Jueves, 04 Marzo 2010 09:31

F. Will there Always be War?

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Common mental models according to which war is inevitable and/or beneficial tend to be historicisms. Historicisms come from reviewing historical data looking for patterns that would suggest an historical process, from which to establish a social theory through induction and predict that these patterns will repeat in the future. This is the case of the popular statement, “There has always been war and there always will be”. In his criticism of the type of historicism practiced by philosophers such as Hegel and Marx, Karl Popper [2002:Intro] defines an historicism as: “An approach to the social sciences which assumes that historical prediction is their primary aim, and which assumes that this aim is attainable by discovering the ‘rhythms’ or the ‘patterns’, the ‘laws’ or the ‘trends’ that underlie the evolution of history.”[1] The problem with this type of interpretation of history is that it tends to result in the subject under study––in this case war––being essentialized as inherent to human nature and/or naturalized as a sine qua non of society. As Glenn D. Paige says in his book “War”: “We continue to think of war as a natural and justifiable part of the way we behave. And if it is, of course, then we are doomed; but maybe it isn’t”.[2]

A. Fallacies and other faux pas

Suggestions that humanity may not necessarily be condemned for ever to war, are common countered by pointing out such and such a warrior nation or military incident as evidence to the contrary. This follows the conceptual error of confounding ‘some societies’ an ‘all societies’ and confusing a possibility with an necessity. It is just as fallacious as its opposite – claiming that if there was ever a peace-loving tribe, this would prove that society is necessarily peaceful. Even if all currently know communities were warlike, this would still not be conclusive proof that the contrary could never exist. Rather, this way of thinking belongs to a bygone positivistic stage of science, which tried to reduce the immense complexity of the world to a few simplistic assertions.

When studying the wars of the past, it is also important to avoid the ‘presentism fallacy’, which consists of supposing that the motives underlying the armed conflicts of former times were the same as would be assumed as today’s primarily pragmatic drivers. Traditionally, for example, some apparent wars were of a more symbolic and even spiritual nature, as occasions for testing one’s honor, bravery and loyalty.

One should also be wary of falling into the fallacy of ‘continuism,’ assuming that the future will be merely a continuation of the past, ad infinitum. History studies of expectations for the future ensure us that the future will never be the same again and never was, and to expect the unexpected. We should ask ourselves whether humanity’s behavior during our collective infancy and childhood predestine us to continuing to act in the same way during our age of maturity, or whether the present stage of adolescence of the human race might also have an unsuspected positive outcome.

Below we will review and refute three historicisms that are commonly mentioned in defense of war as inevitable and even necessary in society. We will propose replacing them with some alternative interpretations of historical processes, and ways to achieve those same benefits with no need for war, thereby making it possible to channel an increasing proportion of the resources currently spent on military undertakings towards education, health, and human development for the peoples of the earth.


B.  History as a Series of Wars

The most common historicism used to argue in favor of war is, “there has always been war and always will be.” Some authors have even tried to describe its cycles[PCNE1] . This naturalization of war based on historic arguments is seen in the way war is addressed in school texts and the mass media. These texts present history as an on-going series of wars, conflicts, revolutions, and struggles, which students must memorize along with the details of place, date and major figures. It is as though war were the ‘natural’ state of humanity, and peace a mere anomaly that only occurs every once in a while.

According to Thomas Hobbes, the ‘Leviathan’ was an implicit social contract aimed to preserve collective security against the summum malum (supreme evil): violent death due to inevitable violent competition among human beings. In the words of the Hobbes:

"I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire for power after power, that ceases only in death… And therefore if any two men desire the same thing… they become enemies; and in the way to their end… endeavor to destroy or subdue one another… Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man – bellum omnium contra omnes."

In reality, however, it is wars have been limited events and have covered a minimum of the total history of each people. A war-centered approach to history has the effect of ignoring the years, decades and even centuries of peace, prosperity, progress, and happiness. Even if there were an average of two wars per year throughout the world, this would mean an average of 100 years of peace between wars for each country. No wonder Georges Clemenceau exclaimed: “I don't know whether war is an interlude during peace, or peace an interlude during war.”Because of this distortion of the facts in human history, many have come to believe that conflict and war are the substance of history and therefore inevitable. In the words of the renown social scientist Kenneth Boulding [1990:23]:

“Warfare, which figures so prominently in history textbooks, rarely occupies more than 10 percent of human time and energy. The other 90 percent or so goes into plowing, sowing, reaping, weaving, building, and making furniture and implements, utensils, and so on.”

It is as if we read the medical history of an individual in an effort to understand her reality. We would see that one week after birth she had stomach cramps, at one month a skin rash, at six months a fever, at twelve months diarrhea, at two years a bump on the head, and so on. We would conclude that a person’s natural state is ailment, that health is an exception, an abnormality, or merely a respite before taking ill again with greater zeal, and that the most one can hope for is to learn to accept that reality and live with it. This is because our study concentrated on her few, fleeting bouts of illness and ignored the long periods of health, strength, development, and happiness.

Similarly, war is an illness of the political body, while peace is a healthy state. Why assume that war is a more essential feature of that entity than peace, when both have existed throughout history? Taking into account the preponderance of the peaceful periods in our collective existence, it would be closer to the truth to say that “there has always been peace and there always will be.” Understanding peace as the ‘natural’ state of humankind and war as an aberration makes possible to diagnose the causes of this disease and seek ways to prevent or remediate it. In the words of Morton Hunt, “The record of man’s inhumanity to man is horrifying, when one compiles it…, but who has compiled the record of man’s kindness to man––the trillions of acts of gentleness and goodness, the helping hands, smiles, shared meals, kisses, gifts, healings, rescues?”[3]

Part of the reason for this approach is the fact that in the past, practically the only historiography done was what is now known as ‘political history’, which narrated and analyzed political events, ideas, movements and leaders, or ‘diplomatic history’ or of the relations among states. In fact, the first historians were primarily scribes who wrote down the words, exploits and conquests of emperors, kings and patriarchs, always in the most glorious way possible. There was no such thing as a ‘social history’ or a ‘people’s history’ on the life of the common folk, their progress and setbacks, their joys and sorrows, their hopes and frustrations. Neither was much emphasis placed on leaders’ peaceful activities, as their greatest exploits were deemed to be the occupation of new territories, the taking of cities and the annexing of new peoples and nations. They also recorded the building of monuments for their own glorification, often at the cost of the people’s wellbeing.

This interpretation of history as an endless chain of wars and conflicts is reinforced by the fact that humanity is currently going through one of the most critical, convulsive periods in its history. This situation is exacerbated by the mass media, particularly newscasts and the movie industry. News services, centering on the most dramatic events of the day, tend to over-emphasize war and conflict, and make little of the true substance of life, which consists of daily efforts by billions of peace-loving human beings to build a better world for themselves and their families. Movies used to glorify war and, although lately there has been a trend towards de-glorification and portraying the rawness of war battle, they still tend to show the world as an adversarial, dangerous, fearful place.


C.  Sociopolitical Evolution

The concept of sociopolitical evolution is a historicism that offers an alternative interpretation of what has motivated conflicts and wars and how they have been overcome. Essentially, humanity has passed through various stages in its sociopolitical evolution, marked by increasingly large, more complex units. Most conflicts and wars have occurred during times of change (or resistance to change) from one sociopolitical stage to the next. The more crucial this change has grown, the more critical the situation has become and the more frequent and serious have been the conflicts and wars.

What do these stages consist of? According to Diamond (1997:281), “Over the past 13,000 years, the predominant trend in human society has been the replacement of smaller, less complex units by larger, more complex ones.” Historians tend to group these stages into various categories, such as (1) family bands or clans; (2) tribes; (3) chieftainships or city-states; and (4) nation-states or independent countries.[4] Projecting this curve towards the future, humanity’s current stage of development would be characterized by the unification of today’s independent nation-states into new structures of international interdependence, to culminate in some sort of supra-national legal system on a global scale.

1.   Family Bands and Clans

Bands or clans consist of several dozen members of a single extended family which are nomadic hunters and gatherers with no economic specialization / stratification and no formal sociopolitical structures. They can live this way in peace indefinitely as long as there is enough territory to support this expansive way of life. This was the situation of most of the world population toward the end of the Ice Age some 13,000 years ago. However, as these bands grew in size and number, and territories their became crowded, the ensuing conflicts scaled into aggression until the situation became unbearable. Finally, their efforts to survive and progress led them to seek new ways of seeing and structuring their collective lives.

The Fayu people of New Guinea consisted of four small bands that inhabited a vast territory of hundreds of square kilometers where each group remained in relative isolation. However, as their total population grew to some 2000 inhabitants, they experienced increasingly frequent and serious conflicts among bands. Lacking the sociopolitical mechanisms to solve these disputes, they escalated to a level of violence that reduced their population to some 400 members. Currently, they have renounced all aggression and are developing the psycho-cultural outlooks and socio-structural arrangements needed for peaceful coexistence. In other cases, such bands have been exterminated or assimilated by other populations that had already reached a higher level of sociopolitical organization.

2.   The Formation of Tribes

A tribe consists of one or more clans that share the same language and culture. They tend to inhabit areas with a high concentration of resources, have incipient agriculture and technology, relatively more stable settlements, and a definite territory divided among the clans. Their economy is based on bartering or reciprocal exchanges among members, with little specialization. Their sociopolitical organization is still relatively informal and egalitarian, although the most influential member is often considered a kind of moral authority or leader. Most tribes are no more than a few hundred members, which means that they all know each other, and it is even likely that most are related, either directly or through marriage. This makes it possible to resolve any conflicts among friends and family through social pressure, without the intervention of formal public order agencies.

However, as their numbers grow to several thousands, almost nobody knows everyone and family ties are less common, which makes it difficult to resolve disputes using social pressure. Jared Diamond (1997:272) reports that in traditional New Guinea, when two strangers met they would narrate to each other a long list of extended family members in search of a common tie of kinship that would give them a good reason not to fight. Once again, as the number and gravity of unresolved conflicts grew, the situation became increasingly unbearable and required new mental and sociopolitical structures with the centralized power needed to coexist with strangers without incurring in violence. Thus it is that tribal organizations gave way to chieftainships and city-states.

3.   Chieftainships and City-States

Chieftainships were the predominant social structure in the world in 1500, but by the 20th Century they had been replaced by independent states. They had populations of several thousands to tens of thousands of inhabitants, often grouped by clans or tribes, many of which lacked both family and friendship ties. Their economies were based on hunting and gathering in the most richly endowed areas, and agriculture in the rest, with more specialization of labor and differentiation of social classes. This in turn favored greater technological development.

In order to maintain order among thousands of strangers, chieftains held monopolies over the right to use force, to certain privileged information, and to issuing binding decisions in the case of disputes. Their positions entailed a centralized, formally recognized authority, which was usually hereditary, thereby leading to hierarchies according to lineage. In order to foster respect for their exclusive position in society, they would often distinguish themselves visually by their clothing, furnishings and architecture. Their decisions were implemented by a number representatives, much like an embryonic bureaucracy. The role of religion gained importance as a means of binding strangers together, as it gave the people a unified, unifying worldview and a reason to treat their neighbors well, that did not depend on the ties of affection afforded by kinship.

This sociopolitical structure necessitated developing systems of redistribution and taxation on both labor and goods, over which the chieftains wielded indisputable control. Their growing centralization resulted in the establishment of cities as centers of political and economic power, which gave way to the concept of ‘city-states’. Unfortunately, this led to disputes within chieftainships over hereditary entitlements in the hierarchy of lineages, or to rebellion against the abuses of the chieftain in power. Moving outwards from that center, it also gave way to wars with neighboring chieftainships for the expansion of territories, because the larger the territory and population of the chieftain, the greater the economic and political power.

4.   Nation-States

As a result of centuries of continually shifting boundaries through conquests and reconquests, borders were gradually set around an identity as an independent nation, governed by a state that represented that identity.[5] Modern nation-states group a million or more inhabitants (more than a billion in China), and tend to encompass several cities in addition to the capital city. The population is often made up of diverse ethnic, linguistic and religious groups, despite which they cherish the same national identity. Diamond (1997:266) notes that until 1500 D.C., less than 20 percent of the world’s territory was divided into nation-states, while today it is almost 100 percent, with the exception of Antarctica.

As for their sociopolitical structure, the chieftains of the former stage became the kings of the monarchies, the dictators of the autocracies, and the presidents and prime ministers of the democracies, with a clear trend in favor of the latter in today’s world. They centralize much more exclusive power over confidential information, over decision making that governs the nation as a whole, and over centralized control of taxation and redistribution. They also include several administrative levels and a complex professional bureaucracy to handle matters of state. Internal conflict resolution is formalized through legislatures, judicial systems and police forces. An effective administration necessitated developing reading and writing, numeracy and literacy, at least among the elites in most cases.

With time, nation-states have fallen into crisis. Their economies, with their richly diverse production, labor specialization, and technological development, have favored capital accumulation and made it necessary to establish a currency to make the exchange of goods and services more flexible. As a result, economic interdependence has become such that not even farmers could be self-sufficient. As economic production and diversification have increased, it has been not only possible but also necessary to intensify trade and exchange with other nations. The world-wide deepening of business relations has led to a globalization of markets, but with no supranational political authority to regulate those markets. The outcome has been an increase in tensions and conflicts among countries, which in many cases have led to ‘economic wars’ and even military operations to solve them.

5.   A Supranational State:

The present transition from sovereign nations as the maximum sociopolitical unit to their unification in new forms of supranational organization has been an agonizing process in many ways. It is ‘natural’ for people born and raised at such a time to assume that the world has always been this way and always will be. They would have to broaden their historical vision, not only to encompass the few decades of their lifetime or even the past few centuries of nation-state building, but to span several millennia in order to see present events in their true perspective. The historian Shoghi Effendi described his perception of this historical vision as follows:

"Unification of the whole of mankind is the hall-mark of the stage which human society is now approaching. Unity of family, of tribe, of city-state, and nation have been successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a harassed humanity is striving. Nation-building has come to an end. The anarchy inherent in state sovereignty is moving towards a climax. A world, growing to maturity, must abandon this fetish, recognize the oneness and wholeness of human relationships, and establish once for all the machinery that can best incarnate this fundamental principle of its life." [1991:202]

6.   The Drivers of Sociopolitical Evolution

The progressive attainment of these stages has entailed true revolutions, both in the way people think, feel and see themselves, and in the structures and organization of society and its institutions. It has not been an easy process; rather, it has required in most cases heavy clashes among elements that, over time, were able to merge into new forms of sociopolitical organization. Once the crises were overcome, the size and number of dramatic events subsided, and a gradual, almost imperceptible process of consolidation of the newly achieved unity gained strength. It is ironic that history recognizes the great civilizations for their artistic and technological advances, but pays very little attention to the centuries and millennia of stability and prosperity that laid the foundations for those achievements.

What factors motivated them to attain such sociopolitical complexity? The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau thought that larger sociopolitical units formed when the members of smaller units freely and voluntarily decided to enter into a “social contract” upon realizing that it would better serve their collective interests to do so. However, Diamond (1997:283) points out that “observation and historical records have failed to uncover a single case of a state’s being formed in that ethereal atmosphere of dispassionate farsightedness.”

Another theory assumes that communities in the earlier stages united around a mutually beneficial project that they could only carry out through close collaboration and coordination. This is actually a variation of the “social contract” theory, with the only difference that a specific motive for uniting is stated. The classical examples of such projects were large-scale irrigation systems, so this notion came to be known as the “hydraulic theory”. However, archeological studies have revealed that such large-scale systems appeared only after chieftainships united as states for other reasons.

A third explanation is that smaller units combined to form more complex structures in response to some threat, whether internal or external, natural or human. Internal threats often arise in response to growth in both the population and the complexity of its interrelations. This tends to increase the frequency and severity of conflicts, which can only be resolved or prevented by moving on to the next level of sociopolitical sophistication. External threats can be natural, as in the case of a famine, or anthropogenic, such as a conflict with a powerful neighboring community.

One final explanation––which has also been observed in practice––is that smaller units have been destroyed or absorbed by larger units through conquest. This conquest was possible not only because of more numerous armies (which was not always the case), but because their greater centralization of resources, diversification of functions and technological development enabled them to overcome the defenses of more primitive social structures. Where their extermination was complete, they simply disappeared; otherwise, any survivors became part of the larger structure. There have even been cases where simpler peoples voluntarily joined more advanced ones because of the advantages they offered and/or to circumvent the possibility of a violent conquest.

The main difference between these four theories is that the first two require a voluntary, proactive decision, while the second two achieve change reactively through force. The latter have been observed frequently in practice, while the first two have rarely been seen. Why are human beings so reluctant to take the evolutionary step from a lower level of sociopolitical organization to a higher one, despite the terrible suffering experienced as the ensuing crisis deepens and in regardless of the enormous advantages to be gained once that step is taken? It may be because we have not seen those advantages yet, or because of the inertia inherent in the common belief that “better the devil you know than the devil you do not know.” Other, deeper drivers range from the matter of a community’s collective identity to their leaders’ fear of losing their privileges. Diamond (1997:289) suggests that “leaders of little societies, as of big ones, are jealous of their independence and prerogatives”. And one of the fields of action of a sociocultural change agent is precisely to help diminish resistance and bolster acceptance for the changes to be made.


D. The Challenge at Hand

It is essential to re-write human history, in order to place war and peace in their true perspective. This has been the proposal of several authors. Elise Boulding, in her book “Cultures of Peace – The Hidden Side of History”, describes numerous peaceful cultures that are not found in history textbooks. Arnold J. Toynbee, in the twelve volumes of his “Study of History” analyzes the human dynamics of the rise and fall of 21 civilizations. John Huddleston, in his “The Search for a Just Society”, retells history has the exploration of an increasingly just social order. In his works titled “The Unfoldment of World Civilization”, “Foundations of World Unity” and “The Goal of a New World Order,” Shoghi Effendi portrays history as humanity’s socio–political evolution towards peace, projects that trajectory into the future, and poses what we must do today in order to further that process.

What might be the driving factors in order to overcome our attachment to unlimited national sovereignty and federate of independent nation-states into a supranational structure? They show no signs of doing so proactively to serve the best interests of the global population, not even to implement a large, complex project together. Neither have the few attempts to unite the world through conquest been successful.

Rather, the greatest steps towards this goal were taken as a reaction to the threat of war. The League of Nations was formed in the wake of World War I,  the United Nations following World War II, and a new reformed UN with the conclusion of the Cold War. Once these incipient structures were established, it became possible to organize the hundreds of planetary projects that are being implemented through the UN system or with its backing and support.

The size of the world population, its interconnectedness and the complexity of its interrelations have reached such a point that de facto global integration already exists. However, without an international legal system to coordinate it, humanity will always be plagued by the specter of international war. There are many other threats that could drive us to take the remaining steps towards consuming that unity, such as increasing economic meltdowns, environmental disasters and world-wide epidemics.

However, only the future will tell how this positive outcome is finally reached, and to what extent we will allow these crises to grow, caused by our reluctance to pay the small price of letting go a part of our national sovereignty to achieve it. As agents of sociocultural change, it is our aim that this transition be achieved as rapidly as possible, in order to minimize the trauma suffered in the process. As the Universal House of Justice observed in its “Promise of World Peace” [1985],

“World peace is not only possible but inevitable. It is the next stage in the evolution of this planet… Whether peace is to be reached only after unimaginable horrors precipitated by humanity's stubborn clinging to old patterns of behavior, or is to be embraced now by an act of consultative will, is the choice before all who inhabit the earth. At this critical juncture when the intractable problems confronting nations have been fused into one common concern for the whole world, failure to stem the tide of conflict and disorder would be unconscionably irresponsible.”



[1] Popper, Karl R. [1957] “Poverty of Historicism”. London/New York: Routledge Classics, 2002.

[2] Paige, Glenn D. “War - Part One: The Road to Total War (6 of 6). URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qquflmrov1Q&NR=1.

[3] Morton Hunt, "Man and Beast", in Montagu, Ashley, ed. “Man and Aggression”. New York: Oxford University Press, 2ª ed. 1973, pp. 19-38.

[4] Although this classification may seem a bit arbitrary, it is a useful tool because it enables us to analyze what would otherwise be a confusion of structural magnitudes. For more details on this progression, see Diamond [1997], Chapter 14 “From Egalitarianism to Kleptocracy,” pp. 265-292.

[5] The formation of some nation-states have skipped this step, such as a large part of modern Africa, in which they were demarcated arbitrarily by foreign powers. However, this represents and unfortunate deviation from the normal process that is described here.

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