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20180708 – The Causes of War & the Spread of Peace



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The main idea of this book is to analyze history of war and use of violence between human groups from earliest possible time to the present and look at its possibilities for the future use of violence for similar purposes. This analysis demonstrates that was used from the beginning of human existence and that it decreased with advance of modernity, but that there is no guaranty that this decrease is permanent.


Past Imperfect: Prehistory and History

  1. When Did It All Begin?

The question posited here leads author to review not that much history, but prehistory, that is going before last 1500 years of the existence of the states. The old philosophers’ answers: either Hobbs or Rousseau obviously just speculations without any empirical support whatsoever. So, author looks at archeology for answers, but does not find enough help there because primitive weapons used for hunting and fighting are practically the same. Human skeletons are also not that reliable because they become common only in the last 10,000 years when people start burying dead. More reliable evidence of war – fortification of settlements and traces of their violent destruction exist only in parallel with development of agriculture. However, research on contemporary hunters – gatherers and our close relatives – chimpanzees demonstrated validity of routine character of violent competition. Biologically odd notion that species don’t kill own kind is disproved many times over. In short – fighting and killing both organized as a group and individual seems to be with humans since the beginning.

After this review author discusses philosophical approach: Rousseauism and its expansion that tried to put observable fighting between tribes to interference of external forces whether researchers or colonizers (ideas of tribal zone). All this was thoroughly disproved by anthropological and archeological evidence. Author provides details of such research in Australia. Finally, author states his position that War and Peace are both Biologically Embedded, Alternative, and Complimentary Behavioral strategies for survival.

  1. Why People Fought in the Evolutionary State of Nature

Here author moves from establishing facts of fighting to analyzing reason for it. The obvious are: Competition for subsistence resources, fight for reproduction opportunities, Dominance, and Revenge. From reasons of fighting author moves to its consequences: resource consuming arms race with eventual Red Queen effect of running to stay in place. After that author looks at other war/peace strategies related to supernatural, psychological cause from playfulness to sadism, group promotion and survival. The final part is the discussion of evolutionary impact of fighting when it could be the best available option for survival.

  1. The Clash of the State-Leviathans

This is about massive state violence that came to live with advance of agriculture. Author discusses the first states that appeared about 5000 years ago and relatively quickly started growing in size and power. Author makes point that it is difficult to define which direction of the violence was more important: internal directed at state’s subjects or external directed at subjects of other state. In any case, however, that the violence had always been the very core of state’s existence is out of question. The interesting point here is that overall violent deaths decreased with advance of the statist form of society organization. In this author is completely in agreement with Hobbes: Leviathan provides more security. Also, is very interesting analysis of share of population involved in hierarchical violent state organization: basically1% of population to be organized, as an army and/or police, is typical throughout the history.  After that author looks at different aspects of state based organization of society:

  • Who gains materially, which is obviously individuals in control of violent machinery of the state. Author points out the important change: if in hunter-gatherer society struggle for resources was a zero-sum game, the states with their destructive capacities greatly increased conducted wars that created negative sum game overall with positive sum for winner and much higher negative sum for loser.
  • From evolutionary point of view the state created huge sexual advantages for winners from soldiers’ mass rape of conquered to top leaders with huge harems. Current genetic research demonstrated hugely disproportional representation of some male genes in population – for example one man’s Y-chromosome assumed to be Chinggis Khan’s is present in 8% of population of Central Asia. Author also stresses role of sexual opportunities as motivational factor for soldiers.
  • Motivation for achieving state power despite being a very high-risk position was very high-reward because it would provide access to all above. Author discusses evolutionary meaning of this high risk / high reward strategy pointing out that many the loser of power struggle had their line stopped altogether.
  • There are also very important non-material benefits for the people at the top: status, prestige, and influence that come with them. All this provides huge psychological satisfaction that could not be neglected. Actually, multilayer hierarchical structure of state provides for identity and feeling of belonging that is important for even the lowest member of the society, especially if combined with some mobility for the most capable members of society.

At the end of chapter author discusses value and importance of war for state based society, stressing that contemporary attitude to war as senseless enterprise is ahistorical and could reasonably applied only to our time when war between top state is not win-lose, but lose-lose and not even a game, but certainty.

Flaws and Misconceptions in Disciplinary Grand Theories

This part is about the causes of war.

  1. Anthropology: Why People Fought (if They Did)

First author looks at it from Anthropology point of view as rejection of evolutionary approach. He quite nicely demonstrates funny side of this rejection of evolution. After that he looks at interaction of Cultural and Biological evolution and generally concludes that this complex interaction more supplemental then contradictory, while in either case could be deleterious for survival. In the second part author concentrates on material causes of war as source of resources and anthropological attempt to reject it. He tries to demonstrate that this rejection is not valid and mainly caused by poor understanding of evolutionary processes.

  1. The Causes of War (or Their Absence) In International Relations Theory

This is another disciplinary approach to the causes. Author looks at works on power by political scientists such as Morgenthau who discussed human motivation for power from economics point of view, then Waltz who took more systemic approach, and a few others. After that author moves to 3D systemic explanation: man, the state, and the international system. Finally, he discusses analysts who expanded it to 3D+time.

The Modernization Peace

  1. Has War been Declining—and Why?

Here author posits question of why war declines and at least somewhat rejects usual explanation – nukes by pointing out that there were long periods of peace in Europe before:

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Author analyses level of devastation caused by war, but concludes that it could not be explanation because even ancient wars were highly destructive. Among other reasons for relative pacification author discusses cultural attitudes changes, better understanding of loses and increase in value of live. This was expressed by growing negative attitude to fighting and decrfeased interest in marshal glory. Author looks in a bit more details at Kant’s “Perpetual Peace” and others and them moves to the idea that democracies reject war. This notion is not necessary true that was demonstrated many times starting with ancient Greek democracies. The next step is to claim that liberal capitalism leads to peace, but it is also could not be confirmed. Author also discusses war as the method to resolve Malthusian problem and movement to the peace as consequence of resolution of this problem via science, productivity, and welfare state. Here are results of correlation analysis between war and different society structures:

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Eventually author concludes that it is not one factor, but complex interaction of many factors related to modernity, from commercialization to sexual revolution, that made war less and less attractive and pushed it away from reality of contemporary developed societies.

  1. Challenges to the Modernization Peace: Past and Future

Author defines purpose of this chapter as an attempt to look back at most puzzling development that occurred seemingly against current of more peaceful world and try to learn lessons for the future.

The first he look at great wars of XIX and XX centuries starting with Crimean war.  These wars, with exception of Crimean war, that was bout territories, were about national unity, self-determination, and independence. They were expressions of powerful nationalistic movements that were in conflict with retreating imperial and colonialist movements that defined previous centuries. Similarly to nationalist movements and often intertwined with them were ideological movements such as communism and anti-colonialism. They all represented alternative to liberal democratic modernity, but all eventually failed either in military or economic competition with this world. It does not mean however that new alternative could not developed such as authoritarian system with limited economic freedom such as China. Author discusses balance of power and how it changed over the last 150 years. He also discusses cultural difference and provides an interesting cultural map:

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The conclusion of chapter is that modernization peace is real, but it is not guarantied for future despite increased interconnection of the worlds.

Conclusion: The Logic of War and Peace

The overall conclusion of the book is that there is no enigma in existence of the war and that it always was one of the tools that humans use in competition for resources and power. Moreover it is not human specific phenomenon- many social animal apply group fighting. As such tool the war used if and when cost/benefit analysis seems to be promising for initiator of the war. In contemporary world with its nuclear and other powerful weapons it is hard to believe that it could be possible.  Consequently the war clearly disappearing from use in developed countries. 


It’s a nice review of the issue and I agree that war is just another tool in evolutionary competition for resources and that humans used it as other social animals to obtain recourses in all their various forms: from arable land to turning other humans into slaves. I also think that decrease in the use of violence, either individual or group, is deeply connected to decrease in probable benefits and dramatic increase of costs with increase in power of weapons and effectiveness of policing.  I think that war as such, will disappear and that it will happen as soon as developed countries stop playing with weird notions of humanitarian approach to war and apply full power of their weapons against anybody who wages war on them. It would require more powerful jolt than 9/11, but I think religious zealots eventually manage to achieve it, provoking annihilating retaliation after which war will disappear as a tool for achieving anything.



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