THE BIOLOGY OF PEACE AND WAR: An Inquiry into the Nature of Human Aggression by Irenaeus Eibl-Eibesfeldt

THE BIOLOGY OF PEACE AND WAR: An Inquiry into the Nature of Human Aggression

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The West German ethologist and disciple of Konrad Lorenz continues the debate on aggression, concluding optimistically that peace is attainable through rational means. Much of the book is taken up with answering critics who interpret war as pathology or who have accused ethologists wrongly: ""Ethologists,"" Eibl-Eibesfeldt points out, ""have never said that aggression must be accepted as man's inexorable fate."" He recognizes the inherent pessimism in Lorenz's assertion that man is adapted to life in small groups, lacking the emotional capacity to love those he doesn't know. But here he departs from the master, evoking man's capacity to extend the ethos of the family to larger units, as well as his access to a vast biological and cultural repertoire for ritualizing conflict. On the whole, the book inclines toward repetitive arguments for innate aggression drives and hence the universality of primate territoriality and human intergroup conflict. Even extant hunter-gatherers--often touted as pacific, cooperative nomads--come up for review via numerous secondary and some first-hand accounts of aggression, murder, armed conflict, and territorial competition. Here the distinction between intragroup and intergroup aggression is sometimes blurred, and arguments are blunted by allusion to hostilities which occurred in former times. All this seems beside the point. What's important is the evidence that aggression has a neurophysiological basis which is subject to social and cultural influences. So, too, are other inherent traits--care of the young, cooperation. For the most part, Eibl-Eibesfeldt omits these countervailing biological givens to argue the problem of aggression from a purely rational basis. Rational alternatives must be sought, he contends, to answer the needs of population pressure and resource shortage. Thus, he advocates world government along with education in tolerance to correct the ""conflict between biological and cultural norms."" (It is a cultural norm which characterizes the enemy as subhuman and therefore killable.) Between all this sweet reason and the narrow focus on aggression, we could easily end up with a benevolent despotism--one group asserting the absolute righteousness of peace and willing to go to war to prove itself right.

Pub Date: Aug. 24th, 1979
Publisher: Viking