“Hans Morgenthau and Nuclear Catastrophe: Lessons for Thinking About Climate Change,” Alison McQueen


Thursday, February 19, 2015, 4:30pm


301 Marx Hall, Princeton University


Alison McQueen

Alison McQueen (BA, Guelph; MA, Toronto; PhD, Cornell) is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Stanford University. Her research focuses primarily on the intersection of religion and politics in early modern political thought, the history of international relations thought, and the use of digital methods in political theory. She is the author of Political Realism in Apocalyptic Times (manuscript), which explores how Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, and Hans Morgenthau responded to hopes and fears about the end of the world. While at Princeton, as the Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Fellow at the University Center for Human Values, she is working on a book on Thomas Hobbes’ uses of the Hebrew Bible.

Abstract: What role, if any, should fear play in the politics of existential crises like nuclear catastrophe and global climate change?  This paper considers why the postwar thinker Hans Morgenthau set aside his principled worries about the politics of fear and began to cast the prospect of nuclear catastrophe in terrifying and apocalyptic terms.  I argue that Morgenthau’s resort to an apocalyptic politics of fear may well have seemed like an appropriate strategy in the face of the representational and motivational difficulties that attend prospective catastrophes like nuclear annihilation and in response to the forms of organized denial and political inertia that these difficulties enable.  His aim was ultimately to cultivate the salutary fear required to construct new forms of political order that will provide the most effective bulwark against nuclear catastrophe.  I suggest that there are lessons to be learned from this engagement with Morgenthau for the contemporary question of the place of apocalyptic fear in the climate change debate.