Computable Rationality, NUTS, and the Nuclear Leviathan

In Daniel Bessner & Nicolas Guilhot (eds.), The Decisionist Imagination: Democracy, Sovereignty and Social Science in the 20th Century. New York, NY, USA: (2018)
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This paper explores how the Leviathan that projects power through nuclear arms exercises a unique nuclearized sovereignty. In the case of nuclear superpowers, this sovereignty extends to wielding the power to destroy human civilization as we know it across the globe. Nuclearized sovereignty depends on a hybrid form of power encompassing human decision-makers in a hierarchical chain of command, and all of the technical and computerized functions necessary to maintain command and control at every moment of the sovereign's existence: this sovereign power cannot sleep. This article analyzes how the form of rationality that informs this hybrid exercise of power historically developed to be computable. By definition, computable rationality must be able to function without any intelligible grasp of the context or the comprehensive significance of decision-making outcomes. Thus, maintaining nuclearized sovereignty necessarily must be able to execute momentous life and death decisions without the type of sentience we usually associate with ethical individual and collective decisions.

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S. M. Amadae
Massachusetts Institute of Technology


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