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This article reviews three recent books on nationalism, each focusing on a different aspect of this multifaceted phenomenon. Mylonas and Radnitz’s volume explores the relationships between nationalism and the politics of treason, Hadžidedic’s book zooms in on the historical interdependence of capitalism and nationalism, while Maxwell’s historical monograph explores nationalist habitus as a form of lived experience. These three insightful contributions show the diversity and plasticity of nationalist ideology and practice.
Human history is often narrated as a story of fighting. The earliest written records including engravings in clay tokens, limestone tablets, ancient monuments, and antique documents contain extensive descriptions of human belligerence. For example, one of the early etchings found in the ruins of ancient Near East settlements and attributed to Ashurnasirpal II, king of Assyria from 884 to 859 bce, is completely centred on the experience of fighting and killing. The inscription depicts Ashurnasirpal’s first military campaign that involved quashing an armed rebellion in the city of Suru in 883 bce. This record provides a detailed depiction of close-range human-on-human violence:
I flayed all the chiefs who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skins. Some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes and others I bound to stakes round the pillar. I cut the limbs off the officers who had rebelled. Many captives I burned with fire and many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers, of many I put out their eyes. I made one pillar of the living and another of heads and I bound their heads to tree trunks round about the city. Their young men and maidens I consumed with fire. The rest of their warriors I consumed with thirst in the desert of the Euphrates.
(Finegan 2015: 170–1)
Other ancient and early modern written accounts also contain numerous descriptions of close-range fighting including wars, rebellions, uprisings, insurgencies, assassinations, acts of rioting and massacres of civilians (Bestock 2018; Classen 2004; D’Huys 1987). Similarly, the history textbooks published over the last three centuries are full of extensive depictions of violent conflicts where soldiers, police officers, revolutionaries, rebels, insurgents, terrorists, protesters, paramilitaries, and ordinary individuals fight and kill other human beings (Bentrovato et al. 2016; Ferro 2004). The military scholarship from Thucydides, Machiavelli, and Clausewitz to the contemporary neo-realism of Waltz and Mearsheimer has identified fighting as a crucial element of social and political order. As Clausewitz (2008 : 227) emphasises: ‘Fighting is the central military act; all other activities merely support it. Its nature consequently needs close examination. Engagements mean fighting. The object of fighting is the destruction or defeat of the enemy.’
In this chapter I explore the economic motivations for interpersonal violence. The spotlight is on the leading rationalist and instrumentalist approaches that attempt to explain willingness to fight through the prism of individual self-interest. The chapter analyses different strands of the economics-centred paradigm: (a) approaches that have been developed in the study of civil wars and other violent conflicts; and (b) criminological theories of homicide and other violent crimes. The chapter identifies strengths and weaknesses of the agency-centred strategic and instrumentalist approaches to close-range violence as well as the more structural approaches that focus on the collective motivations and social inequalities that foster violent responses. I argue that social inequalities and economic self-interest can tilt conflict towards violent episodes, but material reasons alone cannot adequately explain human motivation to fight or the social dynamics of close-range violence. The chapter concludes with a brief critical analysis of two empirical cases that show the limits of economic models of violence.
In popular representations of violence, human-on-human attacks are depicted as historically pervasive, easy to do, and almost unavoidable. In such views, close-range fighting is regularly perceived to be very similar across time and space. These popular representations are often reinforced by some academics who argue that human violence has an immutable character: ‘war has an essence that remains the same irrespective of time period or technology levels … this essence stems from individual human psychology’ (Martin 2018: 4). Hence if fighting is understood to be a biological and psychological given then this phenomenon does not require much explanation. If violence has a fixed essence and as such does not change much across history, geography, and micro-interactional contexts, there is no need to study its social mechanisms.
Social pugnacity is a complex and contextual phenomenon. As argued in the previous chapters its dynamics is shaped by variety of factors including coercive-organisational capacity, the extent of ideological penetration, and the intensity of micro-interactional bonds. Although people can fight for economic, political, ideological, and other reasons social pugnacity can never be reduced to individual motivations only. Instead, a combat experience has its own social dynamics that is shaped by the changing social environment. This relates not only to Clausewitz’s (2008 ) well-known fog of war that always generates uncertainties and unpredictable behaviour, but even more importantly violent conflicts impact profoundly and are in turn impacted by the changing group dynamics. Wars, revolutions, insurgencies, and other forms of organised violence are dependent as much on the strength and endurance of the macro-organisational structures as the micro-group ties. The link between these two is often established through shared ideological narratives. However, it is not completely clear how this process operates in practice. Do form, size, or shape of the armed organisation influence one’s willingness to fight? Are fighters involved in clandestine political movements or criminal syndicates motivated by the same principles as those fighting in formal military organisations? What specific role do organisational structures, economic incentives, coercive pressure, and ideology play in individual and collective decisions to fight?
Most scholars and military practitioners agree that social cohesion plays a crucial role on the battlefield. If soldiers do not trust their comrades and officers, they are unlikely to fight well or at all. Nevertheless, there is no agreement on the question: What are the key sources of group cohesion? Some authors emphasise the psychological variables and focus on the cognitive aspects of in-group bonding while others identify shared social action and professional performance as the principal causes of the willingness to fight. In this chapter I question the centrality of these two explanatory paradigms by shifting the debate towards the structural contexts. More specifically I argue that the success or failure of micro-level social cohesion is determined by its relationship with organisational power. In other words, social cohesion is rarely an autonomous phenomenon that can be completely divorced from the organisational capacity of armed forces. In many cases these two are mutually interdependent processes the workings of which often determine the long-term trajectories of a particular conflict. By zooming in on the case studies of the Croatian Army (HV) and the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) during the 1991–5 Wars of Yugoslav Succession, I show how unit cohesion and social pugnacity are enhanced and sustained by organisational development. Hence, despite the initial similarities in the level of fighting motivation in the armies, the long-term structural input proved decisive for military success: the HV maintained strong army-wide networks of micro-group solidarity and won the war whereas the VRS never developed such models of social cohesion and ultimately lost large swaths of territory finding itself on the verge of complete collapse. The different experiences of these two military organisations indicate clearly that social cohesion and social pugnacity are not just psychological phenomena defined by the micro-level social action but are a long-term processes regularly shaped by the wider structural forces.
There is no doubt that close-range fighting entails distinct emotional dynamics. People who take part in violent encounters experience intense emotional responses ranging from fear, angst, anxiety, panic, and horror to anger, rage, boredom, and even elation. The acts of fighting are often preceded and followed by physiological changes such as increased heart rate, heavy breathing, dilation of the pupils, hormonal increases, and in some case the loss of urinary or bowel control. Since emotions have dominated battlefields for centuries there is a well-entrenched view that warfare generates very similar emotional reactions among soldiers. The conventional interpretations overemphasise a uniform response by humans who find themselves in similar extraordinary situations (Grossman 2004; Holmes 1985; Keegan 1994). This chapter challenges such established views and argues that the emotional dynamics of close-range fighting is historically variable and culturally flexible. The historical and sociological analysis of battlefield experiences indicates that there are substantial cultural and historical differences in the emotional reactions of individuals and groups who experience similar fighting situations.
Close-range killings in war are usually associated with two contrasting images. The more prevalent view depicts excessive violence as common, widespread, and easy to do. Popular films and TV programmes are saturated with the images of war where killing is the norm and an almost routine, everyday practice. For example, the recently featured and extremely popular Game of Thrones is full of such imagery where individuals show no moral qualms when getting involved in mass killings, torture, rape, and violent abuse. Moreover, such acts are encouraged and celebrated with the memorable lines such as ‘Stick ’em with the pointy end’ or ‘There is only one god and his name is Death’. In direct contrast, the other common portrayal of war focuses on the traumatic experiences of soldiers who are unwilling to fight and when forced to take part in violent events where they kill other human beings, they express regret, remorse, and guilt. A plethora of critical war films and novels from All Quiet on the Western Front to The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, and The Hurt Locker emphasise the sheer brutality of war and its deep traumatic impact on ordinary soldiers. In these narratives the act of killing is an extremely difficult experience which leaves lasting psychological damage on those who take part in it. As one protagonist in the film Saving Private Ryan states: ‘I just know that every man I kill the further away from home I feel’ (Hagelin 2008: 112). In this chapter my aim is to offer a sociological analysis of these phenomena with a focus on the role emotions play in the individual and social responses to killing in war. The chapter draws on the interviews conducted among the ex-combatants who fought in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (1991–5).1 The first part of the chapter critically reviews the existing research on killing in war and articulates an alternative approach to understanding the emotional dynamics of killing in the context of social pugnacity. The second part explores different aspects of violent collective action on the battlefields through in-depth analysis of the interviews with the ex-combatants. The final part brings the theoretical arguments and the results of the empirical research together.
Human-on-human violence is often perceived as a transcultural and transhistorical phenomenon. Hence most people assume that war and other forms of organised violence have always existed and have been present in all social orders throughout the world. However, both historical and anthropological research indicate that organised violence developed very late in human history (over the last 10,000 years or so) and that throughout history many social orders have shunned violence in many of its forms. Anthropological research has corroborated that there have been hundreds of societies with different levels of organisational complexity that have rarely experienced fighting and that have also devised elaborate ritualistic and other practices to avoid violence within and outside of one’s group. Hence in this chapter I explore why fighting is a historically specific practice that affects some societies much more than others. I also analyse why some individuals, small groups, and social organisations are less prone to fighting or actively opposed to violence than others. The chapter also zooms in on the structural contexts that hinder the development of ideological and organisational mechanisms that foster social pugnacity. I argue that the phenomenon of non-fighting operates according to similar sociological processes as those that make fighting possible – non-fighting, like fighting, does not come naturally but is a product of micro-interactional, organisational, and ideological work.
Acts of interpersonal violence have often been attributed to strong and uncompromising belief systems, religious fanaticism, or ideological rigidity. The mass media and more recently the social media often interpret acts of deliberate injuring or killing of another human being, previously unknown to the assailant, through the prism of specific beliefs, doctrinal creeds, and durable cultural identities. For example, from the nineteenth century to contemporary times a variety of secular and religious ideologies have been blamed for various acts of violence – anarchism, socialism, communism, fascism, Nazism, anarcho-primitivism, ethnic nationalism, Islamic fundamentalism, racism, Christian fundamentalism, neo-Luddism, Hindu fundamentalism, radical environmentalism, Jewish fundamentalism, Maoism, Trotskyism, white nationalism, and so on. The focus has regularly been on imputing causal links between a person’s values and their acts of violence. Similarly, many wars, revolutions, genocides, and insurgencies have also been described as conflicts that were generated and sustained by incompatible belief systems. Thus, one often hears that competing nationalisms produced war, that different religions have caused a communal conflict and sectarian violence, that anti-monarchism and republicanism were behind specific revolutions, or that racism leads to genocide. In this chapter I explore the role religious and secular ideologies play in the individual and collective motivations for violence. The chapter critically addresses existing scholarship on the role of ideas, norms, and values in violent behaviour and articulates an alternative view of ideological power. I argue that the ongoing process of ideologisation rather than the fixed ideological doctrines shape the historical dynamics of violence. In this context ideological penetration helps justify violent acts and also mobilises a wider support base for violent action. Nevertheless, since human beings are complex and reflective creatures, ideological power alone is not enough to initiate and maintain social fighting. Instead, social pugnacity is regularly premised on the effective interaction of coercive bureaucratisation, ideologisation, and their envelopment in networks of micro-solidarity. The first part of the chapter offers a critical analysis of the existing approaches that emphasise the centrality of ideology for violence while the second part articulates an alternative interpretation of ideological power. The key theoretical points are illustrated with selected empirical case studies.
The overwhelming majority of popular science fiction TV shows, films, and novels depicting the world of the future do so in very similar, mostly post-apocalyptic, ways: with the collapse of governance structures human beings automatically turn to violence. The central assumption that underpins these depictions of the future is that the disintegration of law and order would inevitably lead to vicious and bloody struggle for survival. In many respects these fictional narratives draw upon and reproduce the ideas that have dominated political and military thought for centuries. From Machiavelli and Hobbes to the contemporary neo-realists and cognitive evolutionary psychologists, violence and war are perceived to be the natural state of individuals, societies, and states. In this chapter I challenge these Hobbesian visions of violent futures and argue that the dynamics of social pugnacity is context dependent and highly variable. By focusing on the organisational, ideological, and micro-interactional processes that make fighting possible I envisage different possibilities and trajectories of close-range violence in the future.
The principal aim of this chapter is to explore the social context of fighting for other people. The traditional instrumentalist accounts emphasise that individuals are self-preservers who are unlikely to fight for others unless they are forced or induced to do so by genetic, material, or symbolic benefits. Hence for many cognitive evolutionary psychologists sacrificing oneself for others is possible only if such acts will increase one’s inclusive fitness, that is, the direct or indirect ability of an individual organism to pass on its genes to the next generation. For rational choice theorists collective action is always rooted in self-interest and one will fight for others on the assumption that others will do the same, thus enhancing the possibility that shared action will bring about greater benefit for all. Nevertheless, recent studies have questioned these well-established views by indicating that biology and instrumental rationality largely play a marginal role in the context of close-range violence. More important are emotions and moral ties as they impact substantially on one’s decision to fight for others. Many individuals develop strong networks of micro-solidarity which motivate different forms of collective action in the context of violent encounters. In this chapter I analyse when, how, and why individuals fight for others. The focus is on the dynamics of social pugnacity. I argue that one’s willingness to fight is a contextual phenomenon shaped by specific ideological and organisational logic. Nevertheless, despite its temporal and spatial variability, micro-group solidarity is a universal practice that underpins nearly all durable violent conflicts. In other words, fighting for others is a foundation of social pugnacity. The first part of the chapter traces the evolutionary trajectory of human sociability and looks at the structural transformation of micro-bonding in different historical contexts. The second part briefly explores the social and physical dynamics of micro-solidarity in the context of close-range fighting. The final, and longest, part analyses the workings of micro-level solidarities in the fighting practices of the three very different armed forces – American volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, Indian soldiers in the First World War, and members of the Wehrmacht in the Second World War.
To understand the motivation for fighting it is necessary to provide some analysis of the physiological and biological make-up of human beings as a species. This chapter will utilise up-to-date research on interpersonal violence across different disciplines including anthropology, biology, cognitive evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, physiology, anatomy, and palaeontology. The focus is on the biological underpinnings of violent action and especially how human violence differs from the aggressive behaviour of other species. This chapter scrutinises and critiques the dominant essentialist interpretations which attempt to explain human behaviour in terms of biological or psychological givens. I argue that the recent experimental studies across different disciplines indicate that interpersonal violence is complex and shaped by changing structural contexts. Unlike most carnivorous mammals, human beings lack bodily entailments for aggressive behaviour and hence their increased capacity for violence has distinctly non-biological origins. To compensate for their individual physical incompetence in belligerence, human beings had to devise effective social and organisational mechanisms for violent action. Hence biology plays some role in the human capacity for aggressive behaviour, but it largely does not determine or even shape much of human violent action. Psychology is also relevant in this context but neither biology nor psychology can adequately explain the enormous contextual and historical variation that characterises human relationships with close-range violence. Instead, violent action entails the interlocking presence of organisational capacity, ideological penetration, and micro-interactional social tuning.