Review of The Evolution of War by M.R. Davie
Dr. Davie's book is an attempt to discuss the origin and early stages of the evolution of war with the traditional mode of procedure made familiar to all sociologists who have read Sumner's Folkways. The work of Sumner needs no encomium, but it is a serious question whether the particular device which Sumner used in collecting and arranging his material is applicable to the study of a specific problem such as the evolution of war.
The present work gives evidence of an extraordinary amount of industry. Some 538 titles are to be found in his bibliography, and there are more than 2,000 footnotes in the sixteen chapters and thirteen appendixes, the body of the discussion being concerned with the various causes of war, given in separate chapters as cannibalism, land and booty, women, religion, blood revenge, human sacrifice, and glory. The general point of view is in the Sumner tradition with two variations, the introduction of an evolutionary conception and the assumption of a rational origin of the mores. Concerning the first there is some controversy. Attempts have been made to show that Sumner really believed in cultural evolution, but there are many of us who feel that this is difficult to prove and would do no good to Sumner's reputation if it were proved. But the resort to a rational explanation of the mores Sumner opposed with almost complete consistency. The peaceful non-military tribes are accounted for by Davie as having found that war was too wasteful and that they must therefore do away with it or become extinct. There is a far more plausible explanation at hand. Perhaps, in spite of Dr. Davie's assertion, war did have a beginning and perhaps the non-military tribes never had war, or if they had it, gradually ceased the practice owing to the silent operation of cultural and other conditions.
The author's solution of the problem of the origin of war is that man has always fought. Primeval man had to defend himself against those of his own species, but a picture of primeval man everywhere defending him-self and nowhere attacking anyone lacks verisimilitude. The problem is how some came to attack in order that others might defend, and this is not even discussed.
The chief question this book raises is the validity of the method of Sumner for such a problem. There is no perspective in the view of primitive people. In a single paragraph of thirty-nine lines on page 36 there are
( 1115) ten references to tribes, including the Mayas, Comanches, West Africans, Australians, and the natives of Sarawak. "Primitive man" means all con-temporary preliterate people, and no adequate account is taken of the vast differences in culture or evolution.
In the Preface the author speaks harshly of "philosophers, clergymen, journalists, publicists, sentimentalists, peace advocates" who have one thing in common, "they lack the basis of fact," and he proposes to show them how to "grub for the facts." But Dr. Davie has far more citations than he has facts. In the third chapter on "War the Business of One Sex" there are exactly 150 footnotes, but a careful reading of this chapter reveals at most no cited facts. The remaining 140 citations are generalizations on the evidence, miscellaneous opinions, uncritical acceptance of secondhand impressions, with no appreciation of the necessity of inquiring into the source materials. Many of these quoted opinions are highly in-accurate. Even if Ward and Weeks do both support the statement that it is a sign of weakness for either man or woman on the Upper Congo to ex-press emotion and sensitiveness, anyone acquainted with that area knows that the statement simply is not true, and the same remark would apply to many of the citations. But it is most important to reiterate that 7 per cent of facts is a low average even for a single chapter. The result is that the whole book tends to be a generalizing on the evidence without giving the evidence, and the generalizing is quoted from all sorts of questionable sources. Nor is this chapter exceptional. Chapter xiv, on "The Mitigation of War," is even worse. Here are 183 numbered citations referring to some 366 page references, but hardly more than 10 of them are specifically factual. They range from "this was thought to be " "it was no uncommon thing . . . ," and "Hiawatha is said to have invented ...." to general references to customs or traditions, the source of information being wholly uncriticized.
The transition from indiscriminate slaughter to the sparing of women and children places the Eskimos, Pimas, Hebrews, and Arabs in an early stage, while the Ba-huana, Masai, and Kaffirs represent a great humanitarian advance. The Australian blacks are far higher in the scale than the California Indians. The "Eskimos around Bering Strait" are cited as evidence of a very primitive savage tribe (p. 179) and as representing in the same period a distinctly advanced stage (p. 185 ).
Perhaps the weakest chapter is on "Religion as a Cause of War." Since no preliterates have a sectarian consciousness nor any missionary zeal, the discussion chiefly enumerates magical beliefs about war and bloodshed. The effect is clearly set forth as the cause, and the essential difference
( 1116) which written books and civilization make in the culture of a people is obscured.
Same of the best works on primitive people are conspicuously absent from the citations. There is no mention of Brown's work on the Andaman islanders, no reference to Watson's census on the division of labor, or to Radin's work on the Winnebago. Malinowski's name doesn't appear, nor F. C. Cole, nor indeed, a score of other most important names. The author of this book had an important subject and a real opportunity. It will be a matter of regret that he did not rise to the occasion.
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO