[Azar Gat, War in Human Civilization. Oxford University Press. Oxford (New York), 2006. 822 p.]
review / Salvador Sánchez Tapia
Among the many authors who have written on the phenomenon of war in recent decades, the name of Azar Gat stands out. From his Chair at Tel-Aviv University, this author has devoted an important part of his academic degree program to theorising on the war from different angles, a phenomenon that he knows directly from his position as a reservist in the Tsahal (Israeli Defence Forces).
War in Human Civilization is a monumental work in which the author sample his great erudition, together with his ability to deal with and study the phenomenon of war, combining the employment of fields of knowledge as diverse as history, Economics, biology, archaeology and anthropology, placing them at the service of the goal of his work, which is none other than that of elucidating what has moved and moves human groups towards war.
Throughout the almost seven hundred pages of this extensive work, Gat makes a study of the historical evolution of the phenomenon of war in which he combines a chronological approach, which we could call "conventional", with a synchronic one in which he puts in parallel similar stages of the evolution of war in different civilisations in order to compare cultures which, at a given historical moment, were at different Degrees of development and show how in all of them war went through a similar process of evolution.
In his initial approach, Gat promises an analysis that transcends any particular culture to consider the evolution of war in a general way, from its inception to the present day. The promise, however, is broken when he reaches the medieval period, for from then on he adopts a distinctly Eurocentric view, which he justifies with the argument that the Western model of war has been exported to other continents and adopted by other cultures, which, while not entirely false, leaves the reader with a somewhat incomplete view of the phenomenon.
Azar Gat dives into the origin of the human species to try to elucidate whether the phenomenon of war makes it different from the rest of the species, and to try to determine whether conflict is an innate phenomenon in the species or whether, on the contrary, it is a learned behaviour.
On the first question, the book concludes that nothing makes us different from other species because, despite Rousseaunian visions based on the "good savage" that were so in vogue in the 1960s, the reality sample is that intra-species violence, which was considered to be unique to humans, is in fact something shared with other species. On the second question, Gat takes the eclectic view that aggression is both innate and optional, a basic survival choice that is nonetheless exercised optionally, and developed through social learning.
Throughout the book's historical journey, the idea, formulated in the first chapters, that the ultimate causes of war are evolutionary in nature and have to do with the struggle for the survival of the species, appears as a leitmotif.
According to this approach, conflict would be rooted in competition for resources and better reproductive opportunities. Although the human development towards increasingly complex societies has eventually obscured it, this logic would still guide human behaviour today, mainly through the bequest of proximate mechanisms implied by human desires.
An important chapter in the book is the author's dissection of the theory, first advanced during the Enlightenment, of the Democratic Peace. Gat does not refute the theory, but puts it in a new light. If, in its original definition, it argues that liberal and democratic regimes are averse to war and that, therefore, the spread of liberalism will advance peace among nations, Gat argues that it is the growth of wealth that actually serves that spread, and that welfare and the interrelationship that trade fosters are the real drivers of democratic peace.
Two are, therefore, the two main conclusions of the work: that conflict is the rule in a nature in which organisms compete with each other for survival and reproduction in an environment of scarce resources, and that, recently, the development of liberalism in the western world has generated in this environment a feeling of repugnance towards war that translates into an almost absolute rejection of it in favour of other strategies based on cooperation.
Azar Gat recognises that a significant part of the human race is still a long way from liberal and democratic models, let alone the achievement of Degree of well-being and wealth, which, in his view, goes hand in hand with the rejection of war. Although he does not say so openly, it can be inferred from his speech that this is, nevertheless, the direction in which humanity is heading and that, the day it reaches the necessary conditions for this, war will finally be eradicated from the Earth.
Against this idea, one could argue the ever-present possibility of regression of the liberal system due to the demographic pressure to which it is subjected, or because of some global event that provokes it; or that other systems, equally rich but not liberal, will replace the world of democracies in world domination.
reference letter The book is a must for any scholar or reader interested in the nature and evolution of the phenomenon of war, and is a must for any scholar or reader interested in the nature and evolution of the phenomenon of war. Written with great erudition, and with a profusion of data that, at times, makes it somewhat harsh, War in Human Civilization is, without a doubt, an important contribution to the knowledge of war that is essential reading.