Edited by Christopher J. Coyne and Rachel L. Mathers
Chapter 2: Theories and Causes of War
Jack S. Levy 2.1 INTRODUCTION The question of what causes war has engaged scholars, journalists, public intellectuals and others for thousands of years. We have a variety of theories but no consensus as to what the causes of war are or how best to study them. There are enormous differences across different disciplines – philosophy, theology, literature, history, economics, political science, anthropology, sociology, psychology, mathematics, biology and primatology, to name a few – but substantial differences within disciplines as well, driven by different ontological and epistemological perspectives, theoretical preconceptions and methodological preferences.1 Both the complexity of war and of the study of war complicates the task of writing a relatively short essay on the causes of war. I use this essay to place the chapters in this volume on the political economy of war and peace in the broader context of some of the leading theories in political science on the causes of war. Although it is clear that a complete understanding of the causes of war needs to draw on work in many disciplines, it is also clear that political science has a special place in the study of war. Leading scholars in several disciplines define war as large-scale organized violence between political organizations (Malinowski 1941; Vasquez 2009). Many also accept Clausewitz’ ( 1976) argument that war is fundamentally political, a “continuation of politics by other means.” If war is an instrument of policy to advance the interests of a political organization, then an explanation of war requires an understanding of...
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