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  • War in Human Civilization
  • David Konstan (bio)
Azar Gat, War in Human Civilization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 822 pp.

People have always fought, even before there was agriculture or settled habitats. That’s the bad news (if you believed in Rousseau’s idyll of natural man). Why did people fight? Because it paid. That’s the good news, oddly; for at least human beings don’t fight out of sheer perversity or innate aggressivity. There has to be a benefit, and here is Gat’s hook for his evolutionary explanation. Winning battles gave men more access to food and sex (with captured women), so people good at fighting were selected for survival. Well, maybe; and a lot hangs on this hook. Because then, according to Gat, cultural evolution (is this a metaphor?) took over. Tribes emerged; “city-states were the product of war.” Ruling depended on force — and feudalism on the horse. Gat argues from cross-cultural comparisons: his command of the material, 50,000 years’ worth from meso-America to China, is stunning. Today, industrial production of wealth far exceeds the gains derived from war, and the pill makes sex widely available. Peace is possible — if the world catches up. Gat writes excellently; the book is a great read. And the price is right: you needn’t make war to obtain a copy. [End Page 498]

David Konstan

David Konstan is Distinguished Professor of Classics and the Humanistic Tradition at Brown University and has also taught at universities in Egypt, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, and Scotland. His books include The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks, Some Aspects of Epicurean Psychology, Pity Transformed, Friendship in the Classical World, Sexual Symmetry, Greek Comedy and Ideology, Roman Comedy, and Catullus’ Indictment of Rome.



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