Is Evil Human Nature The Cause of War?

Essay by georgebennetUniversity, Master's May 2004

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A glance at the history of mankind, repeatedly ravaged by war and its consequences, might suggest conflict to be both ubiquitous and perpetual. The costs incurred, disruption caused and horrors endured have led man throughout time to theorise on the causes of war. What makes rational people or nations go to war with one another is, in each particular case, inevitably an amalgam of different reasons. However, many have argued over the centuries that underlying the specific reasons in any one case, is the nature of the human condition ; that man's psyche is at base level bellic, self-interested, perhaps 'profoundly immoral'. This essay will outline this case, and its development over time, through writers such as Thucydides, Machiavelli and Hobbes, before investigating other more 'scientific' approaches to the question of what causes war.

Those who would maintain that some inherent facet of man's consciousness is to blame for the continual cycle of violence in history belong to a school of thought known as the Classical Realists.

Their basic assumptions are; (1) a pessimistic view of human nature; (2) a conviction that relations between groups of people or between states are necessarily conflictual and that disputes are ultimately resolved by war and; (3) a scepticism that in international affairs there can be progress comparable to that in domestic life. The first recorded proponent of the Classical Realist position is usually accepted as being the ancient Greek historian Thucydides, who commented at length on the competition between Hellanic city-states. In particular, his study of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) highlights his belief that as political animals, men are highly unequal in their powers and capabilities to dominate others, that man seeks to dominate those around him, and that as long as there exists an imbalance, the strong will seek to subjugate...