Albert Einstein asks Sigmund Freud why men kill each other in wars, and Freud writes back that mankind has an innate death instinct but maybe someday the threat of mass destruction will make war too fearful to contemplate.
The 1932 letters of two of the world's greatest thinkers have resurfaced, posing age-old questions and pessimistic answers to a world careening toward a new war. Long forgotten, they are to be sold Tuesday at Sotheby's auction house here and are expected to realize between $150,000 and $250,000.
An Austrian group is reportedly trying to buy the correspondence and house it in Vienna. Strong bidding is expected from private collectors, museums and libraries.
The letters are being sold by an unidentified educational institution that acquired them in 1977 from the League of Nations official who persuaded the two men to write to each other under the League's auspices.
Freud was wrong, or at least premature, when he suggested the threat of mass destruction would stop wars -- several wars have been waged since the two men engaged in their correspondence, including the devastation and wholesale slaughter of World War II.
The two handwritten letters, 14 pages by Freud and four by Einstein, contain much to contemplate as the United States and its world allies seem poised to go to war with Iraq, especially Einstein's key question to Freud: "Is there a way to liberate mankind from the doom of war?"
Einstein, then in his 40s, begins his letter by telling the founder of psychoanalysis: "My customary way of thinking does not give me an insight into the depth of human wishes and feelings."
He wonders if mankind is controlled by a minority -- "the ruling class, in possession of the schools, the church and the press."
And he asks: "How is it possible that the mass of the people permits itself to become aroused to the point of insanity and . . . self-sacrifice by these means? The answer can only be: Man has in him the need to hate and destroy."
Freud agrees. Before entering the correspondence, he confided to a League official: "All my life I have had to tell people truths that were difficult to swallow. Now that that I am old I certainly do not want to fool them."
He writes to Einstein that the two basic instincts of mankind are aggression and a need to preserve and unite. "We call them erotic or sexual," he says of the latter instinct.