Warless Societies and the Origin of War

Raymond C. Kelly
A concise study using archeological and ethnographic evidence to refute current theories about the origin of war


Warless Societies and the Origin of War employs a comparative ethnographic analysis of warless and warlike hunting and gathering societies to isolate distinctive features of peaceful preagricultural people and to develop a theoretical model of the origin of war and the early coevolution of war and society. Examining key Upper Paleolithic cave paintings and burials that document lethal violence, Raymond Kelly's illumination of the transition from warlessness to warfare in several specific locales in Europe and the Middle East confounds understandings of the origin of war prevalent today.

Kelly addresses fundamental questions concerning the trinity of interrelationship between human nature, war, and the constitution of society: Is war a primordial and pervasive feature of human existence or a set of practices that arose at a certain time in our recent prehistoric past? Are there peaceful societies in which war is absent and, if so, what are they like and how do they differ from warlike societies? Do the critical differentiating features pertain to child-rearing practices, to modes of conflict resolution, to social and economic inequality, to resource competition, or to the constitution of social groups?

As the conclusions of such an inquiry are central to our conceptions of human nature, the book will interest a wide range of readers, from those curious about the origins of collective violence to those studying the roles social institutions play in society.

Raymond C. Kelly is Professor of Anthropology, University of Michigan.

Praise / Awards

  • ". . . this book is a true 'must read' for students of war. . . . This book is a great success in its key aim, to establish that war is not a universal, and that we can theoretically and empirically identify the kind of societies and situations where it will not be present. Kelly has picked up what is probably the single most significant question of all: is war a part of human nature? Has it always bee, and, therefore, must always be? Although I found myself rapidly shifting between strong agreement, disagreement, and skepticism by the page and often paragraph, I was always stimulated by the clarity and focus of Kelly's arguments. In the current intellectual climate where psychological Darwinists and even some uncautious archaeologists spread the claim that all societies have war, 'Warless Societies and the Origin of War' [sic] is the most substantive correction and clarification available today, and one that should help set new directions in research for years to come."
    --R. Brian Ferguson, Anthropos, Volume 98 (2003)
  • "Provides an abundant display of facts and relationships quite useful for analyzing warfare among hunter-gatherers, the present-day societies most similar in economy to early humans. In addition, Kelly carefully presents several new perspectives on violence and warfare."
    --John Hudelson, The Journal of Military History, Volume 65, No. 4

Look Inside

Copyright © 2000, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted June 2001.

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 208pp.
  • 7 photographs, 15 tables, 2 maps, 4 figures, 1 dia.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2000
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06738-1

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  • $30.95 U.S.