Humanity started the new century and new millennium not with eternal peace and triumph of universal values, but with a new round of hate, violence and wars. The idea that human beings have scandalized their own creation is not far from being true. Among the reasons of this state of affairs one can name the structure of world politics, or the inherent inclinations of human nature. However, it is improbable that centuries of wars and genocides were caused by some definite single reason. Rather, this situation was caused by a number of reasons, which belong to both the state politics and human nature. Also, such phenomena as wars between states depend more on global causes, while genocide, for example, relates to the sphere of human psychology. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to study this state of affairs in the context of human history and psychology.
The Structure of the World Politics
The First World War caused a powerful blow to the idealistic progressivism of the 19th century, which came from the epoch of Enlightenment. The triumph of the anti-German coalition in World War II allowed explaining its cause and nature by Nazism and aggressive Japanese imperialism. In the subsequent stalemate confrontation between the two superpowers there were periodical wars (Korea, Vietnam, Angola, Panama, Afghanistan, etc.), which were easily explained in every ideological camp as a result of the aggressive policy of the enemy. In addition, each side claimed its love of peace: “communism will stop the exploitation of man by man, which leads to violence and war”; “a democratic government always seeks peace, unlike some non-democratic regimes”.
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On the one hand, in the same period the arms race has reached an unprecedented scale in the world history. On the other hand, the apocalyptic scenarios of nuclear war, which had developed in the 1970s, were not implemented. The fall of the iron curtain did not bring the desired civilized era of peace and harmony. Instead, the world has entered a new era of numerous foci of war and violence, and some obviously aggressive wars were called “peacekeeping” or “anti-terrorist operations”, which had the task of “disarming the enemy” and “protecting people”.
Behind this surface layer the events can be considered deeper. From one point of view, the war itself is not associated with certain social and historical characteristics of society, for in this case the removal of such characteristics would eliminate wars as well. War seems to have more essential and substantial nature. From another point of view, the non-occurrence of a nuclear apocalypse, coupled with the failure of hopes for universal renunciation of nuclear weapons, suggests that creation and improvement of the most destructive means of violence (weapons and methods of military organization) is not a dead-end, but the main line of development of the human race, which in this case (so far) is capable of self-restraint, required to avoid using such means. Anyway, war cannot be explained by particular errors, imperfect social order or ill-will of certain groups or individuals.
War determines our life and history not only when it is going on, but also during peace. Preparation for war or building a defense to avoid war, with all the unforeseen social consequences of such activities, is the phenomena that cannot be removed from the analysis of the essence of warfare and violence. These circumstances change the picture. It could be possible to recognize an independent ontological status of war in human reality only as a peripheral unfortunate trait of human nature or human communities. War has now shifted to the center of human social life and takes not the main (which, however, remains to be studied), but a very important place. In some ways, this vision was developed by Heraclitus, who considered that “war is the father of all and the king of all.”
Baruch Spinoza explained violence by imperfection of human nature. Passions inherent in people overshadow reason and incite them to infinite quarrels and use of physical violence, rather than to cooperate with each other for their own interests, ensuring a perfect harmony in the relationship. But if the only reason for conflict lies in variations in human nature, it is logical to assume that the end of conflict is real only when it changes. But Spinoza solved this problem at the state level, not involving this factor, changing the environment in which the interaction occurs. Spinoza followed from the individual and the individual state to the state acting among other countries. He believed that states, like humans, show the desire to survive and the inability to consistently resolve contradictions. But states can overcome the limitations of their nature as opposed to people. While individuals come together to survive, states do not need this. Wars between states are as inevitable as immutable defects of human nature.
Further analysis of the causes of wars and violence is based on the investigation of certain characteristics of conflicts. The main feature deals with ubiquity and constant renewal of irregular warfare, in other words, wars happened almost everywhere in human communities (perhaps, with a certain critical mass of the population). Wars start again, i.e., the eternal peace does not occur in any region. However, wars usually break out irregularly (except annual or colonial conquest campaigns). An interesting aspect is a permanent and almost universal availability of means of violence in communities, as well as military organizations capable of mobilizing resources. It means that even a small weak country will have an army or its equivalent.
There is a theory that man is aggressive by nature. It is fueled by sublimation, when man turns his discontent into prejudice and hatred of other races, religions, nations or ideologies. According to this theory, the state creates and preserves a certain order in the local community and at the same time creates a base for aggression in the form of war. If war is an integral part of human nature, as it is supposed by many psychological theories, then it will never be possible to completely get rid of it.
Sigmund Freud believed that aggressiveness is one of the basic instincts that define psychological “spring”, direction and meaning of human existence. Based on this position, Freud even refused to participate in the peace movement, because he considered war as an inevitable consequence of periodic outbreaks of human aggression.
Despite the fact that these theories can explain why there are wars, they do not explain their reasons and at the same time, they do not explain the existence of some cultures that do not know wars. If the inner psychology of the human mind is constant, then such cultures should not even exist. Some researchers argue that the state of peace is an illusion. Periods which are called “peace” are in fact the periods of preparation for the coming war, or the situations when the warlike instincts are suppressed by a stronger state, for example, Pax Britannica.
These theories are based on the alleged will of the overwhelming majority of the population. However, they do not account for the fact that only a small number of wars in history were really the result of the will of the people. More often people are forcibly drawn into war by their rulers. There are theories which argue that the vast majority of the population is neutral towards war, and that war only happens when leaders with the psychologically abnormal attitude to human life come to power. Wars are started by rulers who deliberately seek to fight, such as Napoleon, Hitler, or Alexander the Great. Such people become the heads of state in times of crisis, when people want the leader of a strong will, who, as it seems, is able to solve their problems. Anyway, it is hard to contradict the fact that the inner nature of human beings is aggressive.
A normal person, no matter how peaceful he is, cannot live without any disagreements with others. Many men, many minds, and, therefore, the opinions of different people will inevitably come into conflict with each other. Today conflicts are explained by a variety of reasons. In particular, there is a point of view that hostility and prejudice between people is eternal and rooted in the very nature of man, his instinctive aversion to differences. Thus, representatives of social Darwinism argue that the law of life is a struggle for existence, which is observed in the animal world. It manifests itself in human society in the form of various conflicts, i.e., conflicts are just as necessary as eating or sleeping. Other studies contradict this view, arguing that, for example, hostility towards foreigners, and prejudice against any particular nationality are not universal. They occur under the influence of social reasons. This conclusion is fully applicable to conflicts having intercultural character.
Animals are not aggressive, they kill to survive. Man, however, tortures and kills his own kind and finds satisfaction in this without the biological and economic reasons. Malignant aggression is a major problem and danger to the survival of the human race. Man is the only specimen of mammals capable of killing on a large scale. Also, animals perceive threat, but it is a clear danger that exists at the moment. Man, however, has rich imagination, responding to potential threats in the future, in view of its potential for danger, computed by politicians and military commanders. If the human race were endowed with innate aggression only to the extent that it occurs, for example, in chimpanzees, it would live in a relatively peaceful world.
Skeptical moralists speak about a natural hostility between man and man. An old Latin saying “homo homini lupus est” explains an interesting fact that misfortune of one’s friend is something not quite unpleasant for an individual. Man is simply selfish, and this natural fact cannot be turned into its opposite by nature. Apparently, this hostility is, at least, some form or the basis of human relations, along with another human trait – sympathy between people. A remarkably strong interest which a person experiences towards the suffering of others can be explained only by mixing of these two motivations. Finally, the idea that there is a need for the initial hostility is supported by an easy suggestibility to hostile attitude. In general, it is much harder for an average person to inspire confidence and affection to certain third person, than to cause disbelief and disgust. It is known that the relationships of primitive groups are almost always hostile. Perhaps the most radical example is the Indians, among whom each tribe was considered to be at war with any other, as long as there was no sensible peace treaty. In the early stages of culture development war is probably the only form of contact with a foreign group.
In his book A Cooperative Species Samuel Bowles, a researcher at the Santa Fe Institute, discussed the early wars in human history, their causes and role in the development of civilization. He combined the discoveries of archaeologists with the results of computer simulations. Bowles offers the statistics collected during the archeological and ethnographic expeditions: in primitive societies of hunters and gatherers deaths from warfare reached 14 percent. During the Second World War Soviet Union (the country with the greatest losses) lost 23 million of its citizens. The general population in 1939 was 168.5 million; that is, fighting, bombardments and starvation killed 13.7% of the inhabitants. That means the Stone Age was in fact a continuing analog of WWII for human ancestors. The total number of victims was smaller, but only due to the fact that there were less people on the planet. The wars between the tribes of the Stone Age led to losses of about 60% of the population. The explosion of a nuclear bomb in Hiroshima killed about the same number, but unlike Hiroshima, conflicts between the tribes were constant for thousands of years.
All these discoveries motivated scientists of different specialties to look for the reasons of such cruelty. In addition to the issue of historical interest the driving force of wars is important for understanding the contemporary world. Why even a primitive society was constantly at war, despite the fact that it suffered huge losses according to modern standards? The results of the investigation explained why the groups of people start conflicts. Additionally, the researchers answered the question of why people cannot be absolutely altruistic. In the society consisting of merely altruistic people the only selfish one is in the best position, and over time the number of selfish people grows to a certain value. Afterwards, the negative effects of rampant selfishness can lead to a worldwide catastrophe.
If there are groups initially hostile to each other, there appears a specific form of altruism – the altruism towards friendly members. And the bloodier the war is, the more sacrifice can be shown by a single individual. Conflicts which started due to lack of resources have led to the selection of groups whose members were more willing to sacrifice themselves. Such groups became more successful, their number grew, and after a while everything was repeated. After thousands of years this group altruism led, according to the researchers, to the appearance of a highly developed civilization.
Wars and Conflicts as a Natural State of Affairs
Any conflict is a human need for wealth, prestige and power at the expense of others. However, at the same time conflicts are an obligatory attribute of human development. Conflicts mobilize people and make them stronger. The main benefit and the main function of wars between the states is to identify the most advanced country, which as a rule becomes the winner. Once the war is lost, a backward country must either die or be educated by winners, first in the military field, and then in other areas. While war is not possible between the advanced countries with nuclear weapons, the war of the advanced countries against undeveloped ones having no nuclear weapons is quite acceptable and even inevitable. Pacifism as the theory of complete eradication of war practice in international relations is a utopia.
War, international trade and cultural exchange are the only way of learning for undeveloped nations in an effort to bring them to the level of cultural development of the advanced nations. Without war, the indigenous peoples of Africa, America, Australia, and Siberia would still be in a primitive state.
Some researchers consider war as a positive factor for human society as a whole (not for individual persons) due to the following factors:
- War returns biological selection to human society, when only the fittest are left to survive, since in normal conditions of human society the laws of biology in choosing a partner are strongly weakened.
- At the time of war all the restrictions that are imposed on the individual in society at the time of peace are removed. As a result, war can be seen as a way and method of removal of psychological stress in the whole society.
- The fear of the imposition of another’s will and fear in the face of danger is an exceptional incentive for technical progress. It is no coincidence that many new items appear as invented for military use, and only then are used in civilian life.
- Improvement of international relations at the highest level and importance of such values such as human life, peace, etc., in post-war period.
The first form of contact with an alien civilization, even with an extraterrestrial one, will always be manifested in the form of war. The war of the advanced countries against the undeveloped countries and terrorists is inevitable, even for the reason that terrorists sometimes are capable to attack the advanced countries, whose leaders are disoriented by pacifist ideas and do not want to see the real threats. Today, backward regimes use rather an effective tactic against advanced countries – global terror and guerrilla war. For example, the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda arranged the attack on the U.S. on 11 September 2001. In response, the U.S. was forced to destroy the totalitarian regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Authoritative general theory of war and conflict has not yet been created. Karl Clausewitz wrote that war is merely the continuation of policy by other means and that every epoch must have its own theory of war. Clausewitz saw war in terms of the ratio of “cost” and “benefit”: when military expenditures exceed benefits, the war must end.
Some researchers believe that the market economy and the international division of labor often involve peaceful cooperation. This is not altogether true. For example, international trade causes wars for the control of trade routes. Today, the main export commodity of some countries is drugs (e.g. Afghanistan and Colombia), which causes armed conflicts with other countries.
War is a great social invention. It is one of the main forms of social conflict, which cannot be canceled at all. Although it may be somewhat limited by means of a global armed control, when the UN Security Council will decide the question of who should be considered the aggressor, and whether there is the need to punish the aggressor with the international military forces. But still, wars will exist in this form or another.
Today, war remains the only means of mass murder, at least among developed nations. Further progress of mankind will eliminate such phenomena as genocide. However, terrorism and wars will exist until all the differences between nations are erased, which is impossible. Considering the above stated facts, there is no universal cause of conflicts or wars. Rather, combination of different factors causes conflicts between people, depending on place, nation, time, etc.
People seek security, wealth, prestige and power. They succeed and fail depending on the factors of success. They seek to strengthen or restore the fortunes. Critical for the outbreak of war are their following actions and their perception by others as hostile. In this model, the perpetual peace is possible only if every political community uses such options that are perceived by other communities as hostile or dangerous. The question is whether these options exist for all possible situations. Anyway, the problem of the possibility of perpetual peace lies in the fact that, on the one hand, the perpetual peace will never come (for example, due to development of reason or culture), while on the other hand, wars in future are probable, and they are more probable with great wealth and prestige achieved by a community (because more success leads to greater vulnerability, risk of crisis and great desire to do something in order to avoid the latter).
Thus, the essence of war should be related to the nature of man and nature of communities striving for success. The danger of war will only disappear when people get rid of their desire for success; that is, it will never disappear. War is caused by a peaceful life, and above all by a peaceful success in reaching wellbeing and unintended consequences of such a success. Since people are humans and they strive for the best for themselves, war is always at hand. Taking it into account, the best definition for current world order would be “normal”. Maybe someday it will change to “new” or “better”, but this is highly improbable.
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