The Triple Revolution

Letter from the Ad Hoc Committee appended to "The Triple Revolution" memorandum, March 22, 1964.

Letter from the Ad Hoc Committee appended to “The Triple Revolution” memorandum, March 22, 1964.

[Part 4 of 6 in a series examining Pauling’s association with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions]

Linus Pauling’s connection with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI) began before he and his wife moved to Santa Barbara. While in Pasadena, Pauling joined a group of social activists that called itself “The Ad Hoc Committee on the Triple Revolution.” Working under the auspices of the CSDI, the Ad Hoc Committee worked together to draft a memorandum addressed to President Lyndon B. Johnson and titled “The Triple Revolution.”

The memorandum was in turn circulated to select individuals and ultimately signed by thirty-five men, a collection of academics, journalists and left activists.  Noteworthy among these signatories were James Boggs, an auto worker and author of Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook; Todd Gitlin, President of Students for a Democratic Society; retired Brigadier General Hugh B. Hester; Gerard Piel, publisher of Scientific American; Bayard Rustin of the War Resisters League; and socialist leader Norman Thomas.  Also included were Linus Pauling and W.H. “Ping” Ferry, vice-president of the CSDI.


Linus Pauling, 1964.

Linus Pauling, 1964.

Submitted in March 1964, “The Triple Revolution” opens with a letter to the president in which the Ad Hoc Committee states its concern that Americans and their leaders are “unaware of the magnitude and acceleration of the changes going on around them.” The letter was signed by each of the committee members and was later published in pamphlet form alongside the main text of the “The Triple Revolution” memorandum.

“The Triple Revolution” states that three main socio-economic revolutions were occurring during the 1960s: the Weaponry Revolution, the Cybernation Revolution, and a Human Rights Revolution comprising civil rights movements all around the world. The piece also suggests that all three revolutions were the result of technological development and changes in the economy.

The Weaponry Revolution speaks to one of Linus Pauling’s greatest hopes: the end of war as a means of conflict resolution. In proposing that a weaponry revolution was in place, the memorandum elaborates on the topics of nuclear warfare and disarmament. The pamphlet suggests – as Pauling had often done before – that the threat of such weapons should steer nations to end the use of war altogether in order to avoid the destruction of modern civilization. While acknowledging the degree of difficulty of this undertaking, “The Triple Revolution” nevertheless holds on to the idea of a “warless world,” stating that it is a need acknowledged by most people.

The memorandum also suggests that a Cybernation Revolution was underway, meaning that the use of machines was slowly changing the roles assumed by people in the economy and society. The Ad Hoc Committee was concerned that those without the wealth to purchase or develop machines would be left without the opportunity to earn a living, should the economy switch to a purely machine-based means of production.

The members of the committee also believed that the Cybernation Revolution would cause an unequal distribution of wealth which would eventually lead to an unsustainable national economy. And, indeed, one of the proposals put forth in “The Triple Revolution” is an equal distribution of wealth, carried out as a necessary action to prevent future economic instability. The memorandum encourages the development of an economic system that compensates those who do not own machines and do not have access to the means of production; a concept the document refers to as “the right to an income.” The Ad Hoc Committee believed that groups like African Americans in the early 1960s existed in a social and legal situation that prevented them from owning machines, limiting their opportunities for economic development.

Members of the Ad Hoc Committee believed that, by the 1960s, societies around the world needed to recognize the dignity of each individual. The group likewise believed that the civil rights movement in the United States was only a local manifestation of a world-wide trend to reform political systems such that individuals could not be excluded on account of their race. “The Triple Revolution” thus describes the civil rights movement in the United States existing as part of a broader Human Right Revolution in place at the time.

The document suggests that the U.S. government had the power to lead American society through the changes being ushered in by the triple revolution, primarily by decreasing the amount of resources and attention given to military endeavors and increasing the attention given to those who are at a social disadvantage. The pamphlet concludes by stating that failure to seek solutions to the issues that arise when human labor is replaced by machines would exacerbate social inequality and lead to “misery and chaos.” But so too did it remain hopeful that, given proper leadership, societies could overcome the challenges presented by the changes of the 1960s.


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Louisville Courier-Journal, March 23, 1964.

In presenting “The Triple Revolution” to the federal government, the Ad Hoc Committee identified itself as a group of concerned citizens. And though the text made sure to include the government in its suggestions for the future, the document was considered by many to be radically anti-government, and by some to be anti-American. In particular, many who opposed the views presented in “The Triple Revolution” worried about its apparent lack of appreciation for the military, as indicated by the pamphlet’s recommendations that resources used for military efforts be limited.  Media pundits were also quick to disparage the idea of a guaranteed income and its implications of creeping socialism.

Two weeks after receiving the document, the White House issued a short response to “The Triple Revolution,” stating that the President had taken measures to address the problems identified in the memorandum. The letter is signed by Assistant Special Counsel to the President Lee C. White, who is remembered for having advised Presidents Kennedy and Johnson on civil rights strategies. For the most part, the response uses general statements and examples as evidence that President Johnson’s “War on Poverty” was considering the issues brought up by the memorandum. It is unclear whether Johnson ever read or even received the document personally.

Despite media opposition to the document and its quick dismissal by the government, other peace activists shared many of the views expressed in “The Triple Revolution.” One group, Women Strike for Peace – an organization in which Ava Helen Pauling was especially active – expressed many of the same views on world affairs when it organized a demonstration outside the Peace Palace at The Hague in 1964. Through their activism and intellectual product, the Ad Hoc Committee and Women Strike for Peace alike were issuing a demand that social inequalities be resolved both for the benefit of individual societies and also as a step toward international peace.

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Two More Years in the Life

We’re pleased to announce the addition of two more years to the ever-expanding Linus Pauling Day-by-Day project.  Now in its fifteenth year of production and growth, the website seeks to document as many days of Linus and Ava Helen Pauling’s lives as possible – painstaking work that has been carefully mined, by a cast of hundreds, from our holdings in the Pauling Papers.  With this latest release, the project now covers four full decades, from 1930-1969.

The new years in question are 1968 and 1969 – awkward years for the Paulings and difficult ones for the world at large.  While the war in Vietnam escalated, activism in the streets turned violent and cultural shifts accelerated, the Paulings found themselves well within the nomadic period that had defined their lives ever since Linus Pauling’s departure from Caltech in Fall 1963.

Prior to arriving at some measure of stability at Stanford University, where he began setting up a small laboratory in the summer of 1969, Pauling had bounced from the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions to the University of California, San Diego, never with fully satisfactory results. Partly because of the uncertainties surrounding his institutional affiliation, Pauling found it increasingly difficult to attract the sort of research funding to which he had been accustomed during his glorious run in Pasadena.

The situation deteriorated to the point where he was compelled to appeal to a private source for support: his ex-daughter in law.  Anita Oser, an heiress to the Rockefeller and McCormick fortunes and, by 1968, long since divorced from Linus Pauling Jr., had provided funding for Linus Sr.’s work in the past.  By Spring 1968, the elder Pauling’s financial footing had deteriorated to the point where he was asking Anita for nearly half of the estimated $100,000 that he needed to keep his program afloat. Fortunately the other half had already been pledged by Chester Carlson, a founder of Xerox and a former student of Pauling’s.

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling among a group drinking coffee in a Wilson College laboratory. April 14, 1969

The gloom that surrounded Pauling’s professional concern permeated other aspects of his and Ava Helen’s lives.  Both Linus and Ava acknowledged that La Jolla, where the Paulings lived while based at UCSD, was not to Mrs. Pauling’s liking, (“I have felt uprooted and purposeless here,” she wrote to her son, Peter) and it was a welcome turn of events indeed when the couple purchased a new home in Portola Valley, California, not far from the Stanford campus, once the move north had been finalized.

Of far greater consequence though, was the tumult that defined world events during the time period.  On multiple occasions, the Paulings reveal themselves in their correspondence to be burdened by the pressures of the day: “we are going through a terrible time,” Pauling admits in a letter to Prof. Carroll Richardson; “The times are horrible here in the U.S. and I’m sure they will get much worse…one could cry,” Ava Helen lamented, again to her son Peter.

Though relatively conservative in their own habits, it was clear that the Paulings were in near full support of, at least, the sentiments of the student uprisings of the era.  In a stirring letter dated July 3, 1969, Linus Pauling made his feelings readily apparent

I agree with the statement in your letter that some of the university students fail to act in accordance with my statement that we must bring law and order into the world as a whole. I do not think that their actions have been nearly so violent and basically unlawful as those of their elders. The war in Vietnam and the institution of the draft for the military service are probably the most significant reasons for the present student unrest. I myself feel strongly that a young man who does not want to kill any of his fellowmen should not be forced by the government to do so.

I estimate the ratio of the violence done by the government to that done by the revolting students as about one million to one.

The rhetoric that Pauling employed in certain of his speeches also intensified with the times.  See, for instance, a commencement address that he delivered at Windham College in May 1969:

We are trying to stop the REVOLUTION of the miserably poor, the starving, the economically exploited people of the world, by use of our military might….

I have confidence in you young people, who are revolting against the greed, the hypocrisy, the immorality of your elders….

Linus Pauling in lecture at the Second International Congress of Social Psychiatry. August 1969

Likewise, Pauling’s thinking on matters of peace and world affairs was steadily moving in new directions.  While still focusing on the dangers of the atomic age, he increasingly began to speak more on issues of economic equality, decrying with fiery rhetoric the global maldistribution of wealth. Whereas his previous activism – especially with respect to radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons tests – had been largely borne of scientific interests, later talks were based in a more thorough study of the material world; of the conditions world-wide that were dividing rich and poor. By 1969 he had developed a logarithmic “wellbeing scale” and was advocating “a great decrease in the amount of human suffering…effected by only a moderate redistribution of the world’s wealth.”

Pauling’s first love was forever science and scientific inquiry surely did not disappear during this time.  While work continued on more abstract investigations into structural chemistry and molecular architecture, the defining publication of this period was “Orthomolecular Psychiatry,” Pauling’s theory that optimum mental health is dependent upon achieving an ideal chemical balance within the body – a balance attained through nutrition and nutritional supplementation.

The paper, which was published in Science in April 1968, generated a great deal of discussion and, for Pauling, a large volume of mail.  So it is that we are able to tease out interesting subcomponents and offshoots of the theory: the possibility that niacin may help to control anxiety; the potential for treatment of brain damage through nutrition; the likelihood that criminal activity is caused by a “diseased or injured brain.”  It was not much longer before Pauling became more fully infatuated with the idea of orthomolecular medicine and launched head on into his crusade in favor of vitamin C.


Thanksgiving Day photo used in a Kamb family greeting card. From left are Linda Pauling Kamb, with Ava Helen and Linus Pauling, and Linda’s four boys.

Linus Pauling Day-by-Day presently consists of over 118,000 document summaries, nearly 2,300 scanned documents and over 3,000 full-text transcripts.  The larger themes of Pauling’s life are, of course, easily traced within the resource.  But the project has also allowed us to play a little bit, posting notice of lesser known items from the collection: Pauling’s favorite book as a child; a patient reply to the concept of a “love bomb“; thoughts on alternatives to shaving.  It’s these little nuggets that bring a smile to our face and help to keep us energized as we continue to move forward with the project. We’re glad to make it available to our users, whatever their research interest may be.