Synopses & Reviews
During his impeachment proceedings, Richard Nixon boasted, “I can go into my office and pick up the telephone and in twenty-five minutes seventy million people will be dead.” In this incisive, masterfully argued new book, award-winning social theorist Elaine Scarry demonstrates that the power of one leader to obliterate millions of people with a nuclear weapon—a possibility that remains very real even in the wake of the Cold War—deeply violates our constitutional rights and is fundamentally at odds with the principles of social contract. When a leader can single-handedly decide to deploy a nuclear weapon, we live in a state of “thermonuclear monarchy,” not democracy. By reasserting our Constitution, we can abolish nuclear weapons, end thermonuclear monarchy, and secure the safety of foreign populations, home populations, and the earth itself. Scarry’s groundbreaking way of thinking will interest everyone alarmed about nuclear arms and the danger they pose to life on earth.
This is the most recent book by acclaimed theorist of ethics andaesthetics Elaine Scarry, whose two previous books On Beauty and Being Just and The Body in Pain have been very influential inscholarly and intellectual circles. Here, Scarry considers politics. The book's premise is that the existence of nuclear weapons isincompatible with democracy; if we want the United States to be a democracy, we must eliminate our nuclear arsenal. Her closely-arguedaccount depends on two core ideas. The first is the Constitution requires that only the Congress can debate and declare a war, andonly the citizens can fight it; since neither is possible with a nuclear strike, nuclear weapons create a monarchy in which we aresingle-handedly ruled by whoever controls the launch button. The second is that self-determination comes from the capacity forphysical self-defense. She argues that we have given people full participation in democracy only when they have proven theirwillingness to fight for their country, and if we remove people's ability and responsibility to fight in their nation's war, we alsoremove their ability and responsibility to be decision-making citizens. The book's first section looks at the Constitutionalargument, the second at the ethical one, and the final section at everyday consent and emergency situations. Scarry works in atradition where double standards are rarely discussed; her arguments are given in classical terms and may not apply in the same way infields like Indigenous or Disability Studies. The writing is scholarly but extremely clear, concise, and accessible to generalreaders; the theory throughout is informed by historical examples from the first US wars to Vietnam and terrorism.Annotation ©2014 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (protoview.com)
From one of our leading social thinkers, a compelling case for the elimination of nuclear weapons.
About the Author
Elaine Scarry is the Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard University. Her book The Body in Pain was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.