One characteristic of Routley’s nuclear philosophy that arose in relation to the prospect of nuclear war, though not in his writings on (nuclear) energy options, is his anarchist politics.[1] Routley (1984b, 62) was acutely aware, particularly as a philosopher entering a set of debates about the nuclear age that were dominated by strategists and policymakers, many of whom favoured world government (as was discussed in the Interregnum), that his predilection for anarchist social theory would ‘be strongly resisted in practice’.[2] Where Routley sought to venture applying this thinking is in relation to Australia. In an assessment of Australia’s lack of a “Defence Philosophy”, Routley (1987, 4) came to be of the view that ‘Australians should do their own defence thinking and work out a policy appropriate for Australia’. Since we learn elsewhere that, in Routley’s (1987, 5) view, ‘[n]uclearism is not a smart strategy to preserve remaining freedoms’. This is because, according to Routley (1987, 27), ‘handing defence over to others means handing control of our lives over to others; and given nuclear defence, which too many Antipodean administrations have opted for, it quite likely means literally handing our lives over for many of us’. Such that ‘Australia’s impact, in particular, would be rather greater as a nonaligned free-rider pressing seriously for disarmament and regional nuclear-freedom’.

Nevertheless, Routley came to be of the view that the immorality of nuclear harm—to people and the Earth—required thoroughgoing social and political reform in order to bring about comprehensive nuclear disarmament.[3] The political and social changes Routley (1984b, 49 and 54) puts forward to remedy this situation are designed to combat the tendency for ‘[a]ll the familiar, allegedly “practical” and “realistic”, attempts to resolve the nuclear problem, for instance disarmament by mutual arms limitations, etc., are interstate; they do not temper with that sacred cow, the sovereign state’. Deep social and political reform was therefore both a necessary precondition as well as the appropriate response to an antiquated set of political arrangements in which the nation-state, in pursuing the ‘nuclear fix’ against all the best possible advice,[4] had instead ‘forfeited their justification’. In this way, Routley believed that we had reached a ‘nuclear impasse’, from which there was very little option other than social and political reform.


[1]      This became more pronounced in Routley’s later works, although it must be said that he first became interested in anarchism much earlier—at least by the time he first arrived at the Australian National University.

[2]      Contrast this to Andrew Linklater (2007a, 21), for instance: ‘Although this is controversial, many regard the state—supported and cajoled by international and transnational movements—as a key instrument for advancing cosmopolitanism.’

[3]      In this later writings Routley (1990, 62) goes so far as to suggest that there may well be considerable upside to a future possible (or probable) biospheric collapse: ‘From the angle of radical change, then, impact of the Greenhouse problematic is far from entirely negative. For it may encourage or even force many more of us into thinking about and doing what should be done from a deep perspective anyway, such as rectifying recent heavy human impact upon environments, and beginning at once to put in place more environmentally friendly arrangements and structures’.

[4]      Routley presumably refers here to the attempted interventions in American nuclear weapon policy by Leo Szilard and Joseph Einstein before either the Ivy Mike Test or the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively.