Non-Violence and Aggression: A Study of Gandhi's Moral Equivalent of War
Violence in the Streets
War: The Anthropology of Armed Conflict and Aggression
These books are all concerned with violence as a form of human behavior, but they cover a very wide spectrum ranging from personal subliminal tendencies at one extreme to nuclear warfare at the other. It is quite impossible for a reviewer to treat the various arguments with equal justice, but I will start with a brief summary of what they are: Item 1 is short, lucid, and persuasive. Storr brings an amateur’s understanding of ethology to his professional psychoanalytical conviction that aggression is a necessary component of human nature. Salvation can only come through sublimation, and the space race to the moon, far from being a waste of money, is much to be preferred to letting off the Bomb. Item 2 is likewise psychoanalytic but is more diffuse. Frank writes as if international politics were no more complicated than a game of tic tac toe. If generals and politicians make mistakes this must be because of psychological defects in their personality, so closer psychological understanding of the motives of leaders will solve all our problems. What terrifies me about this particular author is the way he keeps making confident simplicist predictions about situations of the utmost complexity. “If the world has not destroyed itself first, it is certain to move eventually to an economy of affluence in which there will be plenty of goods for everyone.”
For Frank the problem of overpopulation is simplicity itself: “perhaps all aid should be accompanied by massive programs of birth-control and of education for potential leaders, given either in American schools or by American teachers sent abroad.” With a special High School in the Vatican perhaps? However, Frank is less certain than Storr that man is irredeemably aggressive and hopes that, by suitable education, our descendants may be persuaded to settle their disputes by techniques of non-violence borrowed from Gandhi.
This is also the theme in Item 3. Horsburgh is a moral philosopher. His book is an account of both the theory and the practice of satyagraha together with a discussion of whether, in the age of nuclear deterrence, Gandhian methods might have application outside India. The manner is academic. Horsburgh’s India never quite connects up with the real-life confusions of Madras, Calcutta, and Bombay. I have failed to discover the word “caste” anywhere in the book. Item 4 is a symposium of thirty-eight short articles about the sociology of violence internal to the nation state. It is mostly about contemporary America. It deals with facts rather than abstractions and is sometimes very good indeed.
Item 5 is a report on the proceedings of a conference of anthropologists. It is about warfare rather than civil disturbance or individual aggression. (Incidentally, it is a marked weakness of all these books that the relationship between these three dimensions never becomes clear.) Here again there is a legion of authors. The outstanding contribution is Chagnon’s account of Social Organization and Warfare among the Yanomomö, a tribal people living on the borders of Venezuela and Brazil. Also very…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.