Nuclear Weapons, Just War
and Social Disease

The question of the use of [indiscriminant killing] arms was discussed long before the appearance of the atomic bomb—during the 1930s, for instance, when it was a question of gas or bacteriological warfare.  In fact, this is a classic question of politics, which is a part of the concept of the bellum justum, the "just war." One of the principal assumptions is that a war can begin as a "just war," become extremely unjust by the way it is fought, and even more unjust by the type of peace settlement imposed after it is over. These are questions of the most elementary sort, and I do not believe anyone should complain if we refrain from constantly bringing them up in public.

The question you pose is, I believe, essentially a sociological one. It concerns this type of society in which we live and in which an elementary knowledge perfectly acquired for centuries is not publicly efficacious. But there is a reason it is not: As you have quite rightly pointed out, an atomic bombardment is not a moral matter but depends on politics and questions of existence.

And when a social process is involved, we cannot, in the name of morality, refuse to use certain types of weapons and make certain kinds of decisions. The classic treatise on this point is Thucydides' Peloponnesian War. The necessity of the process he terms kinesis, and he considers kinesis a kind of social illness. When you are caught in such an illness you cannot extricate yourself as long as you are a statesman; you can only get out of it personally. The Platonic attitude of withdrawal from "sick politics," in the Thucydidean sense of the term, is a personal possibility, but it does not eliminate the public necessity of taking on the sickness as long as it lasts.

CW VOL 33,
The Drama of Humanity
and Other Miscellaneous Papers, 1939-1985
The West and the Meaning
of Industrial Society,   

Excerpts from the Discussion
II. Renaissance of Philosophy?
pp 94-95.

* The conferees who spoke in this session were: Michael Polanyi, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Bertrand de Jouvenal, M.M. Postan, S. Andrzejewski, Eric Voegelin, and Raymond Aron. The conference took place over several days in September, 1959, in Rheinfelden, Switzerland.