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Warlike and Peaceful Societies

Agner Fog

3. Contributions from Other Theories

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3.1. Influence of the environment: Contributions from ecological theory

  • 1 Hardin (1960)
  • 2 Banks et al. (2006), Maffi (2005)

1In ecology and niche theory, the competitive exclusion principle says that complete competitors cannot coexist indefinitely.1 While this principle has mostly been applied to the areas of ecology and economics, other aspects of niche theory have been successfully applied to eco-cultural specialization.2 We cannot expect two social groups in close proximity to live in peace if they are adapted to the same environment and depend on the same resources. The two competing groups may merge, separate, differentiate, or fight. But they may not coexist indefinitely unless something prevents them from fighting, such as geographic barriers, technical difficulties, or third party intervention.

  • 3 Boesch (2010)
  • 4 Wilson et al. (2014)
  • 5 White (2013)

2The competitive exclusion principle applies to humans as well as to animals with territorial groups. It has been observed that chimpanzees often attack and kill members of neighbor groups and gradually steal their territory.3 The intensity of intergroup conflict among chimpanzees increases with the population density and the number of males.4 The closely related species, the bonobo, is much more peaceful, although it is very similar to the chimpanzee in other respects. The reason why the chimpanzee is violent while the bonobo is peaceful may be that there is a patchy distribution of food north of the Congo River, where the chimpanzees live, but a more scattered distribution south of this river, where the bonobos live. A concentration of food or other resources in small patches leads to contest competition, where the strongest individuals get the most. A more scattered distribution of food leads to scramble competition, where the individual that finds a piece of food first will get it. There is no reason to fight over access to food in an environment of scramble competition.5

  • 6 Wrangham (2012)

3Chimpanzees and bonobos are our closest relatives among the animals. Humans are equally closely related to both species because the evolutionary split between chimpanzees and bonobos occurred later than the split between humans and the great apes. This has led many scientists to speculate whether human nature is violent like the chimpanzee or peaceful like the bonobo.6

  • 7 Gat (2006, p. 14)
  • 8 LeBlanc (2014), Lahr et al. (2016)

4Anthropologists have turned to ethnographic and archaeological evidence in order to find out whether warfare was common among early humans, but the evidence is elusive. The few hunter-gatherer groups that have survived long enough to be studied by anthropologists live in marginal areas where the population density is too low for large-scale warfare and where there are no defendable resources to fight over.7 The victims of warfare among prehistoric nomadic hunters and gatherers were unlikely to be buried, so archaeological traces of injured skeletons may be hard to find.8

  • 9 Fry (2009), Ellingson (2001)
  • 10 Keeley (1996), Guilaine and Zammit (2008), Allen and Jones (2014)

5Some scientists have claimed that humans are peaceful by nature and that the limited evidence of prehistoric violence can be explained as small-scale feuds and raids.9 Others claim that lethal intergroup violence has been common throughout the evolutionary history of humans.10

Figure 3. Prehistoric cave painting showing warfare. Bhimbetka, India. Photo by Nikhil2789, 2008.11

  • 12 Lahr (2016), Keeley (1996), Guilaine and Zammit (2008), Allen and Jones (2014), Gat (2015)
  • 13 Gat (2015)
  • 14 Boone (1992), Thorpe (2003)
  • 15 Boone (1992), Martin and Frayer (1997, p. 334)
  • 16 Lahr (2016)

6An increasing amount of evidence indicates that there might have been violent intergroup fighting throughout human prehistory.12 A study of nomadic Australian aborigines has found that the level of violence was independent of the population density,13 while studies in many other areas have found that the level of violence depends on ecological and environmental factors such as the concentration and defendability of resources.14 Mass killings took place mainly in sedentary cultures and most markedly in connection with agriculture or otherwise defendable resources.15 Recent archaeological findings show evidence of mass killing among hunter-gatherers near a fertile lakeshore in the late Pleistocene or early Holocene.16

  • 17 Wrangham and Glowacki (2012)
  • 18 Kelly (2000)

7Nomadic hunter-gatherers would flee more often than fight, and thus rarely die in a battlefield but more likely die from malnutrition and diseases after fleeing to an inferior territory. Systematic studies of nomadic hunter-gatherer groups show that intergroup violence is common. A review of published examples of peaceful hunter-gatherer groups finds that most of these cases can be explained by their isolation, pacification, or being surrounded by cultures with a different ecology. Typically, the peaceful hunter-gatherer groups were surrounded by agricultural societies whom they would never attack.17 This confirms the competitive exclusion principle: Hunter–gatherer groups surrounded by other hunter-gatherers will fight, at least occasionally, while huntergatherer groups living in their own niche surrounded by groups with a different means of subsistence can exist peacefully. While the peaceful hunter-gatherer societies had little or no intergroup violence, they had plenty of interpersonal violence.18 The distinction between groupinternal and external violence is important here.

8We can now answer the long-debated question of whether humans are violent or peaceful by nature: it depends on the environment. A sedentary culture concentrated around defendable resources invites conflict, while a nomadic lifestyle in an environment of sparse resources leads to scramble competition rather than fighting. Regality theory posits that humans have a flexible psychology that allows fast adaption to a peaceful or warlike environment and culture.

9It may be possible to roughly predict the degree of intergroup conflict for a particular culture if we study the ecology, mode of subsistence, available technology, and geography. We will expect conflicts to be unlikely for a social group that has adapted to its own specialized niche, but likely for a group that depends on the same niche as a nearby neighbor group. Conflicts can be impeded if traveling is difficult because of geographic barriers or if it is technically difficult to collect and transport sufficient food and water for supporting a troop of warriors.

  • 19 Roscoe (2014), Fry and Söderberg (2013)

10If food is sparse, and consequently the population density is low, then it will be difficult to assemble a sufficiently large group of warriors to attack an enemy, the warriors will have a long way to travel, and it will be difficult to supply enough food for them. Some people find it counterintuitive that low food supply should lead to peace. However, we have to distinguish between a low but stable food supply and a fluctuating food supply. If the food supply is permanently low but stable, then the population density will necessarily be low. Imagine a landscape where food is sparsely distributed and people live in small villages or camps far from each other. How would it be possible to assemble enough warriors from allied neighbor groups to attack an enemy, travel together to the distant enemy territory, and provide and transport enough food and other necessities for the traveling troops? The logistic problems simply make large-scale war impossible in the absence of technological means for food preservation and transport. In any case, there would be little reason for warfare among nomadic peoples in sparsely populated areas, because they would have few possessions worth plundering and territories would be too large to defend.19

  • 20 Dye (2013)

11However, if food is plentiful or concentrated in rich and fertile patches, then the population density will soon become high, geographical distances between enemy groups are likely to be shorter, and it will be easier to organize larger political groups. If, furthermore, the food supply is fluctuating and unpredictable, then there will be occasional periods of famine where contest competition prevails and people fight over the insufficient supply of food. Anthropologists and archaeologists have found evidence of higher levels of conflict connected with settlements in fertile areas such as river valleys. Along with the higher levels of conflict came also alliance formation, peacemaking efforts, and exchange of prestige goods.20

  • 21 Berry (1967)
  • 22 Ember and Ember (1992)

12In conclusion, we predict that the level of intergroup conflict will be low in areas where food is sparse or where mountains, dense vegetation, aridity, or other environmental factors make traveling difficult. On the other hand, we can expect frequent wars where food production is efficient and concentrated in defendable patches, and where there are efficient means of traveling and food preservation. It has been observed that efficient food production and food storage is connected with conformity,21 which we may interpret as a sign of regality. The predictability of the food supply is also important. Unpredictable famine and natural disasters are factors likely to cause war.22

  • 23 Endicott (2013)

13The anthropologist Kirk Endicott has suggested that it might be possible to predict whether a population is violent or peaceful based on the environment. As an example, he describes the Moriori of the Chatham Islands near New Zealand, who changed from violent to peaceful after living a few hundred years in isolation.23 We will test the feasibility of this kind of prediction in chapters 7 and 8.

3.2. Nature or nurture: Evolution of sociality

  • 24 Dunbar, Gamble and Gowlett (2010)

14Collaboration between biologists, archaeologists, and anthropologists has led to new insights into human social behavior. The modern human species has evolved a large brain in parallel with a more complex social organization. The brain size of our ancestors has tripled over a period of two million years. It is generally believed that the increased brain capacity has been necessary for dealing with more complex social structures, for advanced language, and for developing culture.24

  • 25 Richerson and Boyd (2008, p. 60), Fog (1999, p. 52)
  • 26 Richerson and Boyd (2008, p. 7)

15Culture is information that is transmitted from person to person through teaching, observation, and imitation. Culture can evolve just like genes evolve, but cultural evolution is much more efficient than genetic evolution because it can involve goal-directed innovation and intelligent problem-solving. New inventions can also be transmitted from any person to any other person, unlike genes, which are transmitted only from parent to child.25 While many animals are able to learn from conspecifics, the human capacity for culture is far more complex than that of any animal. The huge advantage that cultural evolution gives has only been possible through the evolution of a large and efficient brain.26

  • 27 Cikara and van Bavel (2014)
  • 28 De Dreu et al. (2011)
  • 29 Cikara and van Bavel (2014)

16Neuroscientists have found that specific regions of the human brain are involved in various aspects of social behavior and cognition, such as empathy, cooperation, identification with an arbitrary group, distinction between in-group and out-group, in-group favoritism, group competition, and recognition of social status.27 A hormone and neurotransmitter called oxytocin, which is involved in many aspects of social behavior in animals and humans, has been found to increase in-group favoritism in humans.28 These findings support the theory that social organization, hierarchy, and intergroup conflict are important factors that have influenced human evolution and shaped the functioning of our brains. They also show that culture plays an important role, because it is demonstrated that humans are able to identify easily with an arbitrary group of people of mixed races.29

  • 30 De Dreu (2012), Sheng et al. (2013), Stallen et al. (2012)
  • 31 Fischer-Shofty, Levkovitz and Shamay-Tsoory (2013)

17Several studies have confirmed that test persons show more cooperation and in-group favoritism when given oxytocin.30 Interestingly, the effects of oxytocin are different for men and women. The hormone increases the perception of competition in men and the perception of kinship in women. This finding throws new light on the male warrior hypothesis, according to which men are more adapted for fighting and competition than women are.31

  • 32 Krueger et al. (2013)
  • 33 Durrant (2011)
  • 34 Kim and Sasaki (2014)

18However, oxytocin is not unambiguously connected with regality, because it does not increase punitiveness.32 It would be naive to think that we can find a single biological signal for regality. What the new findings of neuroscience tell us, however, is that behaviors that are relevant for regality theory, such as group identification, ethnocentrism, and intergroup conflict, can be influenced by biological signals without the persons being conscious of any such influence. We can therefore reject the theory that violent conflict is caused solely by culture and rational decision-making.33 While biological processes have a strong influence on social behavior, the opposite is also true. There is plenty of evidence that social processes and cultural differences can influence the human brain and hormonal processes.34 The role of culture in the shaping of regal psychological reactions is further discussed in chapter 4.1.

3.3. Fertility: Contributions from life history theory

  • 35 Stearns (1992, p. 207)

19The regal versus kungic culture dimension has an interesting connection with the r versus K strategy dimension in evolutionary ecology, which applies to both animals and humans. An r-strategy means that individuals start early to reproduce, have many children, and care little for each child. A K-strategy means a high age at first reproduction, few children, and a high investment in the care and upbringing of each child. The r versus K strategy parameter (also called ‘fast’ versus ‘slow’ strategy) is a simplification of a more complex set of parameters in biological life history theory, but this simplification will be sufficient for the current purpose.35

  • 36 Mueller (1997)
  • 37 Belsky, Schlomer and Ellis (2012), Ellis, Figueredo, Brumbach and Schlomer (2009), Griskevicius, D (...)
  • 38 Shenk (2009)

20Humans have a typical K-strategy compared with most animals.36 This strategy is not completely fixed, however. Recent research has shown that there is some room for individual differences and adjustment to the environment. Several studies have found that humans choose a more r-like strategy when they live in an environment where the mortality and morbidity of adults is high. A more K-like strategy is chosen where the mortality is low, where resources are predictable and defendable, and where the population density is near the carrying capacity of the environment.37 Economic factors and education also influence the strategy.38

21While the r versus K life history theory sees reproductive strategy from the point of view of the individual, the regal versus kungic culture theory is more concerned with a social-level perspective. The optimal strategy from the perspective of the social group in times of war is to produce many children and to raise them as quickly as possible to become fierce warriors. In times of peace, the optimal strategy from the group’s perspective is to produce few children in order to avoid overexploitation of the environment and ecological collapse. Group selection theory has not provided a satisfactory explanation of why reproduction is limited, but life history theory seems to provide at least part of the explanation.

22In times of war, mortality is high and individuals will choose an r-like strategy. In times of peace and stability, we can expect the population density to match the carrying capacity of the environment, and we can expect to see a K-like strategy. The interesting observation is that there is a fairly good agreement between the interests of the group according to regality theory and the interests of the individual according to the r/K life history theory. There is some degree of synergy between the two mechanisms and we will expect a positive correlation between the regal/kungic culture dimension and the r/K life history strategy dimension. The names regal and kungic were in fact chosen to reflect the resemblance with r/K life history theory, although the analogy should not be taken too far.

23There is one important difference between the predictions of the two theories. Regality theory predicts that fertility will go up as a response to collective danger that requires collective action, while the r/K life history theory predicts that fertility will go up as a response to any danger, including dangers that affect only the individual.

24We will return to the connection between regality theory and r/K theory in chapter 4.1.

3.4. Contributions from political demography

  • 39 Goldstone (2012)
  • 40 Green (2012)

25Political developments, including war and peace, depend on demographic factors. Many momentous historical events are related to the so-called demographic transition, which is illustrated in figure 4. Throughout most of human history, the birth rate and death rate have been almost equally high, so that the total population was constant or growing only slowly. At a certain time in history, the death rate began to decline due to improvements in sanitation, hygiene, medicine, nutrition, and living conditions. The higher life expectancy gave parents confidence that they did not need so many children, and after several decades the birth rate began to decrease as well. In Europe, the birth rate began to fall rapidly in the 1960s. In the 1990s, the birth rate had fallen to the same level as the death rate, and population growth stagnated in Europe.39 This pattern of demographic transition has since been repeated in other parts of the world, including Asia and the Americas, and we are now beginning to see a demographic transition in Africa as well. We can see in figure 5 that the population size has reached a peak in Europe and that the growth rate is tapering off in Asia, America, and Oceania. The growth rate has hardly begun to decrease in Africa.40

  • 41 Goldstone (2012)

26The fact that the death rate begins to fall first while the birth rate decreases only several decades later has the consequence that we see a very rapid population growth in the intermediate period, where the death rate is low and the birth rate is still high.41

Figure 4. Demographic transition. By Max Roser, 2016.42

  • 43 Urdal (2005)
  • 44 Heinsohn (2003, p. 46)

27The demographic transition can be interpreted as a shift in reproductive strategy from r-strategy to K-strategy, relatively speaking, as explained in chapter 3.3. It is necessary to have many children as long as the death rate is high. As the death rate falls and improvements in living conditions make it possible to feed more people, the population grows until the new carrying capacity has been reached. Rapid population growth does not necessarily lead to violent conflicts,43 but the new situation with a larger population and growing urbanization makes life more competitive. The optimal strategy for parents in this new crowded environment is to have fewer children and to invest more in the education of these few children—in other words, a more K-like strategy. When these children grow up, they have to spend their most fertile years competing for social positions rather than raising large families.44

  • 45 United Nations Data Retrieval System. ‘World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision’, http://data (...)

Figure 5. World population by year. Millions, logarithmic scale. By Agner Fog, 2017. Data from UN.45

  • 46 Wilson and Daly (1985)
  • 47 Goldstone (2012), Heinsohn (2003)

28A period of rapid population growth leaves a cohort of people that is much more numerous than the parent generation. The bulge in the population pyramid that is seen when a large cohort reaches maturity is called a youth bulge. The young people in a youth bulge are likely to have problems finding a suitable social position. If tradition dictates that the family inheritance goes to the oldest son, then the subsequent sons are likely to feel superfluous and they will have to fight hard to get a position that matches their expectations. This causes political instability. Disinherited, jobless, unmarried young men are often willing to take high risks in their attempts to find their place in life because they have nothing to lose.46 Such youth bulges of frustrated young men have fueled many violent conflicts in history. In fact, violent conflicts can hardly be fought without a surplus of venturesome young men.47

  • 48 Heinsohn (2003, p. 72)

29The European population could not have colonized half the world if they had not had a surplus of young men. In fact, most of the major wars, conquests, and revolutions in European history happened after periods of rapid population growth.48

  • 49 Urdal (2006), Cincotta and Doces (2012)
  • 50 Heinsohn (2003, p. 40)
  • 51 Cincotta and Leahy (2007), Cincotta and Doces (2012), Weber (2013)

30When a large surplus of young people combined with economic stagnation leads to underemployment and low wages, the likely reaction is social discontent and cycles of rebellion and repression.49 This can destabilize any political system. The frustrated young people will always be able to find a political or religious ideology that can justify their need to fight against a social system that has no place for them.50 This can lead to revolution and rebellion against a dictatorship, but it can just as well lead to rebellion against a democratic system. Statistical studies show that civil conflicts are much more likely to break out, and democracies to become unstable, in times with large youth cohorts.51

  • 52 Lechler (2015)

31The sharply declining fertility rate in the last stage of a demographic transition provides a window of opportunity for economic development called a demographic dividend. Savings increase as the number of people of working age increases and the number of dependents decreases. This is likely to lead not only to economic prosperity but also to political stability and democracy.52

  • 53 Esty et al. (1995), Goldstone et al. (2000)
  • 54 Hvistendahl (2011)
  • 55 LaGraffe (2012), Yair and Miodownik (2016), Apt (2014, chapter 3)

32We can conclude that a youth bulge can drive political changes in any direction, depending on the conditions. Youth bulges have been connected with ethnic conflicts53 and even large territorial conflicts such as the two world wars,54 but also with rebellions that have their origin in social and economic factors, such as the French Revolution, the Iranian Revolution, and the Arab Spring.55 It appears that a surplus of fearless young people is necessary for the regal process of building an empire as well as for the kungic process of breaking it down.

3.5. World view and personality: Authoritarianism theory

33The psychological characteristics that we call regal have a striking similarity with the phenomenon that social psychologists call authoritarianism, and in fact many of the findings of the current study could possibly be explained with the theory of authoritarianism.

  • 56 Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson and Sanford (1950)
  • 57 Van Hiel, Pandelaere, and Duriez (2004)
  • 58 Jugert and Duckitt (2009), Feldman and Stenner (1997), Duckitt and Fisher (2003), Hogg (1992, p. 3 (...)
  • 59 Asbrock and Fritsche (2013)
  • 60 Cohrs (2013)

34Authoritarianism was originally regarded as a mainly fixed part of a person’s personality that is formed in childhood.56 Later studies contradict this and find that authoritarianism is influenced by threats, danger, and uncertainty.57 Interestingly, it is found that threats to a group that the person belongs to have stronger effect than threats to the person as an individual, and that this increases group cohesion, exactly as predicted by regality theory.58 However, the evidence is somewhat mixed on the question of individual versus collective threat. Some studies show no authoritarian effect on the test persons unless they are personally affected by the (collective) threat.59 There are also disagreements among theorists about the role of predispositions and the direction of causality.60

  • 61 Duckitt (1989), Stellmacher (2005)

35Given the importance of group threat and collective action, it is peculiar that most studies regard authoritarianism as an individual phenomenon and only a few studies treat it as a group phenomenon.61 There are many different theories about how authoritarianism is generated. Some of these theories are in accordance with the predictions of regality theory, others are not.

  • 62 Duckitt (2001), Perry (2013)
  • 63 Duckitt (2001), Sibley, Wilson and Duckitt (2007), Sibley and Duckitt (2008), McFarland (2010)

36A newer version of authoritarianism theory distinguishes between two measures called right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) and social dominance orientation (SDO), each of which is connected with certain characteristic world views.62 RWA is linked with the view of the world as a dangerous place, and SDO is linked with the view of the world as a competitive jungle where might is right. RWA leads to social conformity and SDO leads to tough-mindedness, according to this theory, and both lead to negative attitudes towards out-groups.63

  • 64 Van Hiel, Pandelaere, and Duriez (2004), Altemeyer (1998)
  • 65 Altemeyer (1998)

37RWA and SDO are often regarded as two different forms of authoritarianism, where RWA represents authoritarian submission, while SDO represents authoritarian dominance.64 Both lead to discrimination against minorities but for different reasons. People with high RWA discriminate because of fear, while people with high SDO discriminate because this gives them a higher status than those they discriminate against.65

38The RWA theory is particularly relevant for regality theory because the view of the world as a dangerous place in RWA theory can be regarded as very similar to perceived collective danger in regality theory. People with high RWA make society more hierarchical, while people with high SDO use this hierarchy to their personal advantage.

39Research in these theories has led to results that are in good agreement with regality theory because they link social conformity, punitiveness, and xenophobia to collective danger. Evidently, authoritarianism theory and regality theory are two different paradigms looking at the same phenomenon. However, many of the predictions of regality theory that are tested in the present study would have been difficult to make from authoritarianism theory because the latter has more focus on individual psychology than on social and cultural structures.

  • 66 Duckitt (2013)

40The area of authoritarianism research is rich in experimental studies.66 Many of these studies have found that authoritarian responses can be elicited by quite small stimuli, such as making known threats more salient or even by asking the test persons to imagine a particular threatening scenario. The experimental methods that have been developed in the area of authoritarianism research might be useful for testing the effects of different kinds of threats in connection with regality theory.

  • 67 Popper (1963, p. 37)
  • 68 Stellmacher and Petzel (2005), Sibley and Duckitt (2008), Eckhardt (1991), Ray, J. (1989)
  • 69 McFarland, Ageyev and Abalakina (1993)
  • 70 Altemeyer (1998)

41My main criticism of authoritarianism theory relates to its poor theoretical foundation. Authoritarianism theory has its roots in psychoanalytic theories, which are not falsifiable,67 though modern versions such as RWA and SDO theories have little or no connection to psychoanalysis. The theoretical model behind traditional authoritarianism theory has limited empirical support, and the theory has often been criticized for political bias.68 The term ‘right-wing authoritarianism’ is ill chosen because of its inherent political bias, and also because the concept of right-wing ideology makes sense only in a certain cultural context. In fact, some studies have found the same kind of authoritarianism among communists, who by definition must be called left wing.69 One researcher even made the contradictory finding that some persons who scored high on the right-wing authoritarianism scale also scored high on a ‘left-wing authoritarianism’ scale.70

  • 71 Duckitt (2015)

42While many authoritarianism theorists regard certain political ideologies as undesired psychological aberrations, regality theory sees the same ideologies as adaptive responses to perceived collective danger (or, at least, would-be adaptive in the environment of evolutionary adaptation). The evolutionary theory is less likely to lead to biased and ethnocentric thinking, and we should bear this in mind in our choice of terminology. While authoritarianism theory certainly needs revision and a change of terminology, it builds on a research tradition that has produced many interesting experimental results that may be valuable when reinterpreted in the light of regality theory.71

3.6. Contributions from other social psychological theories

43There are several other theories that resemble authoritarianism theory but avoid some of the problems mentioned above.

  • 72 Jackson (1993)

44The influential realistic group conflict theory finds that hostility between groups is likely to occur when their goals conflict or when they are competing for the same resources.72

  • 73 Riek, Mania and Gaertner (2006), González et al. (2008)

45 Integrated threat theory finds that several different kinds of threat can lead to hostility towards outgroups. Realistic group conflict is one of them, symbolic threat is another. Symbolic threat occurs, for example, when immigrants with different values, norms, and beliefs are perceived to threaten one’s own culture. Some cases of prejudice are caused mostly by realistic conflicts, while other cases are caused mostly by symbolic conflicts. Other kinds of threats include negative stereotyping and intergroup anxiety, which may be regarded as independent factors in some models.73

  • 74 Fritsche, Jonas and Kessler (2011)

46The theory of group-based control restoration finds that people tend to show in-group favoritism in times of social or personal crisis. The proposed mechanism requires that the in-group is relevant to the problem at hand and that the person feels a lack of personal control.74

  • 75 Greenaway, Louis, Hornsey and Jones (2014)
  • 76 Fritsche, Jonas and Kessler (2011)
  • 77 Basow and Johnson (2000)

47This is in accordance with regality theory in predicting that people want to strengthen their group when facing threats that they cannot handle alone. An interesting question is whether the discrimination against out-groups is directed specifically against a certain out-group that is blamed for the threat, or whether there is a more unspecific discrimination against any group of deviants. In fact, there is evidence for both possibilities.75 For example, the fear of Islamic terrorists has led to widespread hostility against Arabs and Muslims in general, but also to more punitive attitudes towards perpetrators of totally unrelated crimes such as car theft and rape, as well as to more authoritarian parenting.76 In the light of regality theory, we may see this as an indication that the regal psychological response is only partially goal-directed towards a specific danger. To some degree, the regal response seems to be an unspecific reaction of strengthening the in-group against any type of danger. A clear example of an unspecific response is homophobia. Many studies have found a strong correlation between authoritarian attitudes and hostility towards homosexuals, even though homosexuals in general pose no threat to the authoritarian person.77

  • 78 Hogg, van Knippenberg, and Rast (2012)
  • 79 Hogg (2014)
  • 80 Hogg, Meehan, and Farquharson (2010), Hogg and Adelman (2013), Rast, Hogg, and Giessner (2013), Sc (...)
  • 81 Kakkar and Sivanathan (2017)

48People who are uncertain about their social identity are likely to look for a prototypical leader in order to define their identity, according to the social identity theory of leadership.78 People with a high degree of self-uncertainty are more likely to join radical extremist groups, according to uncertaintyidentity theory. The essence of this theory is that uncertainty about oneself and one’s identity motivates people to join groups with high entitativity: clear boundaries, internal homogeneity, and possibly a hierarchical structure and strong leadership.79 Most of the literature is unclear about what kinds of uncertainties have this effect. All the examples of uncertainty mentioned in the uncertainty–identity theory literature are threatening uncertainties, such as economic problems, ethnic conflicts, and natural disasters.80 A recent study focusing mainly on economic problems finds that both individual and collective economic problems have this effect, but the measure of individual uncertainty is very coarse.81

  • 82 Jost et al. (2007)
  • 83 Doosje, Loseman and Bos (2013)

49This takes us back to the already well-known connection between threat and authoritarianism. Uncertainty and threat are known to be connected with political conservatism, according to the so-called uncertaintythreat model.82 It appears that uncertainty and threat are better at explaining conservative and authoritarian extremist groups than anti-authoritarian extremist groups. Additional factors that have been suggested to explain extremism in minority groups include perceived injustice, group threat, perceived illegitimacy of authorities, and a feeling of being disconnected from the majority of society.83

  • 84 Greenberg and Arndt (2011)
  • 85 Navarrete, Kurzban, Fessler and Kirkpatrick (2004)
  • 86 Ullrich and Cohrs (2007)
  • 87 Martens, Burke, Schimel and Faucher (2011)

50 Terror management theory is based on the assumption that people become anxious when thinking about their own future death. Anything that reminds people of their own mortality will provoke a psychological defense that emphasizes their social group and a world view which gives meaning to life and death.84 Critics of this theory have found that the same psychological reaction is seen when threats unrelated to mortality are made salient. This supports an evolutionary explanation related to group defense (in accordance with regality theory) rather than the terror management theory.85 Another study finds that terrorism salience, but not mortality salience, invokes a group defense response. This finding supports system justification theory, but not terror management theory.86 A meta-analytical review of the evidence finds that mortality salience has the same effect as other threats to the world view, but the effect of mortality salience is delayed whereas the effect of other threats is immediate.87

  • 88 Canetti et al. (2013, 2015)
  • 89 Canetti et al. (2015), Hirsch-Hoefler, Canetti, Rapaport and Hobfoll (2014)
  • 90 Hirsch-Hoefler, Canetti, Rapaport and Hobfoll (2014), Canetti-Nisim, Halperin, Sharvit and Hobfoll (...)
  • 91 Canetti et al. (2013)

51A recent theory about the connection between conflict and political attitudes is the stress-based model of political extremism. This model is based on studies of protracted conflicts such as the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and the conflict in Northern Ireland. The studies find that a population exposed to political violence will develop symptoms of psychological distress. This distress leads to increased perceptions of threat, which in turn lead to political extremism and lack of support for political compromise.88 The distress and perception of threat is particularly strong in cases of terrorism where random civilians are victims. This explains why peace negotiations often fail in conflicts that involve frequent episodes of terrorism.89 The research also finds that the effect can be ameliorated by reassuring messages or aggravated by alarming messages.90 The stress-based model contradicts the rationalist view, held by many negotiators, that the conflicting parties will be more motivated to accept negotiations and compromises when the violence becomes intolerable. On the contrary, they will be less compromising the worse the violence they experience.91 This model is not based on evolutionary theory but on psychological theories of coping. Yet the findings are in perfect agreement with regality theory: people become more regal and uncompromising the more threatening they perceive their situation to be.

3.7. Contributions from social values theories

  • 92 Inglehart and Welzel (2005, p. 48), Inglehart (2007)

52A network of social scientists have created the World Values Survey, which is a research project aimed at measuring people’s values and beliefs around the world. Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel have analyzed these data and found that most of the variance in cultural values can be expressed by two factors:92

  1. Traditional versus secularrational values, reflecting the contrast between the relatively religious and traditional values that generally prevail in agrarian societies, and the relatively secular, bureaucratic, and rational values that generally prevail in urban, industrialized societies.
  2. Survival versus self-expression values, reflecting an intergenerational shift from emphasis on economic and physical security in the industrial society towards increasing emphasis on self-expression and subjective well-being, and the focus on rights above duties of a democratic, post-industrial society.
  • 93 Inglehart and Welzel (2005, p. 48ff), Inglehart (2007)

53Figure 6 shows the average position of citizens in different countries on these two dimensions in 2011 to 2012. The traditional values reflect the importance of religion, deference to authority, traditional families, moral standards, desire for a large number of children, and resistance to abortion. The survival values reflect traditional gender roles, hard work, confidence in government, and intolerance of deviants. Inglehart and Welzel explain the traditional values on the first dimension by the need for collective action in complex agrarian societies. The shift from traditional to secular–rational values is connected with the change from religious authorities to secular authorities that follows industrialization. The survival values on the second dimension express the need for physical security in terms of economy and health. The shift from survival values to self-expression values reflect a relief from the immediate threats of the industrial society to the higher economic security that comes with a higher level of education and a modern welfare state. The self-expression values also reflect an emancipation from authority and a criticism of the risks of technology.93

  • 94 Inglehart and Welzel (2005, p. 52)

54Inglehart and Welzel’s study does not focus on war or bellicosity, but on how people react to changing perceptions of existential security.94 As existential security is essential in regality theory, we will expect both factors to correlate with regality. The traditional versus secular–rational values focus on how to deal with collective survival, while the second dimension, survival versus self-expression values, has more focus on individual threats. But the self-expression values also reflect an emancipation from authority that we can relate to a kungic development.

  • 95 See table 2

55Some studies described in the next chapter seem to support these expected correlations with regality,95 but we should not draw wide-ranging conclusions because the studies are partially based on the same data.

  • 96 Norris and Inglehart (2011, chapter 4)
  • 97 Norris and Inglehart (2011, chapter 11)

56A further study of religious values shows that the transition from agrarian to industrial to postindustrial societies is followed by a decrease in religiosity.96 This is explained by increasing security. Religion is more important to people when they feel insecure. The study shows that basic religious beliefs are not easily changed, but the importance of religion in people’s lives is higher in societies with poverty, poor education, poor health, and high population growth. For example, the importance of religion is high in countries with high economic inequality such as the USA, Ireland, and Italy. The data do not support other theories of religiosity, such as secularization theory and religious market theory. Interestingly, both individual threats and collective threats seem to increase people’s need to seek comfort in their religion.97

Figure 6. Inglehart and Welzel’s Cultural Map (wave 6). World Values Survey Database.98

  • 99 Sibley and Bulbulia (2012)
  • 100 Chen (2010)
  • 101 Healy and Breen (2014)

57Another study found that religiosity increased after an earthquake in New Zealand.99 Religiosity also increased after a financial crisis in Indonesia in 1997,100 but not after a financial crisis in Europe in 2008.101 Regality theory may give a clue why the latter financial crisis did not lead to increased religiosity. Regality is predicted to increase when a crisis is blamed on external enemies or uncontrollable forces of nature, but it is predicted to decrease when a crisis is blamed on one’s own despotic leaders. The 2008 financial crisis was frequently blamed on greedy bankers and corrupt or incompetent politicians rather than on some nebulous external power or economic laws of nature. The prediction from regality theory is that this should cause a revolt, and indeed there were large protests in the streets in much of Southern Europe as a reaction to this crisis.

  • 102 Minkov, Blagoev and Hofstede (2012)

58Whether personal values reflect shared norms of the surrounding society or just personal differences is a matter of debate. One study finds that some personal values reflect social norms while other values are less culture-bound.102 Chapter 3.8 will look at values at the cultural level.

3.8. The theory of tight and loose cultures and other culture theories

  • 103 Gelfand et al. (2011), Uz (2015), Harrington and Gelfand (2014)
  • 104 Gelfand et al. (2011)
  • 105 Pelto (1968)

59The distinction between tight and loose cultures is an old idea in anthropology that has received renewed attention in the last decade.103 This theory is very similar to the theory of regal and kungic cultures, but the two theories have in fact been developed independently without any cross-fertilization. A tight culture is defined as a culture with strong norms and low tolerance of deviance from these norms. A loose culture has weak social norms and a high tolerance of deviant behavior. The tightness of a culture is increased by ecological or external threats such as high population density, resource scarcity, disease, natural disasters, and external conflicts. These threats lead to the development of strong norms for enhancing the social coordination needed to effectively deal with such threats, according to the theory. The tightness is also provided by and reflected in social and political institutions such as the government, media, education system, legal system, and religion. People adapt to the strength of norms and intolerance of deviance by the psychology of self-regulation.104 The older definitions of tightness have more focus on political organization,105 while later definitions focus more on norms and deviance. Both sets of definitions are relevant to regality theory.

60The tightness/looseness theory does not go into detail with any mechanisms beyond a general functionalist explanation and the assumption that cultural evolution somehow brings about the necessary norms and institutions. There is agreement between regality theory and tightness/looseness theory on the basic claim that collective threats lead to strict norms and psychological restriction, but the two theories disagree on the chain of causality. The basic model of regality theory is:

Collective threats → Psychological adaptation ↔ Cultural norms

61whereas tightness/looseness theory says:

Collective threats → Cultural norms ↔ Psychological adaptation

62The available data cannot distinguish between these two models because the direction of causality cannot be deduced from statistical correlations.

63Tightness/looseness theory focuses mainly on ecological threats, while the threat of war plays only a minor role and bellicosity is not among the psychological reactions mentioned by this theory. While tightness and regality are very similar constructs, they are not the same. It would be more appropriate to say that tightness is one of several indicators of regality and in fact a very important indicator. Virtually everything that can be predicted from tightness/looseness theory can also be predicted from regality theory, while the opposite is not true. We will now look at a number of statistical studies that have been made to test tightness/looseness theory and compare them with the predictions of regality theory.

  • 106 Gelfand et al. (2011)
  • 107 Minkov, Blagoev and Hofstede (2012), Uz (2015), Heine, Lehman and Greenholtz (2002)

64In a pioneering study, Michele Gelfand et al. asked people in thirty-three countries how much they agreed with statements such as ‘People in this country almost always comply with social norms’. This was not a direct measurement of cultural tightness but rather a measurement of perceived tightness. The results were correlated with a number of social and cultural variables and the results are shown in table 3.106 Critics have pointed out that the perceived tightness may not be cross-culturally comparable, because people may have different kinds of norms in mind when answering the questions or they may be judging by different standards or frames of reference.107 Later studies have used more direct criteria to gauge cultural tightness, and this turns out to give better correlations.

  • 108 Uz (2015)

65Psychologist Irem Uz has calculated three different measures of cultural tightness for sixty-eight countries: (1) a domain-specific index based on people’s tolerance for various morally debatable behaviors, such as prostitution, abortion, divorce, euthanasia, and suicide in the 2006 World Values Survey; (2) a domain-general index based on people’s endorsement of 124 different sets of values and behavioral practices in the World Values Survey. The index is based not on the mean but on the standard deviation of the responses. A high standard deviation of the responses is taken to indicate a high diversity of opinions, while a low standard deviation indicates that opinions comply with social norms; (3) a combination index based on a factor analysis of values in the domains of work, family, and religion in the World Values Survey.108 A strong correlation was found between these three measures of cultural tightness, as shown in table 2. The correlation with Gelfand’s perceived tightness was not statistically significant, but all three measures of tightness correlated significantly with the secular–rational values and the self-expression values described in chapter 3.7. The measures of tightness showed highly significant correlations with various measures of collective threat and with various measures of tolerance.

  • 109 Harrington and Gelfand (2014)

66A study by Jesse Harrington and Gelfand calculated an index of cultural tightness of the fifty US states based on objective indicators such as corporal punishment in schools, death penalty execution, punishments for marijuana law violations, alcohol restrictions, same sex civil unions, religiosity, and immigrant population. This index showed high correlations with indicators of collective threat such as natural disasters, health, and infant mortality, but not with population density. The index also showed strong correlations with various measures of law enforcement and attitudes toward regulation and deviant behavior.109 The results are shown in table 4.

67The findings of these three studies are in perfect agreement with the predictions of regality theory indicated in tables 2, 3 and 4. The indication > 0 means that a positive correlation is predicted. < 0 means that a negative correlation is predicted. 0 means that no correlation is predicted or that the prediction is ambiguous. The directions of the correlations found in the tightness/looseness studies are in agreement with the predictions of regality theory in all cases where the correlations are statistically significant (p ≤ 0.05) as well as in most cases where the correlations are not significant (p > 0.05). These results are very interesting because they demonstrate the predictive power of regality theory. The methodology used in these studies can be adapted for future studies aimed specifically at testing the predictions of regality theory.

  • 110 Stankov, Lee and van de Vijver (2014)

68Another study by Lazar Stankov, Jihyun Lee and Fons van de Vijver found similar results for two factors that they called ‘conservatism versus liberalism’ and ‘harshness versus softness’, but their study did not investigate the influence of threats.110

  • 111 Uz (2015), Stankov, Lee and van de Vijver (2014)

Table 2. Correlation of the three tightness measures of Uz with various variables, compared with the predictions of regality theory.111 Levels of significance: * p < 0.05, ** p < 0.01, *** p < 0.001. The signs of the coefficients have been adjusted for clarity.


Perceived tightness

Expect from regality theory

Percentage of population using left hand



Accuracy of clocks in major cities



Justifiability of morally relevant behavior



Unrestricted sociosexuality orientation



Alcohol consumption



Preferences of political systems that have a strong leader or are ruled by the army



Most important responsibility of government is to maintain order of society



Agreement on ways of life need to be protected from foreign influence



Would not want to have immigrants as neighbors



Percentage of population of international migrants (log)



Agreement on one’s culture is superior






Power distance



Uncertainty avoidance



Masculinity index



Long-term orientation index















Affective autonomy



Intellectual autonomy



Egalitarian commitment



Family collectivism



Institutional collectivism



Performance orientation



Power distance



Gender egalitarianism






Uncertainty avoidance



Future orientation



Humane orientation



Loyalty versus utilitarian involvement



Traditional versus secular rational values



Self-expression values



Fate control






Reward for application









Vertical sources of guidance



Guidance from widespread beliefs



Guidance from unwritten rules



Guidance from specialists



Guidance from coworkers



Gross national product



Global growth competitiveness



  • 112 Gelfand et al. (2011)

Table 3. Correlation of the perceived tightness measure of Gelfand112 with various variables, compared with the predictions of regality theory. Levels of significance: * p < 0.05, ** p < 0.01.



Expect from regality theory

Natural disaster vulnerability



Food insecurity



Parasite stress index



Infant mortality rate



Environmental health: green index



Percentage of slave-owning families, 1860



Population density (log)



Law enforcement employees



Civil liberties



Attitude towards government control of media



Behavioral constraint index



Relativistic attitude to right and wrong



Attitude against immoral actions



Desire for strict law enforcement



Support for police use of force



Support for buying US products



Support for import restrictions



Interest in foreign cultures






Gender equality index



Discrimination charges per capita



Alcohol binge drinking



Illicit drug use



Murder rate



Burglary rate



  • 113 Harrington and Gelfand (2014)

Table 4. Correlation of tightness of US states with various variables,113 compared with the predictions of regality theory. Levels of significance: * p < 0.05, ** p < 0.01, *** p < 0.001.

  • 114 Ross (1993)
  • 115 Sipes (1975)

69Most studies of culture types refer to modern industrial cultures, but a theory of Marc Howard Ross about cultures of conflict explicitly refers to non-industrial societies.114 His hypothesis is that psycho-cultural dispositions for conflict and violence are formed through harsh childhood socialization and male gender identity conflict, and the targets for the aggressive tendencies can be either group-internal or group-external depending on structural factors, which he calls ‘cross-cutting ties’. The correlation he finds between harsh childrearing practices and violent conflict is actually in agreement with the findings of regality theory, but there is disagreement about the direction of causality, which cannot be determined from the available statistical data. The idea that cross-cutting ties can mitigate conflicts is quite reasonable, but the hypothesis that internal and external conflicts form equivalent targets for an aggressive disposition is not in accordance with regality theory, and Sigmund Freud’s drive-discharge theory of violence has often been criticized.115

  • 116 Hofstede, Hofstede and Minkov (2010)

70Theories of culture types have also been developed for organizational culture. Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede and Michael Minkov have defined a number of dimensions based on studies of organizational culture. The most important dimensions are:116

  • Power distance. This is a measure of hierarchy and the degree of inequality between leaders and followers or between teachers and students.
  • Collectivism versus individualism. This is a measure of the degree to which people identify with their organization or social network rather than rely on themselves and pursue their individual self-interests.
  • Masculinity versus femininity. The masculine values include strength, competition, care for money and material things, and prioritization of economic growth. The feminine values include warm relationships, empathy, care for the weak, and preservation of the environment.
  • Uncertainty avoidance. This is a reflection of fear and stress. Uncertainty avoidance includes conservatism, fear of change, fear of ambiguity, repression of deviance, need for precise and formal rules, nationalism, and xenophobia.
  • Indulgence versus self-restraint. Indulgence includes personal life control, optimism, happiness, leisure, and individual freedom. Self-restraint includes moral discipline, order, and pessimism.
  • Long-term orientation. This is a focus on perseverance, thrift, self-discipline, humility, learning, pragmatism, and adaptiveness. The opposite is short-term orientation, which includes a focus on quick results, pride, saving one’s face, and respect for tradition.

71These dimensions include many elements that relate to regality theory, and we will expect the dimensions of power distance, collectivism, masculinity, and uncertainty avoidance to be positively correlated with regality, while indulgence should be negatively correlated with regality. We can test these predictions by using cultural tightness as an approximation for regality. The results in table 2 confirm the predicted correlations for power distance, collectivism, and indulgence, while there is no significant correlation for masculinity and uncertainty avoidance. The basic principle of long-term orientation is not related in any obvious way to regality, although both long-term and short-term orientation have elements that are typical of regality, namely self-discipline and respect for tradition, respectively. No significant correlation is found for this dimension.

72We have now seen that psychological preferences or values can be described with many different measures or dimensions, and these can be studied both at the individual level as described in chapter 3.7, and at the collective level as described in this chapter. The regal-kungic dimension seems to be involved in or to interfere with many of the other dimensions that have been defined, both at the individual level and at the collective level, and the effects are in good agreement with the predictions of regality theory. More research is needed to figure out which of the many proposed dimensions are most useful, how they interact or overlap, and which factors they are influenced by. Regality theory is useful here because it identifies a mechanism by which many psychological preferences are influenced.

3.9. Contributions from human empowerment theory

  • 117 Welzel (2013)

73Christian Welzel has developed a new theory of human empowerment based on the findings of the World Values Survey.117 Welzel’s theory posits that, as humans get more resources and freedom of action, they will give higher priority to principles of freedom and this will lead to democracy and other civic institutions that guarantee individual freedom. Welzel’s model can be summarized as follows:

Action resources → Emancipative values → Civic entitlements

  • 118 Welzel (2013)

74The concept of action resources defines the resources necessary for existential security, including material resources (equipment, tools, and income), connection resources (networks of exchange and contact), and intellectual resources (knowledge and skills). Under a shortage of action resources, people will give priority to survival values, as explained in chapter 3.7. When people have plenty of action resources so that existential security is no longer a concern, they will give higher priority to emancipative values. Welzel has replaced the factor named ‘self-expression values’ in the previous study with a very similar index named ‘emancipative values’. The latter index is composed in a way that puts more emphasis on theoretical relations and less on statistical coherence (Cronbach’s α is lower). Emancipative values give people the impetus to organize collective action against tyrannical overlords, replace an authoritarian government with a more democratic rule, and implement civic institutions that guarantee individual freedom. This model explains the growing democratization in the world during the last several centuries, according to Welzel’s theory.118

75Welzel’s theory aligns neatly with regality theory, although it is seen from the opposite perspective. Regality theory is based on the model:

Collective danger → Psychological preference for a strong leader → Authoritarian political structure

76Welzel’s theory is expressed in the opposite terms:

Existential security → Psychological preference for emancipative values → Democratic political structure

77The two theories are not perfectly equivalent, though: Welzel does little to explore the effects of danger, which is central to regality theory; Welzel’s theory does not distinguish between individual and collective danger; and war plays hardly any role in Welzel’s theory. Studying a phenomenon from a different perspective is likely to lead to different discoveries, and Welzel’s theory throws new light on the processes during peaceful development.

78A very important outcome of Welzel’s study is that he finds evidence for the direction of causality by means of statistical analysis of time series over ten years or more. His analysis shows that the direction of causality is as indicated by the arrows above, whereas there is much less causal influence in the opposite direction. A similar study has not yet been carried out for regality theory because it would require the collection of large amounts of data over a prolonged period of time.

79We may notice that democratic institutions come at the end of the causal chain rather than the beginning. This explains why many political attempts at forced democratization have failed. Political initiatives that aim at spreading democracy should focus on existential security before doing anything else.

  • 119 Welzel (2013, p. 15)

80The first link in Welzel’s model, existential security, depends on external geographic factors. The most important factors can be summarized in what Welzel calls the cool-water condition.119 This includes:

  • A relatively cold climate, which makes work less physically exhausting, reduces the danger of infectious diseases, and reduces soil depletion.
  • Permanently navigable waterways, which facilitate trade and democratic market access.
  • Continuous rainfall all year round. This makes irrigation unnecessary so that farmers are autonomous and independent of a centrally controlled irrigation system.
  • 120 Galor (2011)
  • 121 Welzel (2013)

81These conditions are found in particular in Western Europe and Japan. Historically, farmers living under cool-water conditions had high productivity, autonomy, and existential security. This made it rewarding to switch from a strategy of maximizing fertility to a strategy of improving skills (from an r-strategy to a K-strategy). This demographic transition was a necessary condition for technological progress and economic growth, according to unified growth theory.120 Artisans and urban markets came into being. The workforce was small and its quality high. The high cost of labor was an incentive to search for technologies that save labor. Technological advances and higher productivity contributed further to existential security. Democratization and individual economic freedom made it profitable to invest in technological inventions. This explains why technological innovation was particularly strong in Western Europe, according to Welzel.121

  • 122 Acemoglu and Robinson (2012, chapter 3)

82If we want to compare the predictions of Welzel’s theory of human empowerment with regality theory, we have to take war into account. Environmental factors that facilitate high productivity and easy transport are also factors that facilitate war. According to regality theory, we will expect to see wars, empires, and tyrannical kings in such an area rather than human emancipation. An authoritarian rule is not conducive to individual inventiveness, but the ruler may command the development of a large and efficient infrastructure, including cities, roads, ships, and harbors, which is a precondition for technological progress. Empires wax and wane for reasons explained in chapters 4.1 and 4.2, and there may be a window of opportunity for inventiveness and technological progress when a government is too weak to confiscate the profits of individual enterprise but not too weak to protect the private property of inventors.122 Inventiveness and technological progress is also possible in remote areas that are less regal or when war is prevented by factors such as economic interdependence, alliances, or deterrence. It is no coincidence that the industrial revolution started in England, which had fewer enemies to fear than central Europe at the time. Technological progress brought prosperity and democracy, in accordance with Welzel’s theory.

3.10. Moral panics: Contributions from the sociology of deviance

  • 123 Tversky and Kahneman (1992)

83The human mind is notoriously bad at making rational decisions in the face of uncertainty and low probabilities.123 Some people buy lottery tickets even though the average losses are higher than the average gains, and some people have an extreme fear of terrorism even though the risks of dying in a traffic accident or from a lifestyle disease are many thousand times higher. Sometimes we ignore serious risks, and sometimes we overreact to even the smallest risks. Often, a certain group of people are blamed for causing danger and they are labeled as deviants, such as criminals or terrorists.

  • 124 Cohen (2011), Goode and Ben-Yehuda (2009)

84As already mentioned, the regal reaction to collective dangers depends not on the objective risk but on the perceived risk. An exaggerated perception of a minor or unlikely danger can have a strong regalizing effect. A highly emotional and exaggerated collective fear is called a ‘witch hunt’ or a ‘moral panic’. The fear is likely to lead to strong reactions against a group of deviants who are seen as threatening the social order.124

  • 125 Ben-Yehuda (1980)

85The longest witch hunt in history—and the one that gave the phenomenon its name—took place in Europe around the period of the Renaissance. The Catholic Church needed scapegoats in order to consolidate its dwindling power, and the scapegoats were first heretics and later witches. The witches were accused of worshipping the devil and causing all kinds of evil. People who were accused of witchcraft were tortured until they confessed, and they were forced to inform against other witches so that the process could continue.125 The dangers that the Church was fighting against may have been completely imaginary, but the social effects of the witch hunts were real. The regal effect of the witch hunts strengthened the authority of the Church and enabled it to defend its power against the threat of secularization.

  • 126 Beck (1992)

86Invisible dangers are particularly effective in witch hunts and moral panics because it is easier to exaggerate a danger when it cannot be seen and its objective magnitude cannot easily be estimated. This is also the case today. In modern society, the fears of many people have changed from a concern about how to get food to a concern about technological risks. Ulrich Beck calls this the ‘risk society’.126 Many risks are more or less invisible, such as pollution, nuclear radiation, and genetically modified foods. These risks—or rather the perception of these risks—can be manipulated up or down to serve the interests of various actors.

  • 127 Altheide (2014, p. 118)

87Environmental protection organizations claim that the risks of pollution are high, while the polluting industries claim that the risks are small. This contest over defining the risks is also a power game where the winner will gain more control of the situation.127

  • 128 Schack (2009)
  • 129 Duke and Gross (1994)

88Governments and powerful elites often use witch hunts in order to consolidate their power. Well-known modern examples include McCarthyism, the ‘war on drugs’, and the ‘war on terror’.128 Take the ‘war on drugs’ in the United States as an example. Opinions are divided over whether this campaign has actually reduced the consumption of illegal drugs, but the intense focus on the dangers of drugs has fueled a ‘tough on crime’ attitude. The pursuit of drug criminals has led to many secondary crimes, such as economic crimes to pay for drugs, gang violence, weapons proliferation, corruption, vigilantism, and social deterioration. These secondary menaces have led to still more punitive sentiments and erosion of the standards of justice.129 This self-amplifying process has driven the whole society in a more regal and punitive direction, which is part of the explanation why the USA has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

  • 130 Nelson (1984)
  • 131 Best (1990)
  • 132 Eberle and Eberle (1986)

89There is no clear distinction between a witch hunt and a moral panic. The term ‘witch hunt’ is used mainly when the fear and persecution of deviants is controlled by a powerful elite, while the term ‘moral panic’ usually describes a more spontaneous collective fear generated by gossip and mass media without any central control. An example of a moral panic is the child abuse panic, which began in the USA in the early 1980’s and spread to large parts of the world. This panic was started by social workers, physicians, psychologists, and child protection organizations. The initial focus was on physical abuse and neglect of children,130 but the focus gradually changed to sexual abuse, which was even more emotionally touching.131 While child abuse is certainly a real problem, the reactions were highly emotional and many innocent people have gone to jail because of overreactions and disregard for common standards of justice.132 This is typical of a moral panic. The most characteristic symptoms of a moral panic include:

  • There is a highly emotional collective reaction to a problem that has hitherto been largely ignored. The issue itself has high emotional appeal.
  • Exaggerated claims are made about the incidence and effects of the problem.
  • A group of scapegoats is stigmatized as responsible for the problem.
  • The phenomenon is considered so dangerous that common standards of evidence and due process are violated.
  • The definition of the deviance is unclear and expanding. The limit between normal and deviant shifts so that more and more people or behaviors can be defined as deviant and dangerous.
  • If any experts contradict the claims, they are accused of being deviants themselves or allied with the deviants and therefore persecuted. Soon, there is hardly anybody left who dares to contradict the claims, and the new consensus allows even stronger claims to be made.
  • A group of often self-appointed experts appear who claim to understand the problem and get resources to fight it.
  • 133 Ben-Yehuda (1990, p. 97), Foucault (1980, chapter 6)
  • 134 Keen (2006, p. 98)
  • 135 Gusfield (1989)
  • 136 Schack (2009)

90The regal effect of a moral panic is obvious, but it is not always obvious who benefits from it. The experts who are allowed to define the problem and devise a strategy to fight it benefit in several ways. They get money and resources; they gain prestige and respect for their profession; and they gain power by being allowed to redefine the norms for the society and ultimately change social structure and laws in their own interest.133 The problem is sometimes fought with means that have little connection with the problem.134 Often, there is a competition between different professions over who ‘owns’ the issue, in other words, over which people are recognized as the experts allowed to define the problem.135 The ‘issue owners’ may be priests, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, police, legal experts, economists, military figures, industry figures, grassroots movements, politicians, etc. The social structure and power balance of a society may change profoundly when the ownership of social problems is transferred from one group of experts to another. Such societal changes are not necessarily the result of a planned strategy on the part of the persons involved, but a witch hunt or moral panic provides a convenient perpetual source of enemies to keep the hysteria going.136 Those who gain power and prestige from fighting a social problem are indeed likely to keep promoting and expanding the fight.

  • 137 Goode and Ben-Yehuda (2009, p. 101)
  • 138 Schetsche (2000, p. 29)

91Moral panics are characterized by exaggerated claims and exaggerated reactions. Many sociologists have discussed whether it is possible to determine that a claim is exaggerated if we have no objective standards to judge it by. Typically, we have to involve a different branch of science that deals with the subject matter of the problem. Erich Goode and Nachman Ben-Yehuda have proposed a list of simple criteria for judging exaggeration,137 and Michael Schetsche has proposed an analytical framework that tries to separate the subject matter of the problem from its social construction.138

92Conflicts about the definition of a social problem occur all the time, for example when environment protection organizations and industry lobbyists disagree over how dangerous a certain technology is. These conflicts rarely escalate into genuine moral panics with all the symptoms listed above. The less intense conflicts have little or no regalizing effect, but they are still important for defining social boundaries.

  • 139 Goode and Ben-Yehuda (2009, p. 18)

93The kinds of deviance that cause strong emotional reactions are often of a religious or sexual nature.139 Attempts to suppress sexual deviance are typically seen in connection with regal reactions. We may speculate why. It is hard to find a rational reason why anybody is concerned about, for example, homosexual activities carried out in private. The following hypotheses are possible explanations why concern over sexual deviance is so common:

  • Controlling the sexual behavior of others may have important consequences for biological fitness. It is possible that a psychological tendency for controlling the sexual behavior of others has been shaped in our prehistory by selection mechanisms that are not yet fully understood.
  • A social group under threat needs to produce many children. It is therefore likely that the regal reaction includes an impulse to suppress non-reproductive sexual behavior (see chapter 3.7).
  • Elite members may control people by suppressing their sexuality.140
  • Stories about sexuality have pornographic value regardless of whether the story is positive (about pleasure) or negative (about danger). A discourse about sexual deviance may be titillating because it appeals to the person’s hidden, and perhaps repressed, desire to do the same.141
  • Titillating stories are more likely to be retold. In other words, they have memetic fitness.142
  • The mass media have an economic interest in telling titillating stories.143 This is further discussed in chapter 5.1.
  • Stories about sexual deviance have political consequences and may be promoted by groups with a certain agenda, such as feminists or religious groups.144

94More research is needed to find out which of these effects are most important.


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38 Shenk (2009)

39 Goldstone (2012)

40 Green (2012)

41 Goldstone (2012)

42 CC BY-SA 4.0,

43 Urdal (2005)

44 Heinsohn (2003, p. 46)

45 United Nations Data Retrieval System. ‘World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision’,

46 Wilson and Daly (1985)

47 Goldstone (2012), Heinsohn (2003)

48 Heinsohn (2003, p. 72)

49 Urdal (2006), Cincotta and Doces (2012)

50 Heinsohn (2003, p. 40)

51 Cincotta and Leahy (2007), Cincotta and Doces (2012), Weber (2013)

52 Lechler (2015)

53 Esty et al. (1995), Goldstone et al. (2000)

54 Hvistendahl (2011)

55 LaGraffe (2012), Yair and Miodownik (2016), Apt (2014, chapter 3)

56 Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson and Sanford (1950)

57 Van Hiel, Pandelaere, and Duriez (2004)

58 Jugert and Duckitt (2009), Feldman and Stenner (1997), Duckitt and Fisher (2003), Hogg (1992, p. 35)

59 Asbrock and Fritsche (2013)

60 Cohrs (2013)

61 Duckitt (1989), Stellmacher (2005)

62 Duckitt (2001), Perry (2013)

63 Duckitt (2001), Sibley, Wilson and Duckitt (2007), Sibley and Duckitt (2008), McFarland (2010)

64 Van Hiel, Pandelaere, and Duriez (2004), Altemeyer (1998)

65 Altemeyer (1998)

66 Duckitt (2013)

67 Popper (1963, p. 37)

68 Stellmacher and Petzel (2005), Sibley and Duckitt (2008), Eckhardt (1991), Ray, J. (1989)

69 McFarland, Ageyev and Abalakina (1993)

70 Altemeyer (1998)

71 Duckitt (2015)

72 Jackson (1993)

73 Riek, Mania and Gaertner (2006), González et al. (2008)

74 Fritsche, Jonas and Kessler (2011)

75 Greenaway, Louis, Hornsey and Jones (2014)

76 Fritsche, Jonas and Kessler (2011)

77 Basow and Johnson (2000)

78 Hogg, van Knippenberg, and Rast (2012)

79 Hogg (2014)

80 Hogg, Meehan, and Farquharson (2010), Hogg and Adelman (2013), Rast, Hogg, and Giessner (2013), Schoel et al. (2011)

81 Kakkar and Sivanathan (2017)

82 Jost et al. (2007)

83 Doosje, Loseman and Bos (2013)

84 Greenberg and Arndt (2011)

85 Navarrete, Kurzban, Fessler and Kirkpatrick (2004)

86 Ullrich and Cohrs (2007)

87 Martens, Burke, Schimel and Faucher (2011)

88 Canetti et al. (2013, 2015)

89 Canetti et al. (2015), Hirsch-Hoefler, Canetti, Rapaport and Hobfoll (2014)

90 Hirsch-Hoefler, Canetti, Rapaport and Hobfoll (2014), Canetti-Nisim, Halperin, Sharvit and Hobfoll (2009)

91 Canetti et al. (2013)

92 Inglehart and Welzel (2005, p. 48), Inglehart (2007)

93 Inglehart and Welzel (2005, p. 48ff), Inglehart (2007)

94 Inglehart and Welzel (2005, p. 52)

95 See table 2

96 Norris and Inglehart (2011, chapter 4)

97 Norris and Inglehart (2011, chapter 11)

98 Public domain,

99 Sibley and Bulbulia (2012)

100 Chen (2010)

101 Healy and Breen (2014)

102 Minkov, Blagoev and Hofstede (2012)

103 Gelfand et al. (2011), Uz (2015), Harrington and Gelfand (2014)

104 Gelfand et al. (2011)

105 Pelto (1968)

106 Gelfand et al. (2011)

107 Minkov, Blagoev and Hofstede (2012), Uz (2015), Heine, Lehman and Greenholtz (2002)

108 Uz (2015)

109 Harrington and Gelfand (2014)

110 Stankov, Lee and van de Vijver (2014)

111 Uz (2015), Stankov, Lee and van de Vijver (2014)

112 Gelfand et al. (2011)

113 Harrington and Gelfand (2014)

114 Ross (1993)

115 Sipes (1975)

116 Hofstede, Hofstede and Minkov (2010)

117 Welzel (2013)

118 Welzel (2013)

119 Welzel (2013, p. 15)

120 Galor (2011)

121 Welzel (2013)

122 Acemoglu and Robinson (2012, chapter 3)

123 Tversky and Kahneman (1992)

124 Cohen (2011), Goode and Ben-Yehuda (2009)

125 Ben-Yehuda (1980)

126 Beck (1992)

127 Altheide (2014, p. 118)

128 Schack (2009)

129 Duke and Gross (1994)

130 Nelson (1984)

131 Best (1990)

132 Eberle and Eberle (1986)

133 Ben-Yehuda (1990, p. 97), Foucault (1980, chapter 6)

134 Keen (2006, p. 98)

135 Gusfield (1989)

136 Schack (2009)

137 Goode and Ben-Yehuda (2009, p. 101)

138 Schetsche (2000, p. 29)

139 Goode and Ben-Yehuda (2009, p. 18)

140 Foucault (1978)

141 Adams, Wright and Lohr (1996)

142 Brodie (1996, p. 103)

143 Greer (2012, chapter 5)

144 Plummer (1995, chapter 2)

Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 3. Prehistoric cave painting showing warfare. Bhimbetka, India. Photo by Nikhil2789, 2008.11
Fichier image/jpeg, 257k
Légende Figure 4. Demographic transition. By Max Roser, 2016.42
Fichier image/jpeg, 96k
Légende Figure 5. World population by year. Millions, logarithmic scale. By Agner Fog, 2017. Data from UN.45
Fichier image/jpeg, 187k
Légende Figure 6. Inglehart and Welzel’s Cultural Map (wave 6). World Values Survey Database.98
Fichier image/jpeg, 221k
Légende Table 2. Correlation of the three tightness measures of Uz with various variables, compared with the predictions of regality theory.111 Levels of significance: * p < 0.05, ** p < 0.01, *** p < 0.001. The signs of the coefficients have been adjusted for clarity.
Fichier image/jpeg, 449k


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