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 7: Civilizations at war?

Brett Bowden

Subjects: politics and public policy, international politics


It seems appropriate for a book on civilization and war to engage with the issue of war between civilizations. With the end of the Cold War, and particularly since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, there is a growing impression that the various civilizations to which we belong are somehow fundamentally at odds with one another and prone to clashing. This is especially the case when it comes to relations between the Western and Islamic worlds, with some observers seeing their history of interactions as defined by a recurring or ongoing series of confrontations and clashes – from the eleventh-century Crusades (1095–1291) through to events being played out in the Middle East and Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11. This in turn has given rise to claims and arguments about how or why one side or the other might ultimately prevail in the clash of civilizations. Unfortunately, preoccupation with clashes and confrontations obscures what many civilizations share in common and overlooks centuries of migration, mingling, and peaceful co-operation.

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