Research[ edit ] Azar Gat started his career focusing on military history and strategy, exemplified in his book The Origins of Military Thought from the Enlightenment to Clausewitz, a book frequently cited especially in relation to Carl von Clausewitz. Over the years he has broadened his scope to include causes, especially the prehistoric causes of war. In conclusion, let us understand more closely the evolutionary calculus that can make the highly dangerous activity of fighting over resources worthwhile. The spectre of hunger and starvation always loomed over their heads. Thus, struggle over resources was very often evolutionarily cost-effective. In War in Human Civilization and following up in Victorious and Vulnerable: Why Democracy won in the 20th Century and How it is Still Imperiled, Gat argues that the world has been becoming steadily more peaceful for thousands of years.
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First, what are the essential reasons why humans fight wars? Second, how have the motivations, practices, and lethality of war changed as human civilization has transformed over time?
Although the book is a challenging read given its length and dense writing, Gat offers much illumination on these and other questions.
Gat received his Ph. D in history and he now teaches political science at Tel Aviv University. War in Human Civilization reflects his interdisciplinary career by employing ideas and methods from a variety of science and social science disciplines.
Gat needs this expansive toolkit because his essential questions cross disciplinary lines and many of his topics cannot be accessed with only the standard methods of history and political science.
Gat begins with hunter-gatherers and proceeds to the development of tribes, agriculture, chieftainships, states, and ultimately modern forms of politics, economics, and warfare.
The examination of hunter-gatherers is especially crucial in establishing his thesis. He grants great significance to hunter-gatherer warfare because Homo sapiens has spent the vast majority of its existence in this mode and the evolutionary mechanisms we developed in this state of nature still deeply influence our behavior today.
Employing insights from archaeology, animal behavior, and modern observations of hunter-gatherers, Gat shows that hunter-gatherers used violence to steal women, kill male competitors and their offspring, and access crucial resources and territory.
Rather, violence is one of many tactics humans can employ to satisfy the evolutionary complex, and humans will deploy more or less violence depending upon a variety of factors. Gat shows how key developments in human cultural evolution, such as agriculture, states, and industrial production, transformed the ways those societies fought. Gat maintains that throughout the cultural evolution of warfare violence has remained instrumental to human goals rather than an end in itself.
He posits that human beings will be more or less violent based on the utility of violence in achieving basic evolutionary goals in different civilizational conditions. In this vein, he concludes that the frequency and relative lethality of wars has declined in the past few centuries not just because of democratization and shifting values, but because the incentives for using war have lessened under modern civilizational conditions.
These conditions include nuclear weapons, global trade, and reduced tie between force and wealth procurement in the industrialized world. One of his greatest strengths is his ability to break down false dichotomies that have obscured debates about the motivations behind human violence. The most important of these is the debate between social constructionist and biological frameworks.
Gat shows that social constructs over which people may fight are derivative of and subordinate to the central objectives of the evolutionary complex. Humans pursue wealth or political power, for instance, ultimately because they consciously or unconsciously want to secure access to food and reproduction. Achieving wealth or power are means to those ends.
War in Human Civilization