CSDI: A Platform for Action Merging Science and Peace

The Pauling family assembled prior to Linus Pauling's Nobel Peace lecture, Oslo, Norway, December 10, 1963.

The Pauling family assembled prior to Linus Pauling’s Nobel Peace lecture, Oslo, Norway, December 10, 1963.

[Part 2 of 6 in a series examining Pauling’s association with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions]

Linus Pauling spent forty-two years of his career at the California Institute of Technology.  His tenure at Caltech was the stuff of legend, a time period during which he inspired students and colleagues alike as he carried out a significant portion of the work that made him famous and led to his receipt of the 1954 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Pauling’s decision to leave Caltech and continue his work at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI) in Santa Barbara, California meant not only a change in the location of his research but also in its entire dynamic. For the most part, the CSDI was a think tank of sorts, focused primarily on the intellectual study of political and social issues. Pauling joined the center buoyed by the hope that he might continue his scientific studies and experimentation as an adjunct at nearby universities. On the same token, his new home base at the CSDI would provide the opportunity for Pauling to contribute to discussions on world affairs, democracy and world peace in an atmosphere free from the suspicion and hostility that continued to define Cold War America.

Pauling was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963, the year that he decided to join the CSDI. His passion for peace work and the support extended to him by the center’s president, Robert Hutchins, had attracted Pauling to the center.  His first objective as a newcomer was to continue exploring and pursuing the goals and ideals expressed in his Nobel lecture, “Science and Peace,” delivered in Oslo on December 10th.

In that lecture, Pauling expressed his feeling that scientists, through their technical contributions, were in part responsible for the horrors of nuclear warfare. But he also strongly affirmed his long-standing notion that the scientific community and its product should act as a forceful leader in bringing the world to a period of peace; a period “where no greater nor more destructive weapons can be discovered, leading countries to realize that matters should not be solved by war or force but by a world law.”

“Science and Peace” notes that even before the first nuclear weapons were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a committee of atomic scientists had been urging the U.S. Secretary of War to refrain from using atomic bombs in surprise attacks. Actions of this sort were in line with what Pauling envisioned the completed work of a scientist to be.  Pauling felt that the scientist was not only meant to play a role in scientific development but was also to serve as a public citizen.  In other words, scientists bore an obligation to used their informed voices as a tool to help educated and guide others in the real world application of scientific developments, particularly including technologies of warfare.

The social and political activism that helped to define Pauling’s career from the mid-1940s on is clear evidence of his striving to live by this ideal. While the CSDI would require him to leave his nicely appointed laboratory in Pasadena, it would give him the chance to further his work as a “complete scientist” enabled to inform the public about science’s role in social issues.


Pauling's Nobel lecture, as published by the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions.

Pauling’s Nobel lecture, as published by the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions.

As he spent more time thinking and researching, Pauling developed many ideas concerning the achievement of world peace. Seemingly among his more radical positions – though one shared by many others of his era – was the notion that peace could be achieved by implementation of a world democratic law. By “world law,” Pauling and other proponents meant an institution and legal system empowered with the authority to moderate between countries during times of conflict.

An arrangement of this sort was seen as one that would maintain the sovereignty of all nations while providing a higher authority with the tool kit to prevent war. A world law would thus be comprised of a set of international agreements enforced by an international institution. These agreements, Pauling believed, should further be set up to provide separate voices for national governments and their people.  Doing so would allow for peaceful resolution of disputes both within and between nations.

Pauling’s Nobel lecture likewise suggests that a world government, formed by representatives of both governments and their people, could even put an end to dictatorships through its specific representation of the world’s governments and the world’s populations. Pauling believed that it was essential to simultaneously ensure the rights of independent governments and to protect the voices of the people.  Failure to do so would inevitably lead to human suffering, be it through violent revolution or iron-fisted dictatorship.

In effect, what Pauling was proposing was that the United Nations, or an entity like it, become a far more powerful institution. That it become a democratic institution for the world, working to guarantee the citizens of all nations a voice in important affairs while maintaining the sovereignty of individual governments. In “Science and Peace” Pauling recognized that his knowledge of the current law was far from complete. But he did not cease to develop and promote the idea of a democratic world law, a vision also supported at CSDI by Robert Hutchins.

Pauling was one of the most notable advocates for the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and saw its signing in 1963 as a first step to the creation of a world law.  The treaty, afterall, was an international agreement that protected participating countries from the dangers of radioactive waste by banning nuclear testing in the Earth’s oceans, land and atmosphere. Pauling’s vision of world government was seconded by peace advocates around the world and formed an important component of his research agenda at the CSDI.

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