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 5: Civilization, war, and terror

Brett Bowden

Subjects: politics and public policy, international politics


As Hannah Arendt has poignantly noted, the terror of tyrants, despots, and dictators is documented from ancient times on, the terror of revolutions and counter-revolutions, of majorities against minorities and of minorities against the majority of humanity, the terror of plebiscitary democracies and of modern one-party systems, the terror of revolutionary movements and the terror of small groups of conspirators. She further emphasizes that history has demonstrated time and again that, “as a means of frightening people into submission,” terror can and does “appear in an extraordinary variety of forms” and is “closely linked” with a wide variety of “political and party systems.” Arendt’s observations about state terror are painfully evident in the history of her own birthplace, Germany, from which she was forced to flee to escape the horrors of Nazi terror. While it was the omnipotent and omnipresent terror of the Nazi state that posed a threat to Arendt and so many of her fellow Germans and their European neighbors, more recently the world has been reminded in the most shocking manner of the terror threat that non-state radical groups pose to the state and its people.

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