Organized violence between two or more competing groups or nations. Radical critiques claims that war and the nation-state go hand in hand. As Randolph Bourne once wrote, “war is the health of the state.” To some, this statement might sound counter intuitive. Most of us learn from a very early age that the state saves us from violence. In our “state of nature,” the story tells us, individuals compete with one another over scarce resources creating a “war of all against all.” So to protect themselves, people formed a contract and surrendered their violence to the state. So the state saves people from their natural state of war, and is about peace making not war making. In Christian terms, this story is a “salvation story” (it is soteriological).
This story, however, does not not withstand historical research. First, anthropologists have found little evidence of warfare amongst primitive tribes. Historian Arther Ferrill, in his book, The Origins of War: From the Stone Age to Alexander the Great, shows that the development of settled semi-urban towns in the Neolithic Age went hand-in-hand with the development of warfare, stating that there is “little evidence from all but late Palaeolithic sites of anything that can be called organized warfare.” This does not mean that people did not sometimes murder or assault other people, only that organized warfare began with agriculture and civilization. So any critique of warfare must take into account studies such as Ferrill’s that point to the connection between civilized, settled life and warfare. As cities grow, they denude the landscape of the resources they need to survive and must rely on conquest and trade to survive as a civilization. While trade is the less violent of the two means, it is unstable, and if a trade partner cannot or refuses to continue trading the goods needed for the civilization to survive, that civilization has no choice but to resort to warfare. Thus, warfare is more often than not, an economically incentivized act of brutality that wears the humanitarian guise of maintaining protection for people from some outside threat.