Civilization and War

Civilization and War

Brett Bowden

Civilization and war were born around the same time in roughly the same place – they have effectively grown up together. This challenges the belief that the more civilized we become, the less likely the resort to war to resolve differences and disputes. The related assumption that civilized societies are more likely to abide by the rules of war is also in dispute. Where does terrorism fit into debates about civilized and savage war? What are we to make of talk about an impending ‘clash of civilizations’? In a succinct yet wide ranging survey of history and of ideas that calls in to question a number of conventional wisdoms, Civilization and War explores these issues and more whilst outlining the two-way relationship between civilization and war.

Chapter 3: Civilization and war

Brett Bowden

Subjects: politics and public policy, international politics


Instinct would suggest that the more civilized we have become over time, or the further we have progressed from a brutish state of nature, surely the violent and bloody realities of armed conflict become ever more abhorrent and objectionable and are to be avoided at almost any cost. Indeed, this is one of the key lessons we take from Thomas Hobbes about the uncertainties and brevity of life in a state of nature where every man is an enemy to every man, and while not necessarily constantly at war with all others, is at least prepared or preparing for it. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, on the other hand, claimed that the state of nature was the playground of the noble savage who by and large lived in a state of harmony with his fellow beings and the natural world more generally. It was only with the coming of civilization that the Garden of Eden was disturbed by war and the other ills associated with civilized modernity. As Rousseau eloquently put it: “The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, to whom it occurred to say this is mine, and found people sufficiently simple to believe him, was the true founder of civil society.

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