Skip to main content
×
Home
    • Aa
    • Aa

The evolution of war: theory and controversy

  • Anthony C. Lopez (a1)
Abstract

The use of evolutionary theory for explaining human warfare is an expanding area of inquiry, but it remains obstructed by two important hurdles. One is that there is ambiguity about how to build an evolutionary theory of human warfare. The second is that there is ambiguity about how to interpret existing evidence relating to the evolution of warfare. This paper addresses these problems, first by outlining an evolutionary theory of human warfare, and second by investigating the veracity of four common claims made against the use of evolutionary theory for explaining warfare. These claims are: (1) ancestral warfare was not frequent or intense enough to have selected for psychological adaptations in humans for warfare; (2) the existence of peaceful societies falsifies the claim that humans possess adaptations for fighting; (3) if psychological adaptations for warfare exist, then war is an inevitable and universal component of the human condition; (4) modern warfare and international politics is so qualitatively different from ancestral politics that any adaptations for the latter are inoperative or irrelevant today. By outlining an evolutionary theory of war and clarifying key misunderstandings regarding this approach, international relations scholars are better positioned to understand, engage, and contribute to emerging scholarship on human warfare across the social and evolutionary sciences.

Copyright
Corresponding author
E-mail: anthony.c.lopez@wsu.edu
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Emanuel Adler . 1997. “Seizing the Middle Ground: Constructivism in World Politics.” European Journal of International Relations 3(3):319363.

C. Athena Aktipis . 2011. “Is Cooperation Viable in Mobile Organisms? Simple Walk Away Rule Favors the Evolution of Cooperation in Groups.” Evolution and Human Behavior 32(4):263276. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2011.01.002.

Marcus Alexander , and Fotini Christia . 2011. “Context Modularity of Human Altruism.” Science 334(6061):13921394.

John R. Alford , Carolyn L. Funk , and John R. Hibbing . 2005. “Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?American Political Science Review 99(2):153167. doi:10.1017/S0003055405051579.

J Archer . 2006. “Testosterone and Human Aggression: An Evaluation of the Challenge Hypothesis.” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 30(3):319345.

Scott Atran , and Jeremy Ginges . 2012. “Religious and Sacred Imperatives in Human Conflict.” Science 336(6083):855857.

Robert Axelrod , and William D. Hamilton . 1981. “The Evolution of Cooperation.” Science 211(4489):13901396.

Zoltan Barany . 2008. “Superpresidentialism and the Military: The Russian Variant.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 38(1):1438.

David P. Barash , and Judith E. Lipton . 2011. Payback: Why We Retaliate, Redirect Aggression, and Take Revenge. Oxford and New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Duncan Bell . 2006. “Beware of False Prophets: Biology, Human Nature, and the Future of International Relations Theory.” International Affairs 82(3):495504.

Christopher Boehm . 2011. “Retaliatory Violence in Human Prehistory.” British Journal of Criminology 51(3):518534.

Christopher Boehm . 2012b. “Ancestral Hierarchy and Conflict.” Science 336(6083):844847.

Samuel Bowles . 2009. “Did Warfare Among Ancestral Hunter-Gatherers Affect the Evolution of Human Social Behaviors?Science 324(5932):12931298.

Robert Boyd , and Peter J. Richerson . 2009. “Culture and the Evolution of Human Cooperation.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 364(1533):32813288.

Pascal Boyer . 2002. Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Pascal Boyer , and Michael B. Petersen . 2011. “The Naturalness of (Many) Social Institutions: Evolved Cognition as Their Foundation.” Journal of Institutional Economics 8(1):125, FirstView.

Jeni L. Burnette , Michael E. McCullough , Daryl R. Van Tongeren , and Don E. Davis . 2012. “Forgiveness Results from Integrating Information About Relationship Value and Exploitation Risk.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 38(3):345356.

Maxwell N. Burton-Chellew , Adin Ross-Gillespie , and Stuart A. West . 2010. “Cooperation in Humans: Competition Between Groups and Proximate Emotions.” Evolution and Human Behavior 31(2):104108.

David M. Buss , and Heidi Greiling . 1999. “Adaptive Individual Differences.” Journal of Personality 67(2):209243.

DavidM. Buss , and Todd Shackelford . 1997. “Human Aggression in Evolutionary Psychological Perspective.” Clinical Psychology Review 17:605619.

Lei Chang , Hui Jing Lu , Hongli Li , and Tong Li . 2011. “The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships: The Mating–Warring Association in Men.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 37(7):976984. doi:10.1177/0146167211402216.

Dan Chiappe , and Kevin MacDonald . 2005. “The Evolution of Domain-General Mechanisms in Intelligence and Learning.” Journal of General Psychology 132(1):540.

J. K. Choi , and S. Bowles . 2007. “The Coevolution of Parochial Altruism and War.” Science 318(5850):636640.

Mina Cikara , Matthew M. Botvinick , and Susan T. Fiske . 2011. “Us Versus Them: Social Identity Shapes Neural Responses to Intergroup Competition and Harm.” Psychological Science 22(3):306313. doi:10.1177/0956797610397667.

Jaime C. Confer , Judith A. Easton , Diana S. Fleischman , Cari D. Goetz , David M. G. Lewis , Carin Perilloux , and David M. Buss . 2010. “Evolutionary Psychology: Controversies, Questions, Prospects, and Limitations.” American Psychologist 65(2):110126.

Richard J. Crisp , and Rose Meleady . 2012. “Adapting to a Multicultural Future.” Science 336(6083):853855.

Tyler M Curley . 2009. “Social Identity Theory and EU Expansion.” International Studies Quarterly 53(3):649668.

Andrew W. Delton , Max M. Krasnow , Leda Cosmides , and John Tooby . 2011. “Evolution of Direct Reciprocity Under Uncertainty can Explain Human Generosity in One-Shot Encounters.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108:1333513340.

Frans De Waal . 2012. “The Antiquity of Empathy.” Science 336(6083):874876.

C. R Ember . 1978. “Myths About Hunter-Gatherers.” Ethnology 17(4):439448.

Ernst Fehr , and Klaus M. Schmidt . 1999. “A Theory of Fairness, Competition, and Cooperation.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 114(3):817868.

Mark V. Flinn , Davide Ponzi , and Michael P. Muehlenbein . 2012. “Hormonal Mechanisms for Regulation of Aggression in Human Coalitions.” Human Nature 23(1):6888. doi:10.1007/s12110-012-9135-y.

Azar Gat . 2009. “So Why Do People Fight? Evolutionary Theory and the Causes of War.” European Journal of International Relations 15(4):571599.

Jeremy Ginges , and Scott Atran . 2011. “War as a Moral Imperative (Not Just Practical Politics by Other Means).” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 278(1720):29302938.

Luke Glowacki , and Richard W. Wrangham . 2013. “The Role of Rewards in Motivating Participation in Simple Warfare.” Human Nature 24(4):444460.

Ayelet Gneezy , and Daniel M. T. Fessler . 2011. “Conflict, Sticks and Carrots: War Increases Prosocial Punishments and Rewards.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 279(1727):219232. doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.0805.

Adam Goodwin . 2010. “Evolution and Anarchism in International Relations: The Challenge of Kropotkin’s Biological Ontology.” Millennium – Journal of International Studies 39(2):417437.

Stephen J. Gould , and Richard C. Lewontin . 1979. “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B-Biological Sciences 205(1161):581598.

WilliamD Hamilton . 1964b. “Genetical Evolution of Social Behaviour I.” Journal of Theoretical Biology 7(1):116.

Robert E Harkavy . 2000. “Defeat, National Humiliation, and the Revenge Motif in International Politics.” International Politics 37(3):345368.

Peter K. Hatemi , Carolyn L. Funk , Hermine Maes , Judy Silberg , Sarah E. Medland , Nicholas Martin , and Lyndon Eaves . 2009a. “Genetic Influences on Political Attitudes Over the Life Course.” Journal of Politics 71(3):11411156.

Peter K. Hatemi , John R. Alford , John R. Hibbing , Nicholas G. Martin , and Lindon J. Eaves . 2009b. “Is There a ‘Party’ in Your Genes?Political Research Quarterly 62(3):584600.

Paul L. Hooper , Hillard S. Kaplan , and James L. Boone . 2010. “A Theory of Leadership in Human Cooperative Groups.” Journal of Theoretical Biology 265(4):633646.

John T. Ishiyama , and Ryan Kennedy . 2001. “Superpresidentialism and Political Party Development in Russia, Ukraine, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan.” Europe-Asia Studies 53(8):11771191.

Dominic D. P Johnson . 2015. “Survival of the Disciplines: Is International Relations Fit for the New Millennium?Millennium – Journal of International Studies 43(2):749763.

Dominic D. P. Johnson , and James H. Fowler . 2011. “The Evolution of Overconfidence.” Nature 477(7364):317320.

Dominic D. P. Johnson , and Niall J. MacKay . 2015. “Fight the Power: Lanchester’s Laws of Combat in Human Evolution.” Evolution and Human Behavior 36(2):152163.

Dominic D. P. Johnson , and Monica D. Toft . 2014. “Grounds for War: The Evolution of Territorial Conflict.” International Security 38(3):738.

Dominic D. P. Johnson , Richard W. Wrangham , and Steven P. Rosen . 2002. “Is Military Incompetence Adaptive? An Empirical Test with Risk-Taking Behaviour in Modem Warfare.” Evolution and Human Behavior 23(4):245264.

Dominic D. P. Johnson , Rose McDermott , Emily S. Barrett , Jonathan Cowden , Richard W. Wrangham , Matthew H. McIntyre , and Stephen P. Rosen . 2006. “Overconfidence in Wargames: Experimental Evidence on Expectations, Aggression, Gender and Testosterone.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B-Biological Sciences 273(1600):25132520. doi:10.1098/Rspb.2006.3606.

Max M. Krasnow , Andrew W. Delton , John Tooby , and Leda Cosmides . 2013. “Meeting Now Suggests We Will Meet Again: Implications for Debates on the Evolution of Cooperation.” Scientific Reports 3. http://www.nature.com/articles/srep01747.

Robert Kurzban , John Tooby , and L. Cosmides . 2001. “Can Race Be Erased? Coalitional Computation and Social Categorization.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 98(26):1538715392.

David A Lake . 2010. “Two Cheers for Bargaining Theory: Assessing Rationalist Explanations of the Iraq War.” International Security 35(3):752.

Laurent Lehmann , and Marcus W. Feldman . 2008. “War and the Evolution of Belligerence and Bravery.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 275(1653):28772885.

Jack S Levy . 1988. “Domestic Politics and War.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 18(4):653673.

Jack S. Levy , and William R. Thompson . 2011. The Arc of War: Origins, Escalation, and Transformation. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.

James R. Liddle , Todd K. Shackelford , and Viviana A. Weekes–Shackelford . 2012. “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? Evolutionary Perspectives on Violence, Homicide, and War.” Review of General Psychology 16(1):2436.

Anthony C. Lopez . 2014. “The Hawkish Dove: Evolution and the Logic of Political Behaviour.” Millennium – Journal of International Studies 43(1):6691. doi:10.1177/0305829814527635.

Anthony C. Lopez , and Rose McDermott . 2012. “Adaptation, Heritability, and the Emergence of Evolutionary Political Science.” Political Psychology 33(3):343362.

Anthony C. Lopez , Rose McDermott , and Michael B. Petersen . 2011. “States in Mind: Evolution, Coalitional Psychology, and International Politics.” International Security 36(2):4883.

Oded Löwenheim , and Gadi Heimann . 2008. “Revenge in International Politics.” Security Studies 17(4):685724.

Joseph H. Manson , and Richard W. Wrangham . 1991. “Intergroup Aggression in Chimpanzees and Humans.” Current Anthropology 32(4):369390.

Sarah Mathew , and Robert Boyd . 2011. “Punishment Sustains Large-Scale Cooperation in Prestate Warfare.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108(28):1137511380. http://www.pnas.org/content/108/28/11375.short.

Ernst Mayr . 1983. “How to Carry Out the Adaptationist Program?The American Naturalist 121(3):324334.

Francis T. McAndrew , and Carin Perilloux . 2012. “Is Self-Sacrificial Competitive Altruism Primarily a Male Activity?Evolutionary Psychology 10(1):5065.

Rose McDermott , Dustin Tingley , Jonathan Cowden , Giovanni Frazetto , and Dominic D. P. Johnson . 2009. “Monoamine Oxidase A Gene (MAOA) Predicts Behavioral Aggression Following Provocation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106(7):21182123.

Rose McDermott , James H. Fowler , and Oleg Smirnov . 2008. “On the Evolutionary Origin of Prospect Theory Preferences.” The Journal of Politics 70(2):335350. doi:10.1017/S0022381608080341.

Melissa M. McDonald , Carlos D. Navarrete , and Mark Van Vugt . 2012. “Evolution and the Psychology of Intergroup Conflict: The Male Warrior Hypothesis.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 367(1589):670679.

John C. Mitani , David P. Watts , and Amsler J. Sylvia . 2010. “Lethal Intergroup Aggression Leads to Territorial Expansion in Wild Chimpanzees.” Current Biology 20(12):R507R508.

C. David Navarrete , Robert Kurzban , Daniel M. T. Fessler , and L. A. Kirkpatrick . 2004. “Anxiety and Intergroup Bias: Terror Management or Coalitional Psychology?Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 7(4):370397.

Martin A Nowak . 2006. “Five Rules for the Evolution of Cooperation.” Science 314(5805):15601563.

John Orbell , Tomonori Morikawa , Jason Hartwig , James Hanley , and Nicholas Allen . 2004. “‘Machiavellian’ Intelligence as a Basis for the Evolution of Cooperative Dispositions.” American Political Science Review 98(1):115.

Craig Palmer . 2006. “The Peacemaking Primate?Evolutionary Psychology 4:138141.

Geoff Parker . 1974. “Assessment Strategy and the Evolution of Fighting Behaviour.” Journal of Theoretical Biology 47(1):223243.

Michael B Petersen . 2009. “Public Opinion and Evolved Heuristics: The Role of Category-Based Inference.” Journal of Cognition and Culture 9(3):367389.

David Pietraszewski , Oliver S. Curry , Michael B. Petersen , Leda Cosmides , and John Tooby . 2015. “Constituents of Political Cognition: Race, Party Politics, and the Alliance Detection System.” Cognition 140:2439.

Robert Powell . 2006. “War as a Commitment Problem.” International Organization 60(1):169203.

Michael E. Price , and Mark Van Vugt . 2014. “The Evolution of Leader-Follower Reciprocity: The Theory of Service-for-Prestige.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 8:363.

David A. Puts , Coren L. Apicella , and Rodrigo A. Cárdenas . 2012. “Masculine Voices Signal Men’s Threat Potential in Forager and Industrial Societies.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 279(1728):601609.

Mikael Puurtinen , and Tapio Mappes 2009. “Between-Group Competition and Human Cooperation.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 276(1655):355360.

James K. Rilling , Jan Scholz , Todd M. Preuss , Matthew F. Glasser , Bhargav K. Errangi , and Timothy E. Behrens . 2011. “Differences Between Chimpanzees and Bonobos in Neural Systems Supporting Social Cognition.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 7(4):369379. doi:10.1093/scan/nsr017.

Robert M Sapolsky . 2006. “A Natural History of Peace.” Foreign Affairs 85(1):104120.

Mark Schaller , Jeffry A. Simpson , and Douglas T. Kenrick . 2006. Evolution and Social Psychology. New York, NY: Psychology Press. http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/ecip069/2006005428.html.

Mark Schaller , Justin H. Park , and Annette Mueller . 2003. “Fear of the Dark: Interactive Effects of Beliefs About Danger and Ambient Darkness on Ethnic Stereotypes.” Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin 29(5):637649.

Aaron Sell , John Tooby , and Leda Cosmides . 2009. “Formidability and the Logic of Human Anger.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106(35):1507315078.

Aaron Sell , Leda Cosmides , John Tooby , Daniel Sznycer , Christopher von Rueden , and Michael Gurven . 2009. “Human Adaptations for the Visual Assessment of Strength and Fighting Ability from the Body and Face.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B-Biological Sciences 276(1656):575584.

Vaughn P. Shannon , and Paul A. Kowert , eds. 2011. Psychology and Constructivism in International Relations: An Ideational Alliance. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Lindsey A. Short , Catherine J. Mondloch , Cheryl M. McCormick , Justin M. Carré , Ruqian Ma , Genyue Fu , and Kang Lee . 2012. “Detection of Propensity for Aggression Based on Facial Structure Irrespective of Face Race.” Evolution and Human Behavior 33(2):121129.

Kevin B. Smith , Christopher W. Larimer , Levente Littvay , and John R. Hibbing . 2007. “Evolutionary Theory and Political Leadership: Why Certain People Do Not Trust Decision Makers.” The Journal of Politics 69(2):285299.

Kevin Smith , John R. Alford , Peter K. Hatemi , Lindon J. Eaves , Carolyn Funk , and John R. Hibbing . 2012. “Biology, Ideology, and Epistemology: How Do We Know Political Attitudes are Inherited and Why Should We Care?American Journal of Political Science 56(1):1733.

Brian R Spisak . 2012. “The General Age of Leadership: Older-Looking Presidential Candidates Win Elections During War.” PLoS ONE 7(5):e36945. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036945.

Brian R. Spisak , Peter H. Dekker , Max Krüger , and Mark van Vugt . 2012. “Warriors and Peacekeepers: Testing a Biosocial Implicit Leadership Hypothesis of Intergroup Relations Using Masculine and Feminine Faces.” PLoS ONE 7(1):e30399. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030399.

Philip E Tetlock . 2003. “Thinking the Unthinkable: Sacred Values and Taboo Cognitions.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 7(7):320324.

Philip E. Tetlock , Orie V. Kristel , S. Beth Elson , Melanie C. Green , and Jennifer S. Lerner . 2000. “The Psychology of the Unthinkable: Taboo Trade-Offs, Forbidden Base Rates, and Heretical Counterfactuals.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 78(5):853870.

Bradley A. Thayer , and Valerie M. Hudson . 2010. “Sex and the Shaheed: Insights from the Life Sciences on Islamic Suicide Terrorism.” International Security 34(4):3762.

John Tooby and Leda Cosmides . 1990. “On the Universality of Human Nature and the Uniqueness of the Individual: The Role of Genetics and Adaptation.” Journal of Personality 58(1):1767.

John Tooby , Leda Cosmides , and Michael E. Price . 2006. “Cognitive Adaptations for N-Person Exchange: The Evolutionary Roots of Organizational Behavior.” Managerial and Decision Economics 27(2–3):103129.

Robert Trivers . 1971. “The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism.” The Quarterly Review of Biology 46(1):3557.

Mark Van Vugt . 2009. “Sex Differences in Intergroup Competition, Aggression, and Warfare: The Male Warrior Hypothesis.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1167:124134.

Karin J. H. Verweij , Jian Yang , Jari Lahti , Juha Veijola , Mirka Hintsanen , Laura Pulkki-Råback , Kati Heinonen , et al. 2012. “Maintenance of Genetic Variation in Human Personality: Testing Evolutionary Models by Estimating Heritability Due to Common Causal Variants and Investigating the Effect of Distant Inbreeding.” Evolution 66(10):32383251. doi:10.1111/j.1558-5646.2012.01679.x.

John D. Wagner , Mark V. Flinn , and Barry G. England . 2002. “Hormonal Response to Competition Among Male Coalitions.” Evolution and Human Behavior 23(6):437442.

R. Harrison Wagner . 2000. “Bargaining and War.” American Journal of Political Science 44(3):469484.

David S Wilson . 1997. “Human Groups as Units of Selection.” Science 276(5320):18161817.

Michael L. Wilson , Christophe Boesch , Barbara Fruth , Takeshi Furuichi , Ian C. Gilby , Chie Hashimoto , Catherine L. Hobaiter , et al. 2014. “Lethal Aggression in Pan is Better Explained by Adaptive Strategies than Human Impacts.” Nature 513(7518):414417.

Michael L. Wilson , Sonya M. Kahlenberg , Michael Wells , and Richard W. Wrangham . 2012. “Ecological and Social Factors Affect the Occurrence and Outcomes of Intergroup Encounters in Chimpanzees.” Animal Behaviour 83(1):277291.

Richard Wrangham . 1999b. “Is Military Incompetence Adaptive?Evolution and Human Behavior 20(1):317.

Richard W. Wrangham , and Luke Glowacki . 2012. “Intergroup Aggression in Chimpanzees and War in Nomadic Hunter-Gatherers: Evaluating the Chimpanzee Model.” Human Nature 23(1):529. doi:10.1007/s12110-012-9132-1.

Toshio Yamagishi , Shigehito Tanida , Rie Mashima , Eri Shimoma , and Satoshi Kanazawa . 2003. “You Can Judge a Book by its Cover: Evidence That Cheaters May Look Different from Cooperators.” Evolution and Human Behavior 24(4):290301.

Paul Zak . 2006. “Neuroactive Hormones and Interpersonal Trust: International Evidence.” Economics and Human Biology 4(3):412429.

Paul J. Zak , and Jacek Kugler . 2011. “Neuroeconomics and International Studies: A New Understanding of Trust.” International Studies Perspectives 12(2):136152.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Theory
  • ISSN: 1752-9719
  • EISSN: 1752-9727
  • URL: /core/journals/international-theory
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Keywords:

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 12
Total number of PDF views: 193 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 695 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.