – Quote Investigator®. 1 June 2022, https://quoteinvestigator.com/2022/06/01/peril/.

David Emery is a West Coast-based writer and editor with 25 years of experience fact-checking rumors, hoaxes, and contemporary legends.

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