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What to do about your neighbour’s nuke.

There is no tradeoff between freedom and security. That is the contention put forward by Jonathan Wilde of Catallarchy.net in this essay about why a society that allowed the private ownership of nukes might be safer, yes safer, than ours. It was inspired by the comments to Perry’s Samizdata posting where he describes himself as a “social individualist.”

19 comments to What to do about your neighbour’s nuke.

  • Harry Payne

    Rather old news, but it’s good to see a fun idea re-discovered.

  • What’s all this brouhaha about privately owned nuclear devices?

    The bleeding things are expensive as all hell, take up precious space in the basement, require very delicate maintenance that costs a lot more per hour than your typical plumber, and simple cannot be used to rob a convenience store. Who would want one?

    Can you imagine having to alpha-scrub all those canned pickles and jars of preserves every week? Would you want to deal with the decline in property values — or that funny look on the assessor’s face? And what about the kids? It’s hard enough to keep them from picking the lock on the gun safe. “Don’t play with the nuclear weapon, dear, or you’ll have to wash all over with the stingy soap.” No, thanks.

    Besides, my neighbor has one. A very nice one, too: advanced Teller double-implosion design with a fully inert U238 shell, 550 KT, pressure-fused, and painted a lovely Navajo White. So I’ll just free-ride on him.

  • Private nukes? I have one devastating counter argument… PMS.

    Do we really want to rebuild civilization every 30 days?

  • Phil Bradley

    Jonathan mis-understands the relationship between technology and demand when he suggests nuclear weapons will get smaller and cheaper. In the nineteenth century when science was driven by gentlemen scientists new discoveries spread in, to an extent, more-or-less random directions, although most scientists were concerned with practical problems – draining marshes, finding minerals, accurate timepieces, etc.

    In the 21st century where effectively all scientists are paid a salary, science and technology is driven by demand for science. I am not aware of significant demand for convenient home-sized nuclear devices, although there may be localized demand in certain middle-eastern countries.

    It is possible that such devices become available as a consequence of military research, although I note that the US military has discontinued its research into nuclear hand-grenades because of ‘practical problems’.

  • Yeah, it’s really hard to throw them far enough.

    On a somewhat more serious note, there was research into a fissionable bullet, made of Californium, that could be fired from a recoilless rifle. Here, too, there were problems: the half-life of Californium is only a few days. Definitely a “use it or lose it” sort of weapon.

  • Check out (ex-Monkee and “inventor of MTV”) Michael Nesmith in “Elephant Parts”. The video track you’re looking for is “Neighborhood Nuclear Superiority.”

    This was back in 1981. I say no more.

  • Dale Amon

    I covered this issue in the space policy statements I wrote for Ron Paul’s 1988 Presidential candidacy. I only discussed the idea for off-planet mining usage however.

    The further off Earth, the better. 🙂

  • Natalie,

    Actally, my contention was that nukes cannot be justly owned by anyone in a free society, including governments. Having read my post again, and after talking with my co-blogger Brian, it is clear that the last part of my post was a bit mangled, likely giving the wrong message.

    My main points were:

    1) Nukes cannot be justly owned by anyone in a free society, as they are equivalent to the barrel of a gun pointing at anyone within many miles of them, and as such are a direct threat to their lives and property.

    2) Thus, nobody, not even govts (nuclear monopolies) may rightly own them.

    3) To get to a such a society without nuclear monopolies requries power at the periphery and individual liberty like the kind portrayed in Vinge’s short story The Ungoverned. In that kind of society, nukes might be used sporadically but very rarely and only under the strain of completely secrecy. That society is likely safer than our world today, which is one or two zealots in government executive offices away from total nuclear annhilation.


  • At least in the United States, private nuclear weapons are legal. I’m sure they’d be made illegal if someone actually tried to build one, but so far they haven’t bothered banning them.

  • Are you sure they’re legal, Aaron? I recall reading the opposite some years back, though I could be misremembering.

    It would be supremely ironic if possession of fissionables were legal when possession of an unlicensed handgun is not.

    Anyway, we’re not zoned for them here. I’m pretty sure of that.

  • S. Weasel

    Francis: the ‘can your neighbor have a nuke’ question is such an old chestnut in the Libertarian debate that Michael Gilson De Lemos of the US Libertarian Party claims to have launched, in the late 70s, the Libertarian Chocolate- Covered Neutron Bomb.

    Though I can’t personally vouch for his accuracy, he claims the nuke part was legal, but he got stopped for lack of a chocolate-dipping license.

  • Dale Amon

    Oh the story is true all right. He was based in the East Village and a fellow who put me up for a couple months while I was on a job there was friends with him. I also met Bernie Goetz of NY subway self-defense fame, through the same fellow.

    [Bernie, by the way, is today pushing high rise apartments for squirrels. I kid you not. Sort of multistory birdhouses for squirrels…]

  • mad dog barker

    Perry once published my thoughts on this exact subject. Now where the devil are they…

  • Lots of the information about nukes is classified, but it’s legal, apparently, to figure it out for yourself.

  • David Mercer

    One of my best friends in school did a science project that was a kitchen garbage can sized nuke design. After he turned in the paper, the teacher of course called the FBI, as it looked like it would actually work, and vasty lower the technical requirements over existing designs.

    They classified his work, and of course he got an A+ on it, and had NO problem getting admitted to MIT.

  • Jonathan, I did more or less get what you meant – i.e. that you were arguing for why a nuke is DIFFERENT from a gun in terms of self-defence. The wording of my post was composed off the cuff and did not represent deep thought. Even though it was a possibility you raised only as a temporary stopping place in your chain of argument, the part of your post that “tickled” me and caught my attention was that you could actually be safer with private nukes.

  • mad dog barker

    Found in the archives, at last, my only claim to fame! See
    this old blog for my original thoughts on the subject…

  • mad dog barker

    Found in the archives, at last, my only claim to fame! See
    this old blog for my original thoughts on the subject…