Gopal Balakrishnan takes issue with an ambitious attempt to apply evolutionary paradigms to human history, which would locate the wellsprings of conflict in the combative make-up of the species. Azar Gat’s War in Human Civilization as an instance of neo-social darwinism adapted to the multicultural spirit of the age.
THE ROLE OF FORCE IN HISTORY
How should Western military interventions of the past decade be situated within the millennial epic of human civilization? The theme itself, in all its hoary grandeur, might bring to mind lectures on civic virtue and occidental destiny from Harvard or the Hoover Institute. But Azar Gat’s War in Human Civilization has little in common with these best-selling tributes to exemplary republics and military orders. Instead of a few glosses on famous battles, Gat—a specialist in Security Studies at Tel Aviv University and a major in the idf Reserve—has attempted nothing less than a survey of the entire history of organized violence, from the hunter-gatherer origins of humanity to the current security predicaments of liberal democracies. War in Human Civilization sets out to resolve questions that have long been at the centre of controversies in anthropology and historical sociology. What is war? Has armed strife been endemic to all known forms of human society? Did violent group conflict take place amongst pre-historic hunter-gatherers, did it begin with the onset of agriculture, or take off after the formation of the first states? What role has war played in different forms of society, from the earliest city-states to the present day?
’My institution subscribes to NLR, why can't I access this article?’
By the same author:
Conceptions of a revolution from the right in the era of European fascism, and an activist overcoming of conservative dejection at the fate of the West. Political and philosophical imaginings of an alternate capitalist modernity, capable of settling accounts with decadence and Bolshevism.
In the second part of a sweeping reconstruction of the development of Marx’s thought, the ways in which bourgeois society came to be replaced by capitalism as the cardinal object of investigation after the collapse of the revolutions of 1848, and the political lessons of his passage across that watershed for rebellions in the new century.
Opening salvo of a two-part reconstruction of Marx’s intellectual passage through the Hegelian—then Ricardian—conceptual landscape of his early years, taking him to the threshold of his mature architectonics of capitalism as a mode of production. From a starting-point in the philosophical empyrean of the 1830s to a turning-point with the economic upturn of the early 1850s, the development of one sketch of an historical materialism to the brink of another.
The Geopolitics of Separation
Contra Benno Teschke’s critique of Carl Schmitt in NLR 67, Gopal Balakrishnan argues that bourgeois society’s constitutive separation of the political and economic was a central problematic for the strategist of the intransigent right.
The Coming Contradiction
Reflections on Fredric Jameson’s Valences of the Dialectic and its engagement with questions of historicity, narrative and time. Categories and concepts from Hegel, Marx, Sartre and Ricoeur, used to interrogate the impasses of the present—and to envision what lies beyond.
Sermons on the Present Age
Gopal Balakrishnan on Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History. Consoling homilies for today’s liberal imperialists, from the theologian of the nuclear era.
Speculations on the Stationary State
Will the present crisis issue in a new phase of accumulation, or a growthless ‘stationary state’? Gopal Balakrishnan charts epochal trends in world capitalism, and their imbrication with the debt-fuelled imbalances of the long downturn.
News from Nowheresville
Gopal Balakrishnan on Parag Khanna, The Second World. Globe-trotting account from beyond the OECD, surveying the stakes in a coming battle between ascendant China and a West caught in imperial doldrums.
States of War
Reflections on the challenge of Afflicted Powers, from the Retort collective. How is America’s forward policy since 9/11 best explained, and what does it tell us about the nature of the inter-state system today? Has the age of Great Power rivalry passed, and if so, what kind of geopolitical order is replacing it? Capital, spectacle and war in the vortex of the Middle East.
Future Unknown: Machiavelli for the 21st Century
To which thinkers should we turn in a bid to ground a new conceptualization of political agency—or to determine whether such a move has been nullified by the transformations of the last decades? Gopal Balakrishnan on Machiavelli’s parables of innovation and readings of him from Rousseau to Schmitt, Strauss to Gramsci. The Florentine as strategist of beginning anew, in the context of historic defeat.