Let's presume Nazi Germany did not happen. Young kids would not have references on how damaging extreme nationalism can be therefore the Third Reich could have append anywhere in the world an can happen again if we ignore history.

Atrocity propaganda, mass manipulation by the media and education, the figure of fanatical leaders and their demagogy, the blatant use of psychology and indoctrination for political purposes etc. are known by intellectuals and past wars are used as a warning for those open to it.

Those images of war and destruction may be disturbing but they can also be educational and help a great deal of people develop empathy and give them the will not to make the same mistakes again.

How do wars make societies evolve? Are wars necessary for the evolution of societies? Is humanity doomed to forget and make the same mistakes again because of our animal nature?

I'm looking for authors and reflections on this matter.

"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it" Jorge Santayana

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  • A less problematic question would be: "Is learning from wars necessary for the evolution of societies?" We wouldn't want to condone war, lest we learn we just like war. – christo183 Nov 2 '18 at 10:41
  • Wars are contingent. Societies will evolve without them. They might even evolve in a better direction. In fact it seems almost certain. – PeterJ Nov 2 '18 at 11:40
  • "Young kids would not have references on how damaging extreme nationalism can be" That's not what evolution is. There probably are pretty many things no one of us thought. Actually, most people already had common sense of it being bad prior to WW2. – rus9384 Nov 2 '18 at 12:44
  • I think this question will need some rewording to be reopened. But as a implicit answer, I'd like to pose a question for you: is it necessary to flip a coin 101 times in order to have the coin lands heads 100 times? – Cort Ammon Nov 2 '18 at 21:19

No. But arguably, what is needed for the evolution of societies is attaining knowledge. To stay with your example, even if Darwin, Einstein, Bohr, or Hubble had not lived, others would have discovered what they did, simply because their discoveries were made standing on the shoulders of the previous generations of scientists. It would perhaps have taken a bit longer without a Manhattan Project, but we would have learned to master the atom, find ample evidence for evolution, discover the universe was expanding,... without WW2.

Arguably, anything that stands in the way of building factual knowledge is ultimately devastating to societies. It creates stagnation or even regression. One of the best examples is the decline of the Golden Age of Islam in the 12th century.

  • How can you attain knowledge if you don't have empirical experiences? How can you know what the effects of extreme nationalism, political indoctrination, propaganda, etc are if you never had any historical experience or reference? – PbxMan Nov 2 '18 at 12:38
  • I did not state you can attain knowledge without empirical evidence, now would I ever do so. To your point: you can see the effects of extreme nationalism, propaganda etc. in history even without military conflict. For example: the predominant fundamentalist interpretation of scripture in the US has the undeniable consequence of the US having the highest rate of childhood pregnancies and the lowest score of factual knowledge in any "developed" nation. – Codosaur Nov 2 '18 at 13:36
  • I’d make the additional argument that trade, for economic, but also for more importantly knowledge-dissemination (as outlined in your answer) is absolutely fundamental to civilization and along with specialization (which is an expression of knowledge curation) is in important ways synonymous with “civilization”. And it’s hard for me to imagine a world with trade but without wars (competition for scare resources). So, civilization implies knowledge acquisition implies trade implies competition implies wars. QED. – Dan Bron Nov 2 '18 at 13:36
  • @DanBron I agree but fighting over limited resources is not limited to societies. It is in fact very much part of the daily struggle for survival for all species. I do appreciate that trade is a cultural layer of varnish on top of that struggle, but we do see some examples of trade in other primates as well. – Codosaur Nov 2 '18 at 13:41
  • @Codosaur Yeah, I've read articles on that. My take is that civilization isn't binary, it's a continuum, and primate societies exhibit it. I'd say trade and wars are evidence supporting that classification, not exceptions to the chain of implications I linked above. If you see what I mean. – Dan Bron Nov 2 '18 at 13:46

No. Societies don’t “evolve,” to “necessity;” therefore war is not a necessity for social evolution.

Firstly, there is no adequate and reliable method to establish values. Given this deficit historiography has instead contented itself with telling the past as it was, until philosophers catch up and supply a stable true morality for us all. (Ranke, “You have reckoned that history ought to judge the past and to instruct the contemporary world as to the future. The present attempt does not yield to that high office. It will merely tell how it really was.”)

Societies make for really poor agents. There are problems of definition and evidence. That most societies include counter posed institutions makes identification of what a society is empirically a problem. Showing evolution in a subject you can’t even solidly pin down is a big problem (try “Whig Theory of History” here).

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