Since 1945 no major power has used warfare to subjugate another; tensions which in the past would have led to a head-on collision have been kept under control. The change has been ascribed to the presence of nuclear weaponry, raising the stakes to an unacceptable level, and that is doubtless a factor, but we cannot feel confidence in it as a guarantee of continuing security. Failing radical change the scenario of the 60s known as Mutual Assured Destruction (yielding an acronym which delighted the anti-nuclear lobby), is too likely to cone about even though nobody may intend it. IC29 put forward grounds for believing that nuclear weapons cannot now be eliminated; for the reasonably foreseeable future we have to share a world with these devil’s devices. Does this mean we have to live under the continuing threat of all-out nuclear war between the superpowers, or are there grounds for a more optimistic outlook? In addressing the readers of IC, any suggestion that war may be a natural activity can be disregarded; we have to look at the social conditions which tend to produce it and – at least equally important – those which do not.
First, war does not take place among hunter-gatherers. Many an explorer has found members of foraging communities ready enough to fight, but they do so sporadically, as individuals or as a mob; they do not use formed bodies of troops, they do not display the organised and persistent social effort which takes fighting over the military horizon to become warfare.
Second, war going much beyond a border skirmish has not yet occurred between nations when both possess nuclear weapons. This does not prove it cannot do so (for that matter, we have no conclusive evidence to show war impossible between foraging communities) but the fact is relevant to the enquiry.
All the wars in which the independence of a nation was at stake have been fought between communities of which at least one was in a stage of development between hunting and gathering on one hand and possession of nuclear weapons on the other. If we can show reason for expecting this to continue the outlook becomes brighter. It does not offer anything near to complete security; a nuclear power facing defeat by conventional weapons may decide to take us all down in a Gotterdammerung, non-governmental powers may obtain these more deadly weapons as they now obtain chemical explosives and, always, accidents can happen. But these risks represent at least an improvement upon the prospect now envisaged by many thoughtful people, in which war directly between nuclear powers carries a high probability. Are there any grounds, in addition to the experience of the past forty-odd years, for entertaining this more cheerful prospect? The answer begins to appear when we look at the way in which each of the three major forms of society, spoken of above, tends to behave.
Dependence upon foraging for food belongs to a syndrome which excludes attempts to accumulate possessions or power over others, to control territory beyond the area needed for food or to lord it over crops and herds. It excludes, in a word, attempted domination.
The advent of the next main stage of social development brings government, herding and agriculture, and with these a radically different attitude enters. Such societies are institutionalised, a feature which in their later and more complex forms develops into systems of religion, of classes, of education, transport and distribution, law, coercion and much else, and all these varied systems exhibit domination. Where the pattern of hunter-gatherer society tends to.be amorphous, with little distinction of roles, these societies are structured, and their structure follows a repeating pattern of two layers, the upper one dominating the lower. Rulers dominate their subjects, priests their congregations, teachers their students, doctors their patients, officers their soldiers, employers their workers, on and on throughout the society.
These I propose to call societies of domination. In every pair of horizontal layers each limits the vertical movement of the other, but they suffer no inherent limitation upon their ‘sideways’ extension. Each ruling group tends to extend its area of domination until checked by a similar group expanding from another centre. Starting locally, the rulers of one tribe or village adding another to their dominions; this proved to be the the beginning of empire. The societies of domination produce the attempt by one community to overcome another by military means, with results ranging from small wars between agricultural or pastoral tribes to the great wars. between the great empires.
The only novelty in what has been said so far lies in lumping together in one category all societies from the earliest agricultural-pastoral tribes to the empires. Had we spoken not of societies of domination but of chattel slavery, feudalism, capitalism and imperialism the proposition that these, and not the hunter-gatherers, engage in warfare, would be familiar enough. Things get more interesting when we turn to the post-imperial phase.
The movements most active in bringing the empires to an end did not set out to destroy imperialism. The flag they waved was the freeing of their own people from foreign domination, and what happened to others was not their concern; Gandhi, for example, showed surprising indifference to the sufferings of non-Indians in South Africa. They set out not to eliminate imperialism but to impose limits upon it. Still accepting the two-level structure – the new states into which the former colonies have been transformed all exhibit clear distinctions between rulers and ruled, rich and poor, masters and workers – they imposed a new pattern upon it, one of vertical divisions limiting horizontal extension. Imposing limitation upon imperialism, they also accepted it for themselves, confining their political , ambitions within their own borders. As that attitude became more widespread so the empires.were increasingly restricted, eventually to such an extent that their period may be said to have ended, and with their virtual disappearance came the end of the period of the society of domination. A new type of society appeared, poSsessing all the main features of the previous type but in addition a further one constituting a new combination which produced novel results.
Limitation had appeared before – every empire was limited – but only as an unintended by-product of domination, one empire being limited by another. The new type of state takes a different approach, adopting limitation as a principle to be applied even to itself. It establishes its own borders (taking the claims of adjoining states into account), and.while it resists any intrusion, with violence if necessary, it alsbreirains from encroaching on its neighbours, sometimes formulating this as ‘the principle of national self-determination.’ Unlike an empire or a would-be empire, it restricts itself within geographical limits. It is self- limiting, and to the extent that this form of organisation is achieved the world comes to consist of compact, hard-edged units, each of them according its neighbours the respect it demands for itself. Unlike the societies of domination societies of this type are not inclined towards attempting to subjugate others.
A primary cause of the Second World War was the attempt of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy to establish themselves alongside the existing empires, and the main military conflicts since then have been of three types, all of them after- effects of imperialism. First, the struggle (conducted mainly by proxy, in Cuba, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and elsewhere) between the USSR and the USA, motivated by the fear of each that the other was seeking to extend its dominion – that is, tending to revert to the old imperial pattern. ‘Second, attempts to hold on to some remnant of empire, such as the French struggles in Algeria and Indo-China and the British adventures in Suez and the Falklands. (Northern Ireland, also a hang-over from the imperial age, seems to be a different matter, not so much a question of how to hold on as of how to let go). Third, what we can perhaps call negative imperialism, meaning the attempt by an established society to prevent an upcoming one from securing a foothold, the Arab-Israeli conflict being one prominent example and the present struggles of the blacks in South Africa perhaps the beginnings of another new creation.
The empires are receding into history, and the world coming to be divided between self-limiting states, with the great powers and super-powers increasingly conforming to this pattern. Provided this movement continues it seems that we can expect the risk of war between possessors of nuclear weaponry to diminish.
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IN THE struggle to get away from polysyllables, would it be going too far to re-name the non-politicals, the traditionalists and the reformers-revolutionaries the be-ers, doers and thinkers?
THERE ARE now more scientists than there have been in all previous centuries combined. (Wm. B. Provine in Sewall Wright and Evolutionary Biology U Chicago 1987
from Ideological Commentary 33, May 1988.