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Warlike and Peaceful Societies

Agner Fog

9. Discussion and Conclusion

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Figure 33. Kungic versus regal. Demonstration against the Vietnam War. Arlington, Virginia, USA, 1967. Albert R. Simpson, US Army Audiovisual Center, 1967.1

9.1. Summary of findings

  • 2 Thayer (2004, chapter 3), van der Dennen (1995, chapter 1.2)

1Evolutionary theories of war and conflict are not new, but previous theories have several weaknesses. It is difficult to explain why warriors are willing to risk their lives fighting for their group. Previous explanations have relied on evolutionary mechanisms such as kin selection, group selection, altruistic punishment, or benefitting from the spoils of war,2 often attributing much more power to these mechanisms than the quantitative models bear out. Regality theory proposes a mechanism that better explains the parochial altruism of warriors without resort to such weak or controversial mechanisms as altruistic punishment or group selection.

  • 3 Thayer (2004, p. 234)

2Another problem with many of the previous theories is that they try to explain variation with a constant.3 Some theorists claim that humans are peaceful by nature, while others claim that humans are inherently ethnocentric and xenophobic, but few have explained the extreme variability in human societies from the extremely peaceful and tolerant to the unfathomable cruelty of warlike societies. Regality theory explains this variability by showing that humans have a flexible psychology that allows us to adapt to our life conditions.

3Humans will express an authoritarian reaction in the event of war or any other perceived collective danger that requires collective action. This includes the desire for a strong leader, strict discipline, a strong group identity emphasizing ‘us’ versus ‘them’, xenophobia, and intolerance. The social and political structure of the society will take shape according to these preferences. We will see a hierarchical political organization and harsh punishment of traitors and deviants. Such a society is called regal.

4This mechanism provides an evolutionary solution to the collective action problem. The powerful leader can reward brave warriors and punish cowards and defectors. In the absence of such a leader, there would be more free riders than fighters. It is not worthwhile for anybody to fight for his group if everybody else is free riding on his actions. It is a better strategy to support a strong leader who can make sure that nobody is free riding (see chapter 2.2).

5There is no reason to support a strong leader when there is no war or other collective danger. On the contrary, a strong leader is likely to be a tyrant who exploits everybody else. Therefore, people will show the opposite psychological tendencies in a situation of peace and security, preferring an egalitarian and tolerant society. This kind of society is called kungic.

6Most societies will be somewhere in between these two extremes. We can imagine a continuous scale from the extremely kungic to the extremely regal, and each society or culture can be placed somewhere on this scale depending on the level of perceived collective danger. The regal-kungic scale does not only affect the political climate. We have observed that a lot of different aspects of a culture reflect its level of regality. The characteristics of regal and kungic societies are summarized in table 1 (chapter 2.6).

7This model can explain a lot of different social phenomena. Most importantly, it can explain why some societies are warlike and authoritarian while others are peaceful and tolerant. The hierarchical and highly disciplined structure in a regal society is good not only for defense, but also for offensive purposes. A regal country will attack any neighbor country if it has a good chance of gaining more territory through war.

9.2. Three epochs in human history

8Different factors in the environment and subsistence pattern can make war or violent conflict feasible or impossible, as we have seen. We can roughly divide human history into three epochs where different means of subsistence have led to different dynamics for war and regality.

9In the first epoch, humans depended on hunting, gathering, and fishing. The amount of violent conflict was determined mainly by the ecology and geography. Where food was concentrated in rich patches, we would have contest competition and frequent intergroup conflicts over access to the most attractive food patches. The population density would be higher around these rich patches so that larger groups were able to fight together. Geographic barriers and niche specialization were factors that could prevent war. Thus, we would find the relatively regal cultures in areas with rich food patches and the more kungic cultures in remote areas where food was sparse, where travelling was difficult, or where a small group had adapted to a special niche that neighboring groups could not penetrate. When nomadic pastoralism was introduced, the dynamics were basically the same, but the groups that traveled together were larger, which increased their fighting ability.

10In the second epoch, humans depended increasingly on agriculture to produce their own food. Where the lifestyle had previously been nomadic, it now became more and more sedentary. This development probably started with slash and burn agriculture, in which groups of humans traveled to a new place whenever the soil had been exhausted. The lifestyle became more and more sedentary with the Neolithic revolution, when fields were cultivated in fertile areas such as river valleys. The population grew in these areas. As villages grew into cities, it became possible to organize and build irrigation canals to increase the agricultural yield.

11The more the production of food became concentrated in fertile areas near water sources, the more these areas became the subject of violent conflicts. A self-amplifying cycle of increasing regality, territorial expansion, increasing food production, and population growth was started. Villages and small cities grew and became city states, nations, kingdoms, and finally large empires. The political structure became more and more hierarchical and centralized while the culture focused increasingly on the importance of military virtues and new conquests.

12When such an empire had finally reached the practical limits to expansion, the opposite development set in. The wars and conquests that had driven the regal spiral were no longer feasible, the state was economically bankrupt, and a kungic development set in. The empire started to disintegrate into smaller states, some of which were later absorbed by neighboring empires.

13The level of regality in this second epoch was now determined not only by ecological and geographic factors but increasingly by the dynamical rise and fall of empires. This cyclical process, which is explained in chapters 4.1 and 4.2, led to an alternation between regal and kungic developments over periods of several hundred years.

  • 4 Altheide (2014)

14The third epoch is one of industrialization and a globalized economy. Large scale territorial wars have become less common since World War II due to the influence of international organizations, alliances, deterrence, economic costs, and economic interdependence. Political leaders may still have imperial ambitions, but their strategies are now based less on brute-force military dominance and more on proxy wars, economic structures, resource extraction, debt dependence, and the domination of culture, ideology, science, and mass media.4

15We still have violent conflicts, but on a lower scale. In most cases, one or both parties in a conflict depend on foreign support (often clandestine). These conflicts can be characterized as proxy wars or foreign-supported attempts at inducing regime change. Most violent conflicts today are asymmetric wars where the traditional theories of war do not apply. The weaker party in an asymmetric conflict may turn to terrorism tactics when the traditional means of warfare are not available to them. The actual damage done by acts of terrorism is much smaller than in traditional warfare, but the regalizing effect can be very high because of the intense media attention (see chapter 4.4 and 6.1).

16In fact, the mass media play a major role in the regal-kungic dynamics of modern societies. Most people depend on the mass media for information about political violence and other dangers, because they do not witness these events themselves. The image presented by the mass media is often exaggerated, though, because the media are forced by fierce economic competition to focus on dramatic and highly emotional stories about crime, violence, and mayhem. The ‘mean world syndrome’ caused by media competition is in fact a major regalizing force in modern society (see chapter 5.1). Politicians sometimes contribute to this effect by fabricating threats and conflicts (see chapter 6.3).

17The mass migration of refugees out of conflict zones can cause regal reactions in the countries that receive these refugees. In the future, climate change, natural disasters, overpopulation, and ecological collapse may have similar effects.

18Economic factors also contribute to regal developments when an unstable economic system causes crises and growing global inequality. The regal effect of an economic crisis depends on who is blamed for the crisis and whether the politicians are perceived to be in control of the situation (see chapter 5.2).

19Despite these regal influences, we are now seeing strong kungic developments in many parts of the world due to the improved living conditions, peace, and stability that are connected with the demographic transition (see chapter 3.4).

20The state of the world today can be characterized by the observation that the pattern of war has changed (see chapter 4.4), but some wars are still being fought based on obsolete principles. Today, we are seeing mostly asymmetric conflicts which tend to be intractable and longlasting. Asymmetric wars are often fought with unconventional means, including terrorism. Most violent conflicts today can be characterized as proxy wars. The level of conflict is increased here by foreign support in the form of weapons, training, and other resources.

21On the surface, these asymmetric wars and proxy wars appear to be conflicts over ideology or religion, but the political or religious extremism of the fighters is mainly a consequence of the conflict itself. The fighters in proxy wars become radicalized as a regal reaction to the violence and also as a result of manipulation by their leaders. Behind the scenes, the sponsors who are pulling the strings are more motivated by a need to secure their access to critical resources and by geopolitical strategy (see chapter 4.3, page 75). They use religion, ideology, and a rhetoric of good and evil mainly to rally support for their cause. The weaker party in asymmetric conflicts is in most cases fighting against the suppression and exclusion of a minority. The religious and ethnic identity of this minority is amplified by the conflict.

22The third epoch that we are now in has lasted for less than a century, and the driving forces behind the social and political developments are changing faster than the theories about their workings. The globalized economy is still changing shape with new dynamic forms of international cooperation and competition, concentration of wealth and power, economic booms and busts, security and insecurity, economic regulation and deregulation, and new conflicts and alliances. Likewise, the political climate is changing, with new forms of dynamics formed by new forms of mass communication, competition for attention, economic influences on the mass media, and new forms of propaganda and deception. As scientists, we have a lot of work to do to catch up with these developments in order to understand in which direction these processes are taking our society.

9.3. The regal/kungic dynamics and human social development

23While it is certainly more pleasurable for ordinary people to live in a kungic society than a regal one, we should not forget the role that regal periods have played in the history of human development. Regal regimes have certainly caused unfathomable amounts of cruelty and human suffering, but without the historical periods of regality we might still be living in the Stone Age.

24The first condition for technological innovation and development is a political and economic structure that allows division of labor, where some people produce food while others can devote their time to being artisans, intellectuals, and other specialists. Scientific progress requires a wealthy government that can support education and pay people for doing research.

25A rich and powerful government is necessary for the construction of the large infrastructure that industrial development and large scale international trade depends on. However, this is not the friendliest environment for individual innovation and free enterprise. Throughout most of our history, rich and powerful governments have also been regal. Regal governments are likely to tax or confiscate new enterprises that appear to be profitable. Such governments are extractive in the sense of Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson’s theory, as explained in chapter 5.2. Furthermore, regal societies are typically intolerant of the deviance and experimentation that may be necessary for social and cultural innovation.

  • 5 Acemoglu and Robinson (2012, p. 43)

26On the other hand, a kungic society with a lax system of justice may fail to protect private entrepreneurs against theft and blackmail, or fail to provide the accumulation of wealth necessary for investment in new businesses. The societies that have been most conducive to technological progress have been those that had a strong legal system to protect private property, but that also encouraged diversity and individual inventiveness.5

  • 6 Tilly (1992)

27The present state of human technology and social organization is the result of a development that has depended on different levels of regality at different times and in different places. Most states were created through violence.6 Regal periods have created larger political units, division of labor, and the accumulation of wealth that has been required for the investment in infrastructure, education, and science. Subsequent kungic periods have fostered individual creativity and inventiveness, and allowed the political, cultural, and religious deviance that was connected with inventiveness, while perhaps the previously accumulated capital made the investment in technological inventions possible. The most fruitful environment for technological and industrial innovation is one that combines democracy and individual freedom with a strong law enforcement system to protect private property. Different periods with different levels of regality have created windows of opportunity for different innovations and developments. The changes in regality level and the conflicts between regal and kungic forces have been the root of much artistic and cultural creativity and innovation.

28Today, the possibility of establishing a well-functioning and reliable government and legal system no longer requires a strong regal government; but the decoupling between regality and efficient law enforcement is historically new, as it came with the third epoch described in the previous chapter.

29The regal periods in human history have not only produced war, tyranny, imperialism, slavery, cruelty, and mayhem, but also formed the preconditions for the highly developed society that we live in today. Most of the basic principles of law that are necessary for a civilized society to function today were developed in regal periods. Classical music, as well as many of the magnificent pieces of art and architecture that we are impressed by today, was created under the regal regimes of the past. We admire old fairy tales without realizing that they were written to glorify sovereign kings and emperors and to make unambiguous distinctions between friend and foe, between good and evil. And we enjoy the fruits of past scientific, technological, and political progress without thinking of the incredible hardship that made it possible.

9.4. New explanations of well-known phenomena

30Regality theory can contribute to a better understanding of many well-known phenomena, for example the rise and fall of empires, as discussed in previous chapters.

31Altruism is a behavior that has always been difficult to explain in evolutionary theory. Many different theories have been put forth, but none of the previously proposed mechanisms seems to be strong enough to explain why people are willing to sacrifice themselves in war. Regality theory offers a model that predicts a stronger effect than the previous theories can account for (see chapter 2.2).

32Another common phenomenon that receives a new theoretical explanation is authoritarianism. The psychological concept of authoritarianism has often been criticized for being politically biased and poorly defined. For many years, there has been confusion and disagreement over whether authoritarianism was a fixed personality trait, a psychopathology, a reaction to fear and danger, a consequence of pessimistic world views, or just a divergent political opinion. Regality theory explains the phenomenon that psychologists have called authoritarianism as an evolved pattern of response to perceived collective danger. This new explanation removes the weaknesses of authoritarianism theory and gives a good explanation of the relationship between individual reactions and sociopolitical phenomena (see chapter 3.5).

33The question of whether humans are violent or peaceful by nature has often been discussed. Regality theory has the answer: it depends on the environment. The endless debates over whether human differences are due to genes or culture have often totally missed a third possibility, that the genes define a flexibility or plasticity that allows the individual to show different behaviors depending on the environment.

34In folk psychology, people often believe that war and violent conflicts are caused by hate, fanaticism, nationalism, or religious extremism. Regality theory turns this argument upside down. Conflict leads to regality, which is typically expressed as xenophobia, fanaticism, an increased sense of national identity, and religious strictness and zeal. While the causal mechanism often goes both ways in a self-amplifying spiral of violence, it is fair to say that xenophobia, fanatical patriotism, religious extremism, and so on are the consequences of conflict more than the causes of it. This insight has important implications for peacemaking efforts. Attempts to root out, for example, a particular expression of religious extremism by force will most likely be counterproductive and create more regality, while third-party interventions that guarantee peace and security will have a kungic effect and make the extremism slowly fade away.

35The fundamental dogmas of a religion are quite resistant to change. However, people have a peculiar ability to interpret their religion in a way that matches their psychological propensities or political agenda so that they can justify almost any action—violent or peaceful—by reference to carefully selected parts of their religious principles.

36The statistical results show a quite significant correlation between religion and various measures of war and regality in both modern and non-industrial societies. The religion of regal societies typically supports the hierarchical political power structure and serves a disciplining function by emphasizing supernatural rewards and punishments. This insight can improve our understanding of religious differences.

37Regality theory improves our understanding of several other cultural phenomena as well, including some phenomena that are difficult to explain with other theories. One phenomenon that has hitherto been difficult to explain is sexual morals. The statistics presented above show that the level of regality explains remarkably well why different cultures have such strikingly different sexual morals. Cultural prohibitions against birth control can be seen as a means by which a regal society tries to increase the population growth. A ban against premarital sex is likely to force young people to marry early and have many children when all other outlets for their sexual drive are closed. Many regal cultures even have bans against such harmless, but non-procreative, sexual behaviors as masturbation and homosexuality. More research is needed to study the possible psychological mechanisms that connect regality with the desire to make rules for the sexual behavior of others.

38The theory also improves our understanding of patriarchy. Regal cultures tend to be patriarchal and male-dominated, while kungic cultures have more equality between the sexes.

39Regality theory also offers a completely new way of explaining differences in artistic style and taste. Regal cultures have a marked preference for a highly embellished, refined, and perfectionist style, while the members of kungic cultures appreciate the more individualistic, imaginative, and less rule-bound artistic expressions. Art is a form of communication that reflects the social structure as the artist sees it or the social structure that the artist would like to see. This tendency to reflect the level of regality appears to be the same in many different kinds of art, including music, dance, literary fiction, drama, painting, body adornment, and architecture.

  • 7 Owsiak (2013), Gibler and Owsiak (2017)

40Finally, regality theory contributes to a better understanding of democracy. In international relations, it is often believed that democracy is the road to peace, but the statistics show that the democratization of a country almost always comes after the borders have been settled and peace established.7 This observation fits perfectly with regality theory. Unstable or contested borders are a collective threat that drives the political climate of a country in the regal and autocratic direction, while peace and secure borders will promote a kungic political culture, which leads to democracy. In other words: peace comes before democracy.

41This also explains the paradoxical phenomenon that the voters in a democracy sometimes elect undemocratic candidates. A return from democracy to autocracy is possible in the face of national threats—real or fabricated. We can expect democracy to be adversely affected by border conflicts, proxy wars, fabricated dangers, highly emotional threats such as terrorism, and by a concentration of valuable resources in areas that can be monopolized and fought over.

9.5. Integration with other theories

  • 8 Lakatos (1974)

42A common way of promoting a new theory is to prove previous theories wrong. This naive form of falsificationism has not been very fruitful in the social sciences.8 While regality theory explains our observations better than alternative theories do, this does not mean that previous theories should be completely rejected. Previous theories may still contain some important insights that might be remodeled and combined with the new discoveries in a synthetic process that makes our knowledge evolve and expand its explanatory power. Regality theory may improve previous theories by contributing to a deeper theoretical understanding of both individual behavior and social structures.

43There is a long-standing debate in sociology about the relative importance of individual agency and social structure. The present book argues for a theory where individual preferences shape the social structure, and where the social structure determines the power relations between people and determines who is able to get into powerful positions and what interests they serve. The social structure and the environment also have a strong influence on the psychological preferences of individual people. A conflict-filled and dangerous environment fosters authoritarian preferences in people, while a peaceful and safe environment makes people prioritize egalitarian values. These individual preferences then feed back into the social structure in such a way that people tend to build hierarchical political systems in dangerous environments and egalitarian political structures in safe and peaceful environments.

  • 9 Inglehart and Welzel (2005, p. 224)

44The actor-centered explanation of historical events can be criticized for seeing only proximate causes. For example, Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel criticize explanations of democracy that can be reduced to the observation that democracy has been implemented because prodemocratic actors were stronger than anti-democratic actors. It is always clear in retrospect that the winners were stronger than the losers, but this gives no insight into the social forces that explain why the winners were stronger. The actor-centered approach often tries to explain social processes by actions that are endogenous to the processes themselves without seeing the deeper structural mechanisms.9

45The present theory improves the opportunities for a scientific understanding of history based on environmental and technological factors and intergroup relations. Rather than explaining a war as caused by the whims of a particular bellicose leader, we can start to study why this leader was bellicose and, more importantly, why he had enough supporters to stay in power, and why the population did not overturn this despot and replace him with somebody more peaceful (see chapter 6.4).

46Many social developments are unpredicted or unintended. We cannot explain unintended developments adequately by idiographic accounts of the personal decisions of specific influential people. Unplanned developments are often the emergent effects of the actions of a large number of people, perhaps without anybody understanding how their own decisions contribute to the big picture of macroscopic change. Regality theory is only one among many theories that can explain emergent social developments. Other theories that may contribute to the understanding of unplanned developments include systems theory with feedback models, cultural selection theory, economic market mechanisms, social cognition theory, and media effects theories combined with media economy (see chapters 4.1, 5.1, and 5.2).

9.6. Policy lessons

47Regality theory can be useful for guiding political decisions and for predicting the consequences of political actions.

  • 10 Steffen et al. (2015)

48There may be many reasons why one wants to push a society and culture in the kungic direction. A kungic development is the road to peace, tolerance, and democracy. It can also be an important tool for saving the environment. A kungic culture is usually coupled with a K-like life history strategy, which implies better education and reduced population growth (chapter 3.3). The current level of consumption of natural resources exceeds the carrying capacity of the planet, and so does the level of pollution.10 We have often observed that the protection of the environment has very low priority in the event of war but higher priority in times of peace. A kungic development combined with demographic transition is probably the most efficient way to avoid ecological collapse.

49The following policies may be useful for pushing a society and culture in the kungic direction:

  • Protect the borders of countries. Prevent violent territorial conflicts. Borders should be created, removed, or moved only by peaceful negotiations, or decided by public referendum in the affected areas. Strong, fair, and accountable international organizations should oversee this.
  • Remove violence, particularly against civilians, and reduce threat perceptions.11
  • Resolve asymmetric conflicts, which tend to be intractable and produce terror. International mediation is often necessary for solving such conflicts in a way that is acceptable to both parties.
  • Prevent proxy wars and expose clandestine foreign support for conflicting factions. Do not buy oil, diamonds, drugs, or other valuable products from conflict areas. Prevent foreign support for violent regime changes. Prevent and expose the deliberate fabrication of conflicts by third parties.
  • Create economic stability and safety. The money system should not generate unpayable debt or inescapable debt dependence. Restrain the Matthew effect. Regulate the kinds of international trade that would lead to a race to the bottom.
  • Reduce the dependence on critical resources, such as oil, rare minerals, and water. Make sure that all people and all countries have fair access to vital resources.
  • Establish social security systems and safety nets that guarantee the basic necessities of life and health for everybody and make people feel safe.
  • Promote good education for all citizens. Support education for the poor. Make education attractive by providing jobs for the educated.
  • Support free mass media that do not have to rely on fearmongering and exaggeration of dangers for reasons of economic competition. This requires alternative sources of funding for ‘public service’ news media.
  • Prevent overpopulation. The above policies will in fact advance the demographic transition and help to prevent overpopulation.
  • 12 Popper (1945)

50This theoretical discussion would not be complete without also describing policies that can be used to push a society in the regal direction. A society that is too kungic will be vulnerable to attacks from more regal forces. Karl Popper, citing Plato, expressed this as the paradox of freedom. Freedom in the sense of absence of restraining control ‘makes the bully free to enslave the meek’. Popper also explained the paradox of tolerance: ‘If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them’.12 The optimal position of a society on the regal-kungic dimension depends on the dangers it faces from its neighbors as well as on the need for solidarity and collective action.

51Regalizing policies have often been used to strengthen a government against the interests of the majority of the population, as we have seen in chapters 6.2 and 6.3. Such policies can also be used to strengthen a country against a likely attack from a militant neighbor, to increase solidarity in times of crisis, to nurture the will to cultural self-preservation, or to strengthen a military organization. Actions and inactions that can make societies more regal include the following:

  • War, including proxy war and fabricated conflicts; political influence of the weapons industry; weak and corrupt international organizations.
  • An unregulated economy depending on debt, exploitation of other countries, increasing inequality, perpetual growth, and overconsumption of natural resources.
  • Climate change, overexploitation, and destruction of the environment.
  • Exaggerated stories about all kinds of dangers in the mass media; a highly competitive media market.
  • Political control of artistic production, especially the suppression and destruction of kungic art.

52Evidently, tyrants and despots have used regalizing techniques such as these over the millennia to increase their own power, even if they did not know why these techniques worked. The list of regalizing techniques provided here will hardly add anything to the repertoire of powerhungry autocrats. It can, however, be useful to a political opposition and to the general population because it makes it easier to see through the hidden motives of rulers who want to strengthen their own power or abuse their power to enrich themselves.

53The insights provided by regality theory can also be useful for identifying ineffective and counterproductive policies. For example, both parts in an asymmetric conflict should avoid escalating the violence because this will lead to further regalization and make the conflict intractable.

  • 13 Owsiak (2013)

54This theory also explains why so many attempts to establish democracy by force have failed. International interventions in troublefilled countries have too often had a focus on regime change. While the professed aim has been to establish democracy, the result has invariably been less liberating. No matter how tyrannical the leader of an undemocratic country is, he will have supporters who see any foreign-backed attempts to remove him by force as an attack on their country. This has a regalizing effect that is likely to make the country less democratic, not more. The analyses of conflicts need to focus on systemic causes rather than hunting down individual ‘bad guys’. Removing an ‘evil dictator’ by force will only regalize the population of his country and make sure his successor will be even more militant and despotic. Peace and stability must come before democracy.13

55Counterinsurgency and counterterrorism have too often been counterproductive. They ignore the grievances that provide the driving force behind all insurgency. They also ignore the fact that, in most cases, there are no military targets that the insurgents can meaningfully attack with any chance of success, so they can see no other option than to attack less legitimate targets. This makes it easy for a suppressive regime to call them terrorists. We can be pretty sure that they have already tried less radical forms of protest with disappointing results.

  • 14 Chayes (2015, p. 154)

56It should be no surprise that insurgent movements become more radical and militant the stronger their grievances and the more they are suppressed. Their radical religious and political ideologies are likely to lose adherents if their grievances are dealt with in a sensible way. A suppressive and kleptocratic regime may be the main cause of their grievances. International intervention is unlikely to bring lasting peace if it only helps a despotic regime suppress the insurgents while ignoring their grievances. Intelligence organizations with their traditional focus on secret operations and paying secret informants are only likely to exacerbate the corruption that lies at the core of the conflict. Intelligence gathering should instead focus on identifying the root causes of a conflict.14

57International policies that are likely to fail include the following:

  • Blaming insecurity and political problems on specific political leaders; hunting down ‘evil dictators’ while ignoring the basic reasons why certain countries have despotic leaders.
  • Blaming conflict on religion. Fanatic religiosity is a consequence of conflict as much as, or rather more than, a cause of it. People will automatically become less fanatical and less bellicose when their environment is made more secure. Putting the blame on ‘Islamists’, ‘Zionists’, or ‘Crusaders’ will only make them feel that their religion is threatened and make them more regal.
  • Trying to solve international security problems by forcing a regime change in other countries by violent means.
  • Proxy war; covert support for coup attempts in other countries; opportunistic support for one faction or another in foreign countries based on one’s own economic and geostrategic interests.
  • Focus on violent conflict rather than state building; trying to impose democracy on other countries by force without focusing on the root causes of why the country has an autocratic rule; trying to establish democracy before stability.15

9.7. Supporting evidence

58Let us review the most important support we now have for regality theory:

  1. First, we have a solid theoretical basis. Evolutionary theory has always had a problem explaining why people are willing to fight for their group. Many models have been proposed, but the effects always seemed to be too weak to account for the high costs and dangers of fighting. Regality theory offers a model with a stronger potential effect because it involves a strong leader who has the power to coordinate, reward, and punish. Common support for a strong leader makes sure that everybody will be fighting rather than free riding. A hypothetical genetic code that says ‘support a strong leader in times of collective danger, but not otherwise’ would be evolutionarily stable (see chapters 2.2 and 2.3). The actual observations are in good agreement with this model.
  2. The extensive research that has been carried out in connection with authoritarianism theory confirms that people become authoritarian when they perceive collective danger. This involves support for a strong leader and strict discipline (see chapter 3.5).
  3. Many previous studies have found various effects of collective danger that are in accordance with regality theory (see table 18, chapter 8.5).
  4. Regality theory provides an explanation for the rise and fall of empires that is in very good agreement with the theory and observations behind Peter Turchin’s historical dynamics (see chapter 4.2).
  5. Many scientists have tried to map cultural differences. Different scientists have assigned different names to the cultural factors that they discovered, such as cultural tightness, harshness, traditional values, survival values, emancipative values, conservatism, and nastiness. All these constructs—whatever they are called—seem to be closely related to each other (see table 17, chapter 8.4). The fact that different scientists, relying on different theories and methods, make similar discoveries suggests that there is a common underlying reality behind all these findings. Most of these different constructs are significantly correlated with regality at the country level. The various studies of cultural factors have found correlations with many different aspects of culture. These correlations are in very good agreement with the predictions of regality theory (see chapter 3.7 and 3.8).
  6. A large statistical analysis of 8,883 persons in 33 contemporary countries found highly significant correlations between perceived danger, desire for a tough leader, bellicosity, and several other variables in accordance with the predictions of regality theory (see table 15 and figure 31, chapter 8.4).
  7. A statistical analysis on ancient, non-industrial societies has been made based on data from the 186 cultures in Murdoch and White’s Standard Cross-Cultural Sample. A structural equation model supports the predicted relationships between war, leadership, rewards for warriors, various cultural indicators of regality, life history strategy, and sexual morals (see figure 29, chapter 8.2).
  8. A subsample consisting of eighteen of these ancient, nonindustrial societies was investigated in more detail in a comparative historical analysis. The level of intergroup conflict in each of these societies was in very good agreement with the conflict level that could be predicted based on geographic, ecological, and technological factors. The level of hierarchy, discipline, and several other cultural indicators agreed very well with the predictions of regality theory for these societies and confirmed the direction of causality. A statistical summary of these results showed that most of the predicted relationships were highly significant (see table 11, chapter 8.3).

59Such a broad and solid range of support is quite unusual for a social science theory. This is an excellent basis for further research and exploration of the many aspects of regality theory and the many social and cultural variables that are influenced by the level of regality, according to this theory.

9.8. What regality theory can be used for

60This book has explained how regality theory was developed with contributions from many different scientific disciplines. In this conclusion, it is time to suggest how regality theory can give something back to these disciplines. The following list shows examples of how regality theory can make useful contributions to other scientific disciplines:

  • In history, to explain war and peace, despotism, the rise and fall of empires, and the development of democracy.
  • In archaeology, to get an image of the social and political structure of a society based on physical remains. A regal culture is likely to leave large, impressive, perfectionist, and embellished artifacts made from durable materials, while the artifacts of kungic cultures are likely to be less rule-bound, to reflect individual fantasy, and to be made of perishable materials. This causes a sampling bias in the archaeological record (see chapter 2.6).
  • In social psychology, to explain authoritarianism, racism, xenophobia, punitiveness, and tolerance; to suggest a revision of the politically biased authoritarianism theory (see chapter 3.5).
  • In conflict and peace research, to identify the conditions that lead to conflict or peace and to understand the social and psychological consequences of different kinds of conflict, including international war, civil war, proxy war, insurgency, revolution, terrorism, and spirals of violence.
  • In the history and sociology of religion, to relate changes in religious sentiments, beliefs, and rituals to social and political changes and ecological factors.
  • In art history, to relate artistic innovations and genres of art to social and political developments.
  • In cultural studies, to understand the connections between social conditions, political ideas, artistic style, music genres, religious movements, and so on.
  • In sexology, to relate sexual behaviors, lifestyles, morals, and tolerance or intolerance to the social and political climate.
  • In media studies, to understand how the economic mechanisms in a competitive media market shape the quality of the media and the number of titillating or scary stories, and how this in turn may create a ‘mean world syndrome’ that influences the general level of regality in the society (chapter 5.1).
  • In political demography, to understand the connection between ecological environment, r/K life history strategies, demographic transition, and political changes along the regal-kungic dimension.
  • In political science, to understand the social and psychological factors that make authoritarian or egalitarian ideas popular, and to predict the likely consequences of political decisions.
  • In futurology, to predict future developments in the political climate.

9.9. Further discussion

61A forum for the discussion of regality theory is provided online at


1 Public domain,

2 Thayer (2004, chapter 3), van der Dennen (1995, chapter 1.2)

3 Thayer (2004, p. 234)

4 Altheide (2014)

5 Acemoglu and Robinson (2012, p. 43)

6 Tilly (1992)

7 Owsiak (2013), Gibler and Owsiak (2017)

8 Lakatos (1974)

9 Inglehart and Welzel (2005, p. 224)

10 Steffen et al. (2015)

11 Hirsch-Hoefler, Canetti, Rapaport and Hobfoll (2014)

12 Popper (1945)

13 Owsiak (2013)

14 Chayes (2015, p. 154)

15 Inglehart and Welzel (2005, p. 297), Owsiak (2013), Ahram (2011, p. 139)

Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 33. Kungic versus regal. Demonstration against the Vietnam War. Arlington, Virginia, USA, 1967. Albert R. Simpson, US Army Audiovisual Center, 1967.1
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