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American Academy of Religion

Karl Jaspers on the Role of "Conversion" in the Nuclear Age

Author(s): Gregory J. Walters
Source: Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 56, No. 2 (Summer, 1988), pp.
Published by: Oxford University Press
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Journalof the AmericanAcademyof Religion.LVI/2

Karl Jaspers
on the Role of "Conversion"
in the Nuclear Age
GregoryJ. Walters

PHILOSOPHIZING STARTS with our situation" (Jaspers,
1969b:43). Recent psychologicalsurveyssuggest that the very threatof
nuclear war has an adverse affect upon our lives, particularlythose of
childrenand adolescents,and the way we view the future(Beardsleeand
Mack;Goldberg;Mack;Schwebel, 1965, 1982; Walters, 1984). Robert
J. Liftonspeaks of the "nuclearimage" as an imageryof extinction that
has alteredour "ordinary"relationshipto death and life continuity(5).
Historiansof philosophy point to a rise in apocalypticism,whether of
the Christian"triumphant"variety,which associates nuclear holocaust
with the second coming of Christ,or of the secular "catastrophic"type,
which sees apocalypse as coming from the hands of human beings
rather than God (Popkin:13). Nuclear physicists and philosophers
debate the possibilities of "nuclearwinter" (Turco et al.; Ehrlich and
others) and even "omnicide" (Santoni; Somerville). That religious
groups and Christianchurchleadersaddressthe moralissues of war and
peace in a way unparalleledin the past is evident in the United States
Catholic Bishops' 1983 pastoral letter on war and peace, "The Chal-
lenge of Peace," and the World Council of Churches "Statementon
Peace and Justice"from the Sixth GeneralAssemblyin Vancouver. The
possibilityof nuclearholocaustforces upon us "changesin our religious
symbolism and in the frames of referencewithin which we make our
value judgments and moral choices" (Kaufman:9). Most notable is the
ongoing philosophical and theological debate over the ramificationsof
space-launchednuclearweapons, space-basedanti-ballisticmissile sys-
tems (ABMs),and anti-satelliteweapons (ASATs) that was inaugurated
by President Reagan's March 1983 "Star Wars" speech (Fox and
Groarke;Hardinet al.; Cohen and Lee; Waiters, 1986, 1987). Consider

GregoryJ. Walters is Assistant Professorof Theology at St. Mary'sUniversity,One Camino Santa

Maria,San Antonio, TX 78284-0400.


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230 Journalof the AmericanAcademyof Religion

finally the words of Victor F. Weisskopf, InstituteProfessorof Physics,

emeritus, at the MassachusettsInstitute of Technology and the former
directorgeneralof the EuropeanCenterfor NuclearResearchin Geneva:
I don'tknowhow greatthe chanceis thattheworldwill survivethe
nextfew decadesandnot be plungedintoa nuclearwar. If anyhuman
beingsarealive50 yearsfromnow,theymaylookbackon today'ssitua-
tionas a virulentcaseof collectivementaldiseasethatgrippedhumanity
[. . .] Morethan 50,000 Sovietand U.S. nuclearwarheadsare now
deployed,with a totalexplosivepowerof 6,000 timesthe amountof
explosivesusedin WorldWarII. A merefew hundredof today'swar-
headsareenoughto destroyWesternandEasterncivilization.If this is
not a symptomof mentalderangement, whatis? (26)
KarlJaspers was one of the first western thinkers to take up Ein-
stein's challenge for a "new mode of thinking" (Nathan and Norden,
eds., 1968:376) in his political magnumopus, Die Atombombeund die
Zukunftdes Menschen.:PolitischesBewusstseinin unsererZeit (1960), [The
Futureof Mankind(1961a)]. There the philosopher presenteda diagno-
sis of the nuclear problem in terms of the twin possibilities of nuclear
annihilationand totalitarianism,two categoriesthat, even today, define
the broad parametersof the debate over U.S. and Soviet nuclear weap-
ons policy. Jaspers'sanalysisattemptsto clarifya thesis that strikesone
as a choice between two "fantasies:""eitherall mankindwill physically
perish or therewill be a change in the moral-politicalcondition of man"
(1961a:4,vii, 1960:22, 5).
The theme of moral-political "conversion"is the leitmotif of Jas-
pers's book (Tilliette:281),and it has not stood without criticism.' Jas-
pers's political thinking has been the most discussed aspect of his
philosophizing, and many commentatorshave been anxious to assess

'The role of a human "conversion"or "transformation"(Verwandlung), "turn about" (Umkehr),

"turningaround"(Umwendung) or "change"(Verdnderung) in our way of thinking-what I speak of
throughoutthis paper as "conversion"-is central to Jaspers'sphilosophizing as a whole. While
there are precedents in existing English translationsfor the use of "conversion"to convey the
German Verwandlung or Umkehr(Jaspers 1954b:60; 1958a:50), "conversion"must not be under-
stood in terms of a religious conversion in the sense of the GermanBekehrung.For Jaspers, the
"conversion"has to do with a radical philosophical transformationof human existence. Thus
ProfessorLeonardEhrlichprefersto speak of the role of "redirection"in Jaspers'sthinking: "redi-
rection [. ..] makes itself felt in his call to purificationin the post-World-War-IIdiscussion of
Germanguilt;it becomes explicit in his explorationof the role of reasonand of the individualin the
political situation engendered by the dual threat of atomic annihilation and totalitarianism;and
again in his warningagainstthe political lethargyof the Germanpeople with respectto past trans-
gressions and renewed threatsto political freedom [. ..] Jaspers'sown conception of redirectionis
that of philosophizingas continuouslearningto die, which is Plato'ssimile for the constanttask of
'rebirthto a true life' " (122).

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Walters.Jasperson "Conversion" 231

the political implications of his philosophical method as a whole

(Schneiders:91). Summarizingcriticisms by Robert Spaemann, Golo
Mann, Julius Ebbinghaus, Richard Schaeffler, and Georg Mende,
Schneidersoffers three reasons that Jasper'shope for the "conversion"
of humanity and its possibilities in the socio-political realm remains
unclear. First,the concept of a moral-political"conversion"is indeter-
minate with respect to its content. Second, Jaspers makes politics and
legal order overly dependent upon individualmorality. Third, the con-
cept of an existential "conversion"remains unclearbecause, given Jas-
pers's presuppositionalframework,"conversion"can only happen in
the West. Schneiders concludes that "if the East is free enough to
change existentially,"then Jaspers's "opposition to an absolute evil at
any price also falls" (106).
The purpose of this articleis to clarifyseveralaspects of the problem
by analyzingJaspers's "conversion"thesis with particularemphasis on
its political and theological dimensions.


Jasper'sboundaryexperience under Nazi totalitarianismmeant that
both his foundationalPhilosophie(1932), and his work on philosophical
logic, Vonder Wahrheit(1947), a projectedthree-volumework, would
remain in the background. A differentJaspersemergedfrom the seclu-
sion of Nazi oppression (Stemberger:134). After the war, his reflection
turned primarilyto the question of German war guilt (1946, 1961b),
historico-politicalthinking, the study of the greatphilosophers, and the
developmentof the concept of philosophical faith.2 Jaspers'sfirst direct
clarificationof philosophical faith was published as Der philosophische
Glaube(1948), [ThePerennialScopeof Philosophy(1950b)], and is integral
to his philosophizing as a whole (Ehrlich:117).
Given the radicallynew foundations for humanity laid by modem
science and technology,Jaspers searched for a universalbasis of com-
munication. Within the frameworkof a philosophy of history (1949,

2Jaspersexplains his turn to political philosophizingafterthe war in this way: "Philosophyis not
without politics nor without political consequences [. ..]1 No great philosophy is without political
thought, not even that of the great metaphysicians,not that of Plotinus, not at all that of Spinoza,
who even went so far as to take an active,spiritually-effectiverole. FromPlato to Kant,to Hegel, to
Kierkegaardand Nietzsche go the grand politics of the philosophers. What a philosophy is, it
shows in its political appearance. This is nothing incidental,but of centralsignificance. It was no
accident that National Socialism, as well as Bolshevism, saw in philosophy a deadly spiritual
enemy" (1957:70).

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232 Journalof theAmerican
of Religion

1953) he analyzed the perils of total rule, "total planning," and the
potential of absolute destruction in the light of post-war tendencies
towards socialism, world order, and faith. The importanceof faith for
the futureof humanity,which now lacked any basis for reasoned com-
municationacrossthe greatcivilizationsthat derivefromthe "axialage,"
is apparentfrom the questions he posed:
Howwill the contentof ourculturalheritagebe preservedunderthe
conditionsof theAgeof Technology andthe reorganization
of thewhole
humancommunity?How shall we preservethe infinitevalue of the
individual,the dignityandrightsof man,the freedomof the spirit,the
metaphysical experiencesof the millennia?Thespecificquestionof the
future,however,whichconditionsand includeseverything, is how and
whatmanwill believe. [Faith]is the Comprehensive[DasUmgreifende],
by whichsocialism,politicalfreedom,and worldordermustbe borne
alongtheirpath,becauseit is fromfaithalonethattheyreceivemean-
ing. (1949:268,1953:214)
Two majortasks confrontedJaspersafter 1949. First there was the
labor of clarifyingthe "moralpresuppositionsand the real conditions of
politics"; second, Jaspers began to pursue the goal of orienting his
thinking "on the anticipatory standpoint of the world citizen"
(1957:69). The essay "Das Gewissen vor der Bedrohung durch die
Atombombe"(1950a) signalled the beginning of his concentratedanal-
ysis of the moral,political, and existentialproblems raisedby the inven-
tion of the atom bomb. He linked the nuclear problem to the broader
spiritual situation of the age. "A world in which faithlessness grows,
divorce increases, a scatteredlife in immediate pleasures takes prece-
dence over a concentratedlife in historical continuity, [where]the old,
secretive wickedness is considered to be standard,[and] the so-called
realistposition stands as the epitome of a reasonthat claims to be free of
illusions-in this world are such terrorsas the atom bomb only a conse-
quence and thereforea mere symptom"(1950a:375).
While the atom bomb representsa fundamentallynew step in the
meaning and consequences of war, its terror emerges as only one of
many precarious manifestationsof humanity's present spiritual situa-
tion. Earlier,just before Hitler's rise to power in 1931, Jaspers had
identified this spiritual malaise as having the proportionsof a "world
crisis" (1951:83). In 1947 he spoke boldly of the post-war situationas
"the most profound caesura in human history to date" (1952:35-36).
Again in 1949 he epitomizedthe Europeanspiritualsituationas a "dis-
integrationof the connectingwestern spirit"(1952:74), a "chasm"epit-
omized by that monstroussymbol of unspeakablehorror,i.e., "the Nazi

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Walters:Jasperson "Conversion" 233

concentrationcamps with their tortures,at the end of which stood the

gas chambersfor millions of human beings" (1953:147). Thus Hannah
Arendt, one of Jaspers's most insightful political interpreters,affirms
that it is againstthe backgroundof present "politicaland spiritualreali-
ties [.. ..] that one must understandhis new concept of mankindand the
propositions of his philosophy" (1981:541).
Jaspers's Germanradio lecture, "Die Atombombe und die Zukunft
des Menschen"(1956, 1958a) providedthe basis for his political mag-
num opus with the same title (1960). The book was awardedthe Ger-
man peace prize, and in his acceptancespeech, "Wahrheit,Freiheitund
Friede," Jaspers spoke about the three prerequisitesof global peace:
"First, no outer peace is maintainable without the inner peace of
humanity. Secondly, peace exists only throughfreedom. Thirdly,free-
dom exists only throughtruth"(1958c:174). He consideredthe deadly
enemy of truthto be totalitarianism,againstwhich he had writtenjust a
few years earlier(1954a, 1963a). In his last majorphilosophical work,
Derphilosophische Glaubeangesichtsder Offenbarung
(1962), [Philosophical
Faithand Revelation(1967b)], he asked about the possibilities of libera-
tion and freedom for a humanity that stood at the brink of an abyss
"both in the mind and in existence" (1967b:295), and argued that a
change in the appearanceof the biblical faith in revelationwas neces-
sary to meet the spiritualchallenges of the nuclear age (1958b).


Jaspers's call for a human "conversion"in Die Atombombe . is
inextricably tied to his earlier transcending method in philosophical
world orientation, the illumination of Existenz,and speculative meta-
physics or hermeneuticaltheory of ciphers (1969b/70/71a). First, the
needed human "conversion"entails a turn from abstract,intellectual
thinking to a "new" rationalmode of thinking and a continual will to
truth out of "the Encompassing"[Das Umgreifende].Second, "conver-
sion" requiresa turn from individualand collectivebondage to existen-
tial freedom (i.e., as "possible Existenz')and political freedom tied to
unconditionalaction. Third, the needed "conversion"demands a turn
from exclusive and narrowlydogmatic"faiths,"whetherpolitical ideolo-
gies, positivism, scientific Marxism,or "orthodox"Christianity,to the
appropriationof philosophicalfaith and the receptionand productionof

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234 Journalof the AmericanAcademyof Religion

The "Conversion" to Rational Thinking

Within the realm of science, "conversion"bespeaks a turn from
abstract, intellectual thinking to an encompassing reason (Walters,
1988:121-144). Jaspersmaintainsthat the scientists'hope for salvation,
as epitomized by Einstein, was erroneouslyplaced in the very science
that broughtatomic weapons into existence. It is the spirit of philoso-
phy that actuallygives meaning to science and illuminatesthe sources of
human existence. Here "conversion"involves two steps: from merely
"intellectual"(Verstand)thinking, i.e., from planning and from a defi-
nite knowledge of what can happen, to an encompassing, rational
(Vemunft)thinking,which opens up new possibilities. The second step
is a returnto rationalthinkingin the world of knowledge and planning.
Both steps are necessary,Jaspersfeels, since "reasonpresupposesintel-
lect, and an intellect trying to be self-sufficientwould remain empty"
(1961a:205, 1960:283). Humanity'sfailureto embody a "new" mode of
rational thinking results from the confusion of the objective world of
knowable objects with "being as such" [Sein an sich] (1961a:214,
1960:295). This is a failure both to bring to awareness the subject-
object dichotomy of human existence and to clarifythe proper distinc-
tion and alliance between science (i.e., "object"knowledge) and reason
or philosophy (i.e., a type of "nichtwissen"
closely allied with faith). The
latter forms the basis of Jaspers's "periechontology"(1947:162-166;
1969b:49-54; Ehrlich, Ehrlich,and Pepper:137-208).
Perceivingreality and history through the eyes of the intellect, the
so-called political "realist"sees nuclear war as inevitable. But, unlike
the intellect, reason does not operateon the principleof necessity, and it
perceives that no historical knowledge is final or absolute (1961a:285,
1960:394). In contrast,abstractthinkingtransformsphilosophicalargu-
ments and political opinions into fallacies. The intellect tends to func-
tion in abstract,departmentalizedmodes of thinking, and it defers the
nuclear problem to the authority of political, strategic, or military
"experts." Jaspers shuns departmentalizationand condemns political
or technological"panaceas"that are advancedas total solutions to diffi-
cult problems but are detached from the internationalcommunityas a
whole (1961a:210, 321).

The "Conversion" to Existential and Political Freedom

Jaspers'shope for a "new politics" commensuratewith the demands
of the nuclearage also rests upon humanity's"conversion"to existential

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Walters:Jasperson "Conversion" 235

(Existenz)and political freedom (1961a:215, 1960:296; 1953:152-172;

Walters, 1988:155-180). The needed moral-political"conversion"can-
not follow from a "new politics," but such a politics is the very condi-
tion of the possibility of world peace. Hence, politicians, military
strategists,and technicians search in vain for a lasting "solution" to a
problem that has none. Indeed, the very idea that we might "solve"the
problemis based on the false premise of the intellect that, if we only ask
the right questions, all problems are soluble. Its "solution"lies, rather,
"at a depth of human existence which man achieves by no special
knowledge, by no special activity, [but] only by himself" (1961a:10,
Groundedupon human freedom, the "new politics" would act on
the "suprapolitical"principle that ethics, reason, and self-sacrificecan
awaken the valor of self-preservation,freedom,and a will to peace. But
we are not to shift the possibilities of political freedomto events or insti-
tutions, or causal relations and "purposive"actions that might be ana-
lyzed sociologically. For "all freedom lies in the individual"
(1961a:333, 233, 1960:480, 324). And if, as Jaspers suggests, "we are
certainof our freedomwithout understandingfreedom"completely,this
is because "there is something decisive about that which we ourselves
decide" (1950a:374). Grounded in the mystery of the human person
and volition in Existenz(1970:133-153), freedom ultimatelyexpresses
itself in praxis. And it is "action,not thought"which will bring about a
"solution"to the nuclear problem: "the innumerableactions of innu-
merable people who have preparedthemselves for this by thinking it
through"(1961a:12, 1960:295).
Whereas the proof of the intellect lies in rigorousscientific method,
which yields cogent results, freedom's"proof" lies in the truthof one's
convictions and daily actions realized with others in community. Cer-
tainty about the source of freedom,however, requiresa "conversion"of
our thinking "fromthinking that is lost in the objective,to thinking out
of the Encompassing." For "where it is a question of freedomwe step
into a differentdimension of both doing and thinking";when we take a
stand within the domain of freedom,"we are one with an Unconditional
out of which we will" (1950c:356-7). As Jaspersput it in "Das Gewis-
sen vor der Bedrohungdurch die Atombombe,""The basis of our con-
duct lies either in a structuringor planning under the guidance of our
knowledge thus far acquired,or it lies in that inner action in which we
become our selves, in which we are free, and in which we prove this
freedom by our conduct, and not by our knowledge of freedom.
Whateverwe become throughthis inner action qua rationalbeing, it is

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236 Journalof the AmericanAcademyof Religion

this being which will bring guidancefor [our]structuringand planning"

As a form of philosophical contemplation,political theory is of one
piece with political praxis. Philosophical contemplationis not passive
reflectionbut "ocularinspection, adoption,ascertainment,inner action"
(1969b:197). Though contemplationdoes involve introspection,this is
relatedto the adoption of traditionand ultimatelyserves the realization
of existentialfreedom: "As Existenzresultsfrom the real act of breaking
throughmundaneexistence, existentialelucidationis the thinkingascer-
tainmentof that act." And as activecontemplation,this inner action is a
philosophizing whose ultimate point is "philosophical life-what the
individual does in the inner action that lets him be himself" (1970:9,
283). It is difficultto give determinancyto Jaspers'sthesis of an existen-
tial Umkehrbecause there can be no adequatedefinitionof the uncondi-
tional action that flows from philosophical faith, a life lived out of an
encompassingreason (1950b:22). We are to conceive an unconditional
act, he tells us, "merelyas an appeal,a sign that will not be comprehen-
sible to me unless I translateit into my own being" (1970:257).
The "suprapolitical"element of reason is essential to political free-
dom because reason grounds the tasks of the "rationalcommunity"in
the praxis of the state and its institutions (1961a:219-235, 1960:301-
325). The rationalcommunityis one of individualswho embody a hid-
den rationalsolidarity,but one that nonetheless takes the form of con-
structiveand enduring political action. Like the invisible church, the
rational community is not a visible organizationwhose reality can be
proved. Butin contrastto the dogmaticinterestsof ecclesiasticalauthor-
ity, the authorityof the rationalcommunityis the "boundlesscommuni-
cation" that stands in sharp contrastto the principlesof the lie, secrecy,
terror,and censorshipwhich reign supremein variousforms of political
Encompassing reason also establishes the very idea of democracy
and political freedom. Jaspersrepeatedlywarns that the greatdangerof
the present historicalsituationis that a merely "formaldemocracy"will
give birth to fascism, dictatorship,or new forms of total rule within
those countriesin which the idea of democracyhas been hastily estab-
lished, or where real participatorydemocracygives way to a merely "for-
mal democracy" (1958c:175-6). Thus he anticipated recent
developmentsin Haiti, the Philippines, and South Africa. Because the
reason in democracyis aimed at equality insofar as this is possible, a
governmentfounded upon the concept of right requireslaws that are
subjectto change and improvement. Here reason works by persuasion

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Walters:Jaspers on "Conversion" 237

and not by arbitraryand illegal violence within the state, thoughJaspers

always upheld the right to revolt (1951:90-100; 1967a:41). In short,
reason believes that human rights take precedence over all unjust laws
and institutions.
When Jaspers.ventured a "prognostic"forecast for the future of
humanity in 1949 with a view to a universal world history, it rested
upon the primarygoal of political freedom. "We speak of political free-
dom, social freedom, personal freedom, economic freedom-religious
freedom, freedom of conscience-freedom of thought, freedom of the
press, freedom of assembly, etc. Political freedom occupies the fore-
groundof discussion"(1953:153). He identifiedthe positive tendencies
of the present, along with their negativecounterparts,in termsof social-
ism versus socio-political and economic oppression throughtotal plan-
ning; a new world order versus a totalitarianworld empire; and faith
versus nihilism. Socialism, world order, and faith were seen as "sign-
posts" of the basic questions confrontingany meaningful prognosis of
the future, and he was convinced that they could convergeonly in the
accomplishmentof existential freedom (1953:152, 172).
Jaspers'spositive acknowledgementof socialism is often overlooked
by those criticswho group him with apoliticaland asocial formsof exis-
tentialism and judge him to be an essentially conservative thinker
(Carr:117). In fact, Jaspers accords great significance to socialism as
"the universaltendency of contemporarymankind toward an organisa-
tion of labour and of participationin the products of labour that will
make it possible for all men to be free [. . .] it is the basic trait of our
time" (1953:172). Jaspers does not dispute the demands for all to be
supplied with basic human necessities as a matterof justice. His con-
cern is not with a justificationfor democraticsocialism, but ratherwith
the mannerof its implementation;not with the necessity of planning for
the needs of all, but with the dangers of total planning.
Given the extremepossibilities of power as antinomialviolence and
"totalplanning"in the technologicalage, Jaspers appeals to law as the
path between the extremes, and to an encompassingreason as the way
of handling the limits of socio-politicalplanning. Positively,this means
that the socialist ideal sets itself againstindividualismas caprice,against
capitalism as unchecked private ownership of the means and mode of
production,and against liberalism as a form of indifferencetowardthe
evils that develop out of the free marketinterplayof forces. Negatively,
there is the correspondingdanger that each hypothesis may become
absolutized in such a way that the individual is denied all rights, all
private property is abolished, and planning is transformedinto total

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238 Journalof the AmericanAcademyof Religion

planning. When this happens, of course, socialism becomes an ideol-

ogy and the possibilities for political freedom become lost amid the
power necessitatedby state total planning (1953:190).
An encompassingreason grasps the dialecticalrelationshipbetween
existential and political freedom. Whereas existential freedom is both
prepoliticaland "suprapolitical,"political freedom is the actual condi-
tion of the way the state is governed, and it circumscribesexistential
freedom. Political freedom cannot exist without the will to existential
freedom,but the realizationof existentialfreedomis menaced in its real-
ization if the loss of political freedom engulfs a people:
Outerfreedomof statesandinnerfreedomthroughstategovernment
have permanenceonly throughthe existentialfreedomof individual
humanbeings. Thisis whythereis ambiguity in the word'freedom':a
despotic statecan also have outerpoliticalfreedom; a free democratic
constitutioncan alsohavea nationof internallyunfreemen [. . .] Free-
dom beginsas freedomof the individual,gainscommunalformin the
Republicanformof government,[and]maintainsitselfagainstoppres-
sion fromalienstates. In the entiretyof thesethreeelementsis freedom
real. (1958c:175)

"Better Dead Than Red?"

Does Jaspers'sconstructionof the nuclear problem in 1958 repre-
sent a thoroughgoing "betterdead than red" posture, as some of his
earlier critics suggested?
To be sure, throughoutthe decade of the originalCold War, Jaspers
characterizedthe nuclearproblemin termsof the possible, thoughby no
means certain, alternativesbetween human annihilation and totalitari-
anism (Walters, 1988:89-115). He argued that the "intellectual
probability"of annihilationhad not been adequatelyconfrontedby the
majorityof people. The refusalto acknowledgethe possibilityof nuclear
annihilationcontributesto the possible disasterand keeps us from the
necessary "revolution"in our way of thinking and doing (1961a:vii,
1960:5). And yet it is only by keeping the threatof annihilationbefore
us that the probable destructionof the species might become improba-
ble. This is what RobertJ. Lifton,borrowingfrom MartinBuber(Lifton
and Falk, 1982:111), has more recentlycalled "imaginingthe real." In
Jaspers's view, existential anxiety over the potential annihilation of
humanityis not an entirelynegativefactorsince the threatitself provides
an opportunity to work towards a resolution to the problem
(1950a:371). The first step, therefore,is to increase this fear so that

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Jasperson "Conversion" 239

citizens of nuclearpower statesmight transformthe ethos of society and,

in turn, bring into power "rationalstatesmen"who would act on the
principle that rationalcommunicationand peace are possible.
The problem of annihilationis equalled only by the threatof totali-
tarianism. ButJaspersnever equatestotal rule simply with dictatorship,
Marxism,or racial theory: "Totalitarianismis neither Communismnor
fascism nor NationalSocialism,but it has appearedin all of these forms.
It is the universal, terrible threat of the future of mankind in a mass
order. It is a phenomenon of our age, detached from all the politics
governedby principles of a historic national existence of constitutional
legality" (1963a:69).
The sources of Jaspers'sconception of totalitarianismdevelop natu-
rally from his experience under National Socialism and from the defini-
tive analysis of Hannah Arendt (1951). He argues that, in principle,
totalitarianismthrives wherever rapid historical change or dislocation
has occurredas a resultof the technologicaltransformationof existence.
This is evident most dramaticallyin the historical changes wroughtby
the age of modem science and technology, and, earlier, in the socio-
cultural shifts that took place at the end of the "axial age" (800-200
BCE),when creativepolitical activitygave way to extended empires and
despotic forces (1953:51, 81). Total rule exploits the severanceof ties to
any substantialhistoricalcontent in order to offer its own programas a
means of salvation. In turn, there ensue conflicts of loyalty to country,
to the governing principle of the state, and to oneself and Transcen-
dence. The principle of the lie gives totalitarianismits particularly
abhorrentnatureby claiming a monopoly on truth.
Jaspers'sdiagnosis of the nuclear problem does indeed rest upon a
parallelbetween the fundamentalrisks of human annihilationand total
rule, but it must be emphasizedthat he views both as uncertain:"we see
as yet no technical possibility of destroyingall life [and]no one can be
certainthat totalitarianismwould finally annihilateman's essence along
with his freedom." Indeed, "totalitarianismmight change and dis-
integratefrom within. Human existence might take a new grip on free-
dom and thus on its potential" (1961a:167, 1960:229). Because the
nuclear problem representsa "boundarysituation"for each of us, his
appeal is to keep the channels of communicationopen within that com-
mon space where reason's way of thinking mediates among differing
viewpoints, ideologies, and faiths. In the debate over equipping the
Germanarmywith nuclearweapons, Jaspersattemptedto steer a middle
course between the sloganistic positions of "better dead than red" or
"betterred than dead" (1958c:177).

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240 Journalof the AmericanAcademyof Religion

Jaspers would no doubt agree with contemporarymoral philoso-

phers and theologianswho arguethat if war at low levels is wrong, war
at high levels is also wrong (he suggested as much in 1950 in "Das
Gewissen vor der Bedrohungdurch die Atombombe"),and this princi-
ple is a much strongerreason for the condemnationof nuclearwar than
is the approachthat simply condemns extinctionas such (Gay;Routley).
Today, in the light of recent researchon "nuclearwinter" (Turcoet al.;
Ehrlich and others), scientists, philosophers, and theologians continue
to debate the possibility of human extinction and our moral obligation
to futuregenerations. Ehrlichand others conclude that "the possibility
of the extinction of Homosapienscannot be excluded,"though the study
admits that "it seems unlikely [. . .] Homo sapiens would be forced to
extinction immediately[...]" (1299). No doubt there are some in the
peace movement who have an interest in exaggeratingthe probable
effects of nuclearholocaust for all life on earth,just as there are those in
the military-industrial-academiccomplex who would minimize the
research findings. The point is that serious discussion about possible
human extinctionis takingplace at this juncturein history. The road to
folly, if not certain extinction, is even more well-mapped now than it
was thirtyyears ago when Jaspers set forth his analysis.
Much of the previous criticism of Jaspers's analysis of the nuclear
problem has failed to emphasize his understandingof theJanus face of
total rule. Jaspers repeatedlywarned that a life lived in freedom can
paradoxicallynurturethe growth of attitudes and lifestyles that might
imperceptiblylead to new forms of totalitarianism.He waged a battle
againsttotalitarianismon both externaland internalfronts. If he argued
that, internationally,freedom must be protected from the totalitarian
designs for conquest by meeting force with force where necessary, he
also emphasized that, domestically, free individuals "must apprehend
the dangerin their own totalitariantrends and constantlyperforma true
purification[Reinigung], by means of freedom itself" (1963a:81). The
internal fight for freedom is a battle for "culturalfreedom," and he
chided those anti-Communistswho would fight Communismwith total-
itarian methods. His fight against totalitarianismwas as much if not
more a "strugglefor freedomwithin the free countries";the fight is, he
tells us, more a "showdown with ourselves," than an external fight
against Soviet hegemony (1963a:87).
While it would be untrue to gloss over the real differencesbetween
the competing political ideologies and practices of the East and West,
and misguided to equate the nuclear securitystate with total rule, Jas-
pers's warningagainstnew forms of totalitarianismis in principle appli-

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Jasperson "Conversion"
Walters: 241

cable to the contemporaryspace weapons race. When "nuclearism"-

i.e., psychological, political, and military dependence on and faith in
nuclear weapons as a "solution" to the dilemma of "security"(Lifton
and Falk, 1982:ix)-takes on the form of an absolute worldview, then
nuclearism, more than Soviet and other forms of national totalitarian-
ism, is the fargreaterthreatto humanity. Todaynuclearismhas become
a type of militaryand strategic"totalplanning"for ostensible "security."
It representsthe apotheosisof the technologicaland "intellectual"hubris
that is yet another "false hope" to be shunned if reason is to aid us at
the boundary. To be sure, technologicalresearchwill continue. But the
importantquestion concerns the ethicalguidance of "purposive,"tech-
nological action. The technological program forgets that to defend
againstwar requiresthe abolition of war and war-makingas an institu-
tion. To believe that the nuclearproblem can be solved throughpurpo-
sive, technological action evades the real issue: the needed change or
"conversion"of humanity. As Jaspersstated in the mid-sixties, nuclear
deterrencebased on state-of-the-arttechnologies will no longer suffice.
"To consider the balance of terroras a solution is only an easy-and
extremely dangerous-way out. It is a handy way for men to go on
living as they have in the past without being forced to face up to the
terribleproblem of atomic destruction. I must confess I cannot believe
mankind will reach the point of self-destruction. But I am very suspi-
cious of my own convictionsin this matter[. as as we have not
...] long
eliminated war as an instrument of policy, the H-bomb still has a
chance of triumphingsooner or later" (1965:27).
It is one thing to suggest that Jaspers'sconstructionof the nuclear
problem articulatesa thoroughgoing"betterdead than red" philosophy,
and anotherto say that he stood in principlefor the priorityof the values
of freedom, truth, and human dignity over mere physical existence
(Dasein). Writing at the height of the Cold War period, Jaspers
accepted the possible use of the atom bomb where the issue is one of
"being or non-being," "freedom or slavery" in the struggle against
unlimitedforce: "Manis born to be free, and the free life thathe tries to
save by all possible means is more than mere life. Hence, life in the
sense of existence [Dasein]-individual life as well as all life-can be
staked and sacrificed for the sake of the life that is worth living"
(1961a:169, 1960:238).
And yet, if Jaspershad trulygiven legitimacyto the posture of "bet-
ter dead than red"-as some of his staunchest critics putativelyhave
argued-this view would contradict his own forceful critique of so-
called political "realism"and Realpolitik,which wills unlimitedpower as

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242 Journalof the AmericanAcademyof Religion

such. Such an attributionwould not square with his vision of a "new

soldier" devoted to the cause of a new "world order";a "new soldier"
who, on both sides of the ideological conflict, might some day refuse to
use nuclear weapons demanded by the politicians or generals (1961
a:53, 1960:84). Despite Jaspers'srejectionof Gandhiannonviolence as
a response to the threat of intolerant faiths and violence, he clearly
rejectedfaith in nucleardeterrenceas a basis for a "perpetualpeace"
(1963b:123), since this can be obtained only when war itself is made
impossible. And while the thoughtof human annihilationseemed fan-
tastic to him, he reminds us that "nothing is impossible if the cap-
tains-against common sense, againstreason, againstthe moral qualms
that inhibit even criminals-decide to drag everyonedown with them"
(1961a:322, 1960:464). Even Hitlerstepped up the exterminationof the
Jews when he saw that the Reich's war effortwas doomed.
Jaspers's construction of the nuclear problem during the original
Cold War period and his willingness to use nuclear weapons at the
uncertainrisk of "all life" turns back upon both philosophical and his-
toricalfactors. Foundationally,the twin possibilitiesof human annihila-
tion and political totalitarianismrepresent a "boundary situation,"
Grenzsituation,for humanityas such. The pivotalboundarysituationsof
"death,""suffering,""struggle,"and "guilt"transcendmundane reality,
and create a space wherein human existence is potentially given its
authentic meaning in freedom. "Death"and "suffering"are boundary
situations that exist for us without any action on our part. "Struggle"
and "guilt"are boundariesinsofaras we help bring them about through
our own doing. Jaspers's survey of the forms of "struggle"leaves us
with two essentially differentmodes, which nonetheless rebound into
the other: the struggleby force and the "loving struggle"(1970:206).
One cannot decide in advancehow one will act in the boundarysitua-
tion, nor can one ever completely eliminate elements of freedom and
uncertainty when such a situation arises.3 His construction of the
nuclearproblemposes the challenge to preventdenialof the possibilities
of annihilation and total rule, on the one hand, and to strive for

3ProfessorGeorgeB. Pepper, co-founderof the KarlJaspersSocietyof North America,writes that

Jaspers's position on the better dead/red, red/dead debate "concerns a boundary situation for
which there can be no universal norms. For Jaspers no criterioncan provide a compelling pre-
scriptionaboutwhat makes life worth living in situationswhich have life or death alternatives.For
these situationseach person must appeal to Transcendenceand assume the responsibilityfor the
worldlyconsequences. Jaspersin effect held very specific if not rigid moral norms about sexuality,
law, and politics. In 'boundarysituations,' however, everyone is called to be an 'exception.'"
Personalcorrespondence,13 April, 1987.

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Walters: on "Conversion"
Jaspers 243

"rationalcommunication"and freedom so that the extreme situation

might never arise, on the other. The crucialpolitical task in the nuclear
age, therefore,is to "convert"the violent strugglefor existence into its
other, the "loving struggle"for Existenz(1970:206-215).
Peaceis not the absenceof struggle.Butmancan convertthe strug-
gle froma violentone into a spiritualand lovingstruggle.Theviolent
struggledies in communication.Insteadof superiority in victory,the
resultis communaltruth. Bymeansof suchmutualstruggleeachindi-
vidualcomesto him or herself.Thelovingstruggleplacesall meansof
power,also the meansof intellectualforcefulness, which as a stronger
rationalityparallelsphysicalstrength,at the disposalof the partnerin
the samemannerin whichone makesuse of themhimself,andthereby
cancelsits fataleffect. (1958c:174)
Becauseof Jaspers'sexperience under Hitler'stotal rule, his concep-
tion of Soviet military capabilities and foreign policy during the Cold
War, and his foundationalunderstandingof "struggle"as a boundary
situation of existence, he could not, in principle, foreclose the nuclear
option in the mid-fifties. But given the dialecticalnatureof his political
thinking,it is impossible to read a thoroughgoing"betterdead than red"
posture into his analysis. Jaspers rejects the dead/red and red/dead
alternativesas false and polemical. It is of interestto note that, accord-
ing to the Center for Defense Information,1958 was the highpoint of
Sovietinfluence in the world. At that time, "Soviet-influencedcountries
had 31% of the world's population and 9% of the world's GNP, not
including the Soviet Union." In contrast, "in 1979 the Soviets were
influencing only 6% of the world's population and 5% of the world's
GNP, exclusive of the Soviet Union" (4-5).
Not surprisingly,developments in the world military and political
situation between 1958 and his 1966 Wohintreibtdie Bundesrepublik?,
[TheFutureof Germany(1967a)], significantlyinfluencedJaspers'sthink-
ing. His opposition in that work to the proposed emergency laws,
including the idea of building civilian bomb shelters that were justified
in the name of the "red menace" is a case in point. "This menace did
exist once, after1945," he could write,but "todaythe threatis a mirage"
(1967a:36). Thus, Jaspers'sconstructionof the nuclear problem at the
height of the originalCold War negativelyarticulatedthe final boundary
of the "old politics," even as it positively points the way toward the
"suprapolitical"guidance of a "new politics."

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244 Journalof the AmericanAcademyof Religion

The "Conversion" to Philosophical Faith

Jaspers'scall to "conversion"in the nuclear age also entails a redi-
rection from "formal religion" (kirchlicheReligion)to "philosophical
faith" (Walters, 1988:189-220). This faith, as Leonard Ehrlich has
definitively argued, is central to Jaspers's thinking as a whole (117).
Alreadyin 1949 Jaspersavowed that "the decision on the futureof our
Western humanity lies in the relation of our faith to the Biblical reli-
gion" (1953:226). And in his atom bomb book he was concernedwith
the possibility of "formalreligion"to spirituallyinfluence a "new poli-
tics" suitable for the twin challenges of the age (1961a:251-261,
Jasperscontraststhe faith of "formalreligion"with the philosophi-
cal faith of reason. The encompassing reason of philosophical faith
allows for no substitutessuch as political "realism,""common sense,"
or "formalreligion." Reasonis indeed presentin all three domains, but
only so long as they do not become absolute as Realpolitik,self-suffi-
ciency, and the dogmatic absolutizationof "God's will." Distinct from
the "faith in revelation"(Offenbarungsglaube) of believers in Jesus the
Christ, philosophical faith is essentially that transcendingactivityby
which we believe and think. It views all absolute creeds of history-
whether Hegelian, Marxist, or Christian-as "ciphers" with which it
must be concernedand againstwhose intoleranceit must often struggle.
Because the future of humanity cannot be "known" like scientific
objects, philosophical faith sees all creedal or ideological predictions
about the bomb's use or the futureof mankind as futile. The Religious
Right's identificationof nuclear holocaust with the Second Coming of
Christis a contemporarycase in point. Philosophicalfaithhas only one
limit, "it must be intolerantof intolerance. Wherevercreeds try to pre-
vail in the world by force, it must meet force with force" (1961a:264,
Jaspersrebutsthe theologicalrenunciationof the bomb's use on the
groundsthat one could with equal weight argue,in "symboliclanguage"
(Chiffemsprache), that God may want the bombs to fall. God "maywant
man to change freely-to live if he does, to die if he does not-because
in his present dissolute state he is unworthyof life." Conversely,"God
may want men to live and survivein the world, but not unconditionally
[. . .] God has not told man to destroy himself but has given him a
choice in time: survival,on condition of changinginto a better man, or
doom" (1961a:264-5, 1960:367-8). These comments do not bespeak a
philosophical cynic sneering at theological symbolization. Rather,Jas-
pers adamantlyinsists that nobody knows "God'swill" with respect to

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Walters:Jasperson "Conversion" 245

the question of the bomb's use. To speak of an absolute knowledge of

"God'swill," he feels, contravenesthe very idea of God and denies both
the God of the Bible and the Transcendenz of philosophy.
Jaspers also maintained that the churches and the traditionalsym-
bols of "formalreligion" representboth dangersand possibilitiesin the
nuclear age. Like contemporarypolitical theologians, he held that the
churches cannot be neutral in socio-political matters. If the churches
frequentlyspread a false calm, engage indirectlyin the "old politics,"
and shrinkfrom "radicalreason"by objectifyingfaith in dogmaticphra-
seology, they are nonetheless effective organizationswhose importance
for the course of human affairscannot be underestimated.Jaspersnever
diminishedeitherhis convictionthat "whatwill become of the churches
may decide the Western fate" (1967b:321), or his insistence that a
change in the appearanceof "Biblicalreligion"requiresa change in the
form of dogmaticbeliefs. Among these he cites the incarnationof God
in Jesus Christ,the doctrineof the Trinity,obsolete obligations,and the
belief in an absolute Christianrevelation as essentially different from
Hindu and Chinese revelations. Most important,he believes the change
in "formal religion" requires a "rebirthof man" whose best chance
resides in the "Protestantprinciple," i.e., "no mediator;direct contact
with God; universalpriesthood-and a correspondinginstitutionaldis-
membermentof the Churchinto many creeds and independentcongre-
gations" (1961a:259, 1960:360). Jaspers's "ecclesiology,"if one may
speak of such, views religious organizationalunity with indifference.
What mattersis that the one existentialtruthof religious(Biblical)faith
be realizedin the historicityof Existenzenthroughoutvarious communi-
ties with diverse forms.
From the perspectiveof Jaspers'stheoryof truth,philosophicalfaith
affirms a will to unity within the Encompassing. Jaspers understands
the Encompassingas either the "Beingin itself" that surroundsus (the
world and Transcendence)or the "Being that we are" as "existence"
(Dasein), "consciousness-as-such" (Bewusstsein T'berhaupt),"spirit"
(Geist), and Existenz(1950b:12; 1967b:61-69). The contemporarydis-
solution of unity among humankindwith respectto philosophicalfoun-
dations, values, and especially faith, requiresa new mode of thinking
which ties the realizationof a particulartruthin time to an open-ended
unity of truth within the Encompassing. Thus Jaspers identifies the
truth of "existence"as a function of the preservationand extension of
existence; the truth of "consciousness-as-such"as a universallyshared
cogency or compelling correctness;the truth of spirit as human convic-
tion proved in praxis; and the truth of Existenzas experiencedthrough

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246 Journalof the AmericanAcademyof Religion

philosophicalfaith (1971b:38). Existenz"is only in relationto transcen-

dence or not at all" (1971b:7). Philosophical faith, then, is "the act of
Existenzby which Transcendencebecomes conscious in its actuality";it
is concrete human life lived "out of the Encompassing,it is guidance
and fulfillmentthroughthe Encompassing"(1950b:21, 1948:20).
As life lived out of the Encompassing,philosophical faith actualizes
truth through each of the modes of being that we are, and especially
throughrationalcommunication,which is nothing less than the actuali-
zation of human freedom. The realizationof truthand freedomin time
is an infinite task since every human actualization is bounded by
untruth. While the unity of truthin time is transcendent,truthnonethe-
less breaks throughpartiallyin the "exception"and "authority."4Jas-
pers's call for a "conversion" to philosophical faith should not be
understood so much in terms of an absolute turn from religious faith
(where grounded in existential truth and legitimate religious "author-
ity") to philosophical faith (where groundedin the traditionof the phil-
osophical "exception"or great philosophers). Rather,his call is for a
turn fromkirchlicheto Biblicalreligion (1950b:76-114; 1967b:329-346).
As a manifestationof the truthof rationalcommunication,philosophical
faith has a vital role to play in the pulpit in the nuclear age. Jaspers
admits, "the real truth in reason and religion is one and the same"
(1961a:261, 1960:364). It is vital for philosophical faith both to clarify
itself vis-a-visreligiousfaith and to call forthwithin revealedreligionthe
human capacities for that faith which actualizestruth through rational
communication(1969b:296; 1950b:76; 1967b:17-21, 321-363).
"Authority"and "exception"are historicallythe main modes of the
manifestationof truth in time. Reason and "catholicity"(Katholizitit)
are the prime modes of human orientationtowardtruthin time. Jaspers
refersto any position or institutionwhich claims the absolutefulfillment
of truthin time as "catholicity,"a concept more generalthan the idea of
catholicity in Protestantismand Roman Catholicism, though certainly

4"The man who is an exceptionis an exception first to universalexistence, whether this appearsin
the form of the ethos, institutions and laws of the land, or the health of the body, or any other
normalcy. Secondly, he is an exception to the universallyvalid, cogently certain thinking of con-
sciousness-as-such. Finally,he is an exception to spirit,in belonging to which I am as a memberof
a whole. To be an exception is an actual breaking-throughany kind of universality." Jaspers
names Kierkegaardand Nietzsche as the two great philosophical "exceptions"of the modem age.
On the other hand, "authorityis the unity of truth that binds all modes of the encompassinginto
one and appears to us in historic form as universaland whole. More precisely: Authorityis the
historic union of the power of existence, compellingcertainty,and idea, with the source of Existenz
which in this union knows itself to be related to transcendence"(Trans. by Ehrlich,Ehrlich, and
Pepper, 1986:247, 249; cf., 1971:44, 47).

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Walters:Jasperson "Conversion" 247

applicable to both, especially the latter (1947:833): "In the Catholic

Church catholicityis indeed extraordinarilyeffective,but it is grounded
in sublime transcendentaltruth. Becauseof this the Churchcarriescon-
tents that continuallybreak apart catholicity,even in the Churchitself.
The truthof the heretic lives in the Church. Catholicitycan sometimes
appear to the observer as unessential, as a misfortune of Christianity,
which is linked with the foundationalthinking of an exclusive revela-
tion" (1947:857). Be it in culture, (e.g., the "slogans" of mass exist-
ence), politics, (e.g., totalitarianism,fascism, or imperialism),or religion
(e.g., dogmaticexclusivity,whether Catholicor Protestant),"catholicity"
is the opposite of communicativereason.


What is living and dead in Jaspers'sunderstandingof "conversion"
in the light of our present situationand fromthe perspectiveof Christian
First, with respect to the needed "conversion"in science, Jaspers
remindsus thatwe cannot remedythe nuclearproblemby some techno-
logical "solution." The idea of a technological panacea to solve the
nuclearproblemmerely reflectsthe hubrisof technologicalomnipotence
and abstractthinking. There are formidablescientificargumentsagainst
the technological feasibility of "StarWars" developments in the East
and the West (Bethe, et. al., 1984:39-49). But few see the solution to
militarismand nuclearismin a "conversion"fromintellectualto rational
thinking and an understandingof the proper relationshipbetween sci-
ence and philosophy in the nuclear age. Yet, Jaspers'svery preoccupa-
tion with the limits of the sciences is unduly restrictiveand fails to
recognize the positive contributionsof the sciences for philosophy and
theology,particularlyas exemplifiedin the thoughtof Pierceand White-
head, and as developed in the dialogues of Habermaswith Marxism,
Ricoeur with Freudianism, and Hillman with Jungianism (Pepper;
Second, with respect to the needed moral-political "conversion,"
Jaspers'scomparisonof the Soviet Union with Nazi Germanyis a sorely
inadequatemodel. Scholarsof Soviet strategyhave suggestedhistorical
shifts in both Soviet strategicattitudesand war aims. While it has been
difficult for the Soviet Party to accept that nuclear war could perma-
nently reversethe course of history and lead to the defeat of socialism,
the chief aim of their preparationsin recentyears has been nuclearwar

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248 Journalof the AmericanAcademyof Religion

prevention (Holloway:29-62). And as MarshallShulman has recently

argued,the confrontationistview that has dominatedU.S. policy toward
the Soviet Union is based on questionableand increasinglyinapplicable
assumptions (21). Even the staunchest skeptics would have to admit
that the West has witnessed trends toward "openness" and "reforma-
tion" in the Soviet Union under Secretary-GeneralGorbachev,despite
the war in Afghanistanand human rightsviolations againstSovietJews.
Gorbachev'sJanuary1986 proposalto eliminatenuclearweapons by the
year 2,000, his recentINF proposals,and an apparentlysincere desire to
divert militaryresources to the Soviet economy serve as examples. In
contrast, the Reagan Administration'sdecision to breach the terms of
the SALT II treaty, not to reciprocatethe Soviet's unilateral test ban
moratorium,and not to maintainthe terms of the 1972 ABMtreaty(i.e.,
the so-called "narrow"interpretationof the treaty)representsfor many
a breach of trust. Jaspers'sfight against a merely "formaldemocracy"
and his belief that the inner strugglefor the self-preservationof freedom
is essentially a showdown with ourselves constitutes a timely warning.
Moreover,if Jaspers's"ethic of responsibility"tied to the boundary
situation of "struggle"includes belief in accountabilityfor the conse-
quences of one's action and the readiness for any kind of sacrifice, it
does not accept those political means that most likely would destroythe
very meaning of politics itself. Has not the absolutelimitof the "ethicof
responsibility"been reachedwhen the use of nuclearweapons holds out
the possibilityof destroyingthe state along with those values the state is
meant to protect? Todaythere is a growingconsensus among strategists
that even a "limited"nuclearwar would very likely lead to the crossing
of the nuclear "firebreak"and thus to total war. It is precisely this
empirical assumptionwhich led the U.S. Catholic Conferenceof Bish-
ops, in their 1983 pastoralletter on war and peace, to a "highlyskepti-
cal" assessmentof the real meaning of a so-called "limited"nuclearwar
and of the moralityof nuclear weapons use (16). As Kai Nielsen has
written, "the human devastationto 'victor'and 'vanquished'alike is just
too great to make it [nuclearuse] a morallytolerableoption. On moral
grounds it is intolerable and on prudentialgrounds it is insane" (59).
We do well to recall in this context the words of anothercontemporary
Germanphilosopher, Ernst Tugenhat(36):
Considerhow many countriesare under the dominationof the
SovietUniontoday. Thisis somethingwe accept. Considerthatterror
andtorturereignin manyothercountriesconnectedwithourownwest-
ern system. Thisis somethingwe tolerateand indirectlyevensupport.
Considerfurtherthatin largepartsof the worldmillionsof peopledie

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Jasperson "Conversion"
Walters: 249

everyyearof hunger.Thistoo is somethingwe tolerate,thoughit need

not be the caseif it werenot forourarmaments.Whythenshouldwe
chooseto threatennot only ourenemyandourselves,but the wholeof
humanitywithdestruction, simplyto avertthe possibilitythatwe might
be threatened by a fatewhichwouldbe no worsethanthosewe tolerate
for others?(Trans.by Kenny:33-34)

Jaspers reminds us that if we are to have confidence in reason, all

"falsehopes" must be shunned. Such bogus hopes include the idea of a
total process of history leading toward a classless society and of some
sort of divine intervention,prior to nuclear Holocaust, by means of a
triumphalist Christian Apocalypse (Fackre). Despite his rejection of
Gandhiannonviolence as a response to the realityof force and Realpoli-
tik, Jaspershad a profound respect for Gandhi's "suprapolitical"spirit
of self-sacrifice and quest for truth (1969a:27). Moreover, Jaspers
clearlyrejectedfaithin nucleardeterrenceas a basis for a lasting peace. A
"perpetualpeace" can come only when war itself has been outlawed.
We have, he felt, a breathingspell in which to finally prevent the out-
break of war. "If this intervalis not utilized to preventwar as such, the
doom of mankindseems inevitable." Butpeace can have lasting success
only if humanityis "converted"in the Kantianconcept of a "revolution
in our way of thinking"(1963b:123). The global village must be trans-
formedby a new ethos, spirit of sacrifice,and reason. As Gibson Win-
ter recentlyhas argued,the turn from nuclearismmeans a conversionin
our whole way of life, "a religious and moral shift from domination to
participation,reestablishingour moral, political and spiritual connec-
tion" (1984b:24).
Third, determiningthe precise relationshipbetween philosophical
faith and "revelationalfaith"in Jaspers'sthinkingis difficultbecause of
the developmentand consequentambiguityin his thinkingfromhis sur-
vey of religion and religious faith in the Philosophy(1969b:296-298) to
his final treatmentof the question (1967b; Walters 1988:245-260). Jas-
pers consistently holds that neither religious faith nor philosophical
faith can be ascertainedfrom one another, even if philosophical faith
can surveythe idea of God, ritualand community,prayer,and the faith
in revelationor revelationalfaith (Offenbarungsglaube). He finds repug-
nant the "orthodox"religiousclaim of an exclusive and absoluterevela-
tion of truth. And while he acceptsthe ciphersof the one, personal,and
incarnateGod as legitimate"ciphersof Transcendence"whose existen-
tial truthis revealedthroughlegitimate"authority,"he rejectsthe cipher
of the Incarnationon both philosophicaland politicalgrounds. As Alan
Olson has noted, "there can be little doubt that Jaspers's harangue

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250 Journalof the AmericanAcademyof Religion

against the notion of 'Catholicity'is in large measure informed . . .]

justifiably, by what he perceived as the perverse capitulation of the
church and its leadership as symbolized by the infamous Concordatof
Pius XII [sic]with Adolph Hitler" (141).
The theologian must welcome many aspects of Jaspers'scritiqueof
kirchlicheReligion,the bogus authorityof "catholicity,"and his aware-
ness that the symbolic-cipheric nature of religious discourse is con-
stantly in need of an encompassing thinking that transcendsdogmatic
fixation. For those behooved to link nuclear Holocaust with a trium-
phant Christianapocalypse, philosophical faith positively demands an
awareness of the limits of human worldview. Theological language
maintainsits existentialtruthonly within the movementof the historical
reading of ciphers and within an encompassing room of reason. And
yet, Jaspers's philosophical faith finally grounds itself out beyond all
ciphers of Transcendence(19671:255). Thus one of the main limits of
philosophical faith in relationto Christianfaith concerns the problem of
historicityand the instantiationof faith in textual,dogmatic,and institu-
tionalized forms (Olson:141; Walters, 1988:250). This is why Paul
Ricoeurcan ask: "Does not the philosopher run the risk of losing the
'narrowness'and the 'commitment'of Existenzwhen he embraces the
totalityof myths-those of Greece,those of India, those of Christianity-
like a Don Juan courtingall the gods?" (638; cf., Ehrlich:76).
Today in the nuclear age, and given the limits to growth, both phi-
losophizing and theologizingmust startwith our concretesituation. The
"lovingstruggle"between philosophical and religiousfaith is needed to
clarifythe limits and possibilities of each faith's quest for liberationand
freedom. Jaspers'scall for a "conversion"from exclusive and narrowly
dogmatic faiths-whether positivism, scientific Marxism, or Christian
"orthodoxy"-reminds philosophers and theologians alike of the dan-
gers of straying from the middle path between subjectivism and

51 wish to express my appreciationfor comments on earlier drafts by LeonardEhrlich, Benoit

Garceau,BernardLee, Ken Melchin, George Pepper, MichaelQuick, MaureenSlattery-Durley,and
Sonia Williams.

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