The Origins of Violence

Anatol Rapoport The Origins of Violence. New York Paragon, 1989. Hardcover, 620 pages.
We offer two appraisals of the work, by William Kiassen and John Bacher

By William Klassen; John Bacher | 1990-10-01 12:00:00

The Origins of Violence (1)

Reviewed by William Kiassen.

NO ONE IN CANADA has made a greater contribution to peace education than Anatol Rapoport. In the last 15 years he has been an untiring teacher lecturing first (and still) in the University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, Munich, MeMaster, on the radio, television, and to countless Rotary Forums on peace and violence. The present book comes therefore from an active teaching career and represents the mature work of an internationally recognized authority on game theory, aggression, and the military ethos. The contents of the book come largely out of his introductory course on peace and conflict studies and deserve wide circulation and vigorous critique.

Rapoport is of course an abolitionist. Fearlessly he has detailed the evils of the military establishment and the need to get rid of arms if peace is ever to come. His gentle ridicule of the military mentality and the perverse way in which the term "security" is used by governments has had a profound effect even on some career military officers. Rapoport sees peace researchers as an "infrastructure of peace, which...ought to be the source of an antidote to the ideational poisons generated by exacerbating destructive conflicts.. ..They ought to be 'armed' for the inevitable struggle against the infrastructure of war." Rapoport sees this struggle as taking place between roles and institutions, "not between persons." The aim is "the abolition of the institution of war and of all the roles that confer legitimacy on that institution."

To achieve this goal Rapoport has hamessed the considerable energies and creative bent of his mind to analyzing the issues around this complex question. The title, The Origins of Violence: Approaches (0 the Study of Conflict, signifies that Professor Rapoport seeks to discover the roots of human conflict.

Under the first main section entitled, "The Psychological Approach" he deals with "so-called" aggression, taking his cue from Konrad Lorenz's Gerinan title of the book on aggression. He treats the evolutionary perspective, the behaviorial perspective, and finally the attitudinal perspective before outlining the uses and limitations of the psychological approach. This is a valuable contribution which questions common assumptions.

The second section deals with the ideological approach. Such ideologies as freedom, power, and the cult of property are dealt with. This section concludes with a reasoned plea that since we cannot live without ideologies we develop substantially such new ideologies as are conducive to survival rather than leading to extinction.

The third section deals with the strategic approach, an area in which Professor Rapoport has gained most recognition. He details the way in which war has been intellectualized and made acceptable. Intriguing information appears here on the way in which "game theory" was first introduced and became respectable. The glorification of strategic studies and its iridentured service to public policy shows an unreal world in which attempts were made to portray war, even nuclear war, as a "rational" enterprise. Rapoport considers itas less realistic than medieval theologians arguing about the number of angels who can co-habit the head of a pin -and a darn sight more dangerous.

The final section deals with the systemic approach. It is also the briefest and the weakest of the four. It deals with the war system, arms races, and a systemic view of the world. Professor Rapoport displays sympathy for Tolstoy's view that individuals, no matter how powerful, cannot affect the course of history. Tolstoy "denied that potentates could start or stop wars by their commands," Rapoport muses on the power of an American President or a Soviet General Secretary and wonders whether the traditional volunlaristic mode may not be obsolete. Yet since his lectures were more dogmatic on this point, the tentativeness of his conclusions must have been influenced by the enormous changes since Gorbachev came to power. We need to rethink this section of the book and, in order to give our young people hope, we may need to revise it.

But at the heart of Rapoport's efforts lies the conviction that people make wars, especially people with arms. Like Isaiah, 2800 years ago, he firmly believes that people can disarm.

The longest and most creative section of the book is the last one, entitled "In Quest for Peace." Here he deals with pacifism, concepts of a new world order, conflict resolution and conciliation, peace research, peace education, and a final chapter addressing the question, "Can there be a science of peace?". Those who have heard Professor Rapoport address these issues in public addresses will find nothing new here, but will find convenient texts for students.

This book is a tour de force-a brilliant articulation of a mature mind. Add to this the fact that the author has lived both in the Soviet Union and served in the U.S. Army, was a concert pianist, then a distinguished mathematician and psychologist, and finally blossomed as a peace researcher, and it becomes clear that we are profoundly privileged to have him as a professor of Peace Studies.

As a scholar he deserves a critical response. At times he goes beyond his depth, e.g. when he states that "we have evidence that many of the early Christians lived in communes." Experts in early Crrristianity would be interested in seeing such evidence. In that section there is, however, an interesting use of Kenneth Boulding's "threat and love models" of communities. Love is of course used there in a "de-sentimentalised" sense where services are rendered simply because the recipient is entitled to them by virtue of that she, he, or it is.

The book is made attractive by the stories of Tolstoy which are repeated here, the anchoring of the argument in the scientific method, the specific illustrations used, and the distinct feeling that the writer has not only done his intellectual homework but also has a passionate concern about how human beings live with each other. A stimulating and significant gift he has given to us all. Should he not, and perhaps along with Johan Galtung and Adam Curle, be nominated for the Nobel Prize, as educators who have contributed to the cause for peace?

The Origins of Violence (2)

Reviewed by John Bacher

The continuation of wars and violence after the dramatic crumbling of the Berlin Wall gives added resonance to the analysis of Anatol Rapoport's The Origins of Violence. The antagonisms of the now irrelevant blocs are analyzed by Rapoport, along with the whole range of belief systems fostering both peace and violence. This makes the work a valuable guide for discerning the pattern in rapidly changing events.

Rapoport is most skillful in painting a portrait of the now faded images of the Cold War. The militarism of both sides was fuelled by fundamentalist ideologies that fed the power addictions of ruling elites. Cleverly, extractions of U.S. Presidential speeches are cited that amount to an incantation of divinely sanctioned world dominance. The USSR is similarly shown to have disavowed rationality. We are given fascinating examples of communist fanaticism, such as ideological revulsion for the minor key in music as a "bourgeois mode."

Rapoport gives us valid warning of how militarism can sustain itself in the absence of the original antagonisms. He takes on Clausewitz (who regarded moderation in war as an absurdity), perceptively comparing him to lenin. Clausewitz is stripped of the veil of his famous equation of war with failed diplomacy by his comparison of the joy of war with the anticipation of his wedding day. Moreover, Rapoport demonstrates how this love of war was no personal fluke, for it can infect entire nations, such as ancient Sparta, or groups as diverse as youth gangs or the French Foreign Legion.

In addition to a bleak account of the forces behind war, Rapoport gives an inspiring and full description of the varied elements working for peace. We get conflict resolution and conciliation, world governance and nonviolent resistance. These include such critical events as the unique success of the experiment in peace of Quaker rule of Pennsylvania from 1682 to 1756, and the enumeration of Gene Sharp's valuable documentation of the varied techniques of conflict resolution and social defence. Rapoport's book makes an important contribution to its stated goal of insuring a bloodless victory for humanity "where the values of power confront the values of love, peace, or cooperation between human beings.".

William Kiassen is Principal of St. Paul's College, University of Waterloo. John Bacher is an Associate Editor of PEACE and a historian.

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1990

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1990, page 22. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by William Klassen here
Search for other articles by John Bacher here

Peace Magazine homepage