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The Age of Anxiety
February 23, 2014 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy And Doom is a new book by Elaine Scarry, author of The Body In Pain (NYRB, LRB), in which she contends that the existence of nuclear weapons creates an unaccountable monarchy.

title from Auden, via
posted by the man of twists and turns (14 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yes, but the Emperor would never dare use them, for fear of the other Great Houses rising up against him.
posted by curious nu at 9:30 AM on February 23 [21 favorites]


Think this thesis is new? Try Ernest Renan in 1876:
http://printculture.com/planetary-thinking-of-1876/
posted by homerica at 10:15 AM on February 23 [5 favorites]


Still digesting this. I'm much more sympathetic to the notion that accountability is what separates monarchs from tyrants. I feel like the default state of people with nuclear power is something akin to an unrestrained Curtis LeMay; it took two decades and quite a bit of social machinery to reach a position where the people in charge were responsible for not using the weapons.

None of the commentary, though the book must, touches on the trust issues associated with complete disarmament. Currently, nuclear deterrence hinges on the assumption that all nuclear powers are working to their utmost capacity to prevent accidents, but utterly determined to retaliate to the extent of their abilities if provoked. Is there any strategy that provides the same level trust between nations concerning the elimination of nuclear weapons other than to eliminate the capacity to produce them?
posted by ethansr at 10:58 AM on February 23 [1 favorite]


>Is there any strategy that provides the same level trust between nations

Trade.

See: the whole of Europe.
America versus Japan (the only time nuclear weapons were actually used)
America versus China,
etc., etc.

The principle is as old as time. Comfort was what defeated the unstoppable Khans.
posted by EnterTheStory at 11:36 AM on February 23 [2 favorites]


it took two decades and quite a bit of social machinery to reach a position where the people in charge were responsible for not using the weapons.

Well, it also took two decades of evolution in both weapons and delivery systems to make the idea of using nuclear weapons go from "very very bad" on a local level to "incredibly catastrophic" on a national level. One could argue that it was the consequences ramping up that actually lessened the need for internal social/political machinery to deter their use (international machinery aside), since it became more and more obvious how bad of an idea that would be.
posted by kiltedtaco at 11:49 AM on February 23


Is there any strategy that provides the same level trust between nations

Trade.

See: the whole of Europe.


This was essentially the state of Europe for a century prior to WWI. I think there was a recent fpp comparing the current state of affairs to 1914, but I can' t find it.

THE PEACE THAT LED TO WAR
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:24 PM on February 23 [6 favorites]


a recent fpp comparing the current state of affairs to 1914

Not an FPP, but maybe you're thinking of What Can 1914 Tell Us About 2014? The disturbing parallels between pre-WWI and today by Richard J. Evans, The New Republic, January 25, 2014.
posted by stebulus at 4:15 PM on February 23 [6 favorites]


"We think of the tremendous suffering that presidents have to go through in thinking about this," she says. "It’s not that I don’t think their job is very hard, but it’s just no comparison to being burned and killed along with every other species on earth."
posted by Greg Nog at 5:25 PM on February 23 [3 favorites]


I think there was a recent fpp comparing the current state of affairs to 1914.

Lest We Grow Too Fond of ItThe Great War’s Ominous Echoes.
posted by cenoxo at 9:03 PM on February 23 [3 favorites]


Bob the Angry Flower.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:20 PM on February 23 [2 favorites]


Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon each contemplated using nuclear weapons—Eisenhower twice, Kennedy three times, Johnson once, Nixon four times. Whether later presidents, from Ford to Obama, considered using them we will learn only once their national security papers are released.

I would love to get the breakdown on this...
posted by KokuRyu at 1:04 AM on February 24


Ron Cobb - Child Abuse.
posted by cenoxo at 3:29 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Eisenhower contemplated using nukes in Dien Bien Phu and in the offshore islands crisis, JFK contemplated using tactical nukes in the cuban missle crisis.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:54 AM on February 24


In other nuclear news: Elderly nun sentenced to 35 months for Tennessee nuclear break-in
posted by homunculus at 2:56 PM on February 24


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