This text challenges the assumptions that the theory of relativity in physics sprang in its essence from the genius of Albert Einstein, and that scientific relativity is unconnected to ethical, cultural or epistemological relativisms. It unearths a forgotten tradition of avant-garde speculation that took as its guiding principle "the negation of the absolute" and set itself under the militant banner of "relativity". By drawing on the works of such thinkers as Charles Darwin, Karl Pearson, James Frazer and Einstein himself, Christopher Herbert shows that the idea of relativity produced changes in many fields during the 19th century and argues that the early relativity movement was closely bound to motives of political and cultural reform and to the radical critiques of the ideology of authoritarianism.
Christopher Herbert is a professor of English at Northwestern University. He is the author of "Trollope and Comic Pleasure" and "Culture and Anomie: Ethnographic Imagination in the Nineteenth Century."