Reproduced from: http://www.salveprof.it/sitonuovo/extra/progetto_solidarieta/documenti/on_the_causes_of_war.pdf


Gipri, Ecole d’été: Les causes des guerrres à venir, Geneve 31/8/07

Uni Basel Soziologie, Öffnung: Krieg Aethiologie Abschaffung,12/9/07

Johan Galtung, dr hc mult, Professor of Peace Studies;
Founder, TRANSCEND: A Network for Peace and Development

1. The causality discourse

Causality is, as often said, not a law but the form of a law; a discourse used to bring some understanding to a chaotic world. In that discourse the two words “cause” (C) and “effect” (E) are subject to rules of speech: E cannot precede C in time. And the connective relating them, an arrow, like C–>E, translated as “C causes/leads to/is followed by E”, or some synonyms, is two-way.

C–>E is for a sufficient cause, SC, meaning that wherever C is present so will E; immediately or with a time lag. C<– E is for a necessary cause, NC, meaning that whenever E is present there is or has been C. Some causes may be necessary and sufficient, C<–>E.

If E is war an example often used these days of a sufficient cause is “resource scarcity”, and an example of a necessary cause is availability of arms. To get a better understanding we may insert intermediaries, or “steps”, between C and E, or E and C if we reason backward (the case of necessity). The result is a causal chain, often referred to as a “mechanism”, from physical sciences and their application in engineering, to understand “how it works”.

The basic idea, then, is to control the set SC+NC so that

  • if we pursue E, then realize E by realizing SC+NC, or
  • if we reject E, then negate E by negating SC+NC

The causal discourse is highly pragmatic, result-oriented even though it also opens for neutral E’s that are neither pursued nor rejected. The test of understanding is “whether it works”, as opposed to mathematics where the test is “whether it is valid”.

Let us then make a distinction between positive and negative causes, the positively existing and the negatively not existing. There is an epidemic, people die. The cause? Some positively existing micro-organism, for sure. But perhaps also something negatively not existing, like absence of adequate immunity whether brought about naturally or artificially (inoculation), absence of hygiene, early warning, health services for preventive and curative care. The epidemic came like a tsunami, invaded, killed and left.

Thus, a negative cause of war can be postulated: the absence of adequate conflict transformation whether the substance is mainly economic, political, military or cultural (usually a mix). Like an immune system conflict transformation creates resistance against such causes as war enthusiasm, hatred, desire for trauma revenge, or the hope for glory. Positive causes should be removed (primary prophylaxis) and negative causes introduced (secondary prophylaxis).

We could now introduce circular causation with the effect as a cause reinforcing the first cause which in turn reinforces the effect, in a positive feedback cycle, or reduces the first cause in a negative feedback cycle. Rather than linear chains we get loops and all kinds of configurations, with no clear beginning or end; a more adequate map of reality revealing side-causes and -effects.

Somewhere in our minds lurks another grammatical rule for the causal discourse. If good effects have good causes and bad effects bad causes, then we can either keep, or throw out, the cause-effect bundle. Problems arise when good causes have bad effects and bad causes good effects. But good causes may be used for other, good, effects, and good effects may be caused by other, good, causes. For this Linear causation is insufficient; we need branching processes.

2. Enters Aristotle

Aristotle closed our discourse horizons through his tertium non datur, there is no third possibility, a proposition is either true or false. This canonized the dilemma, the either-or, where buddhist epistemology opens for the tetralemma, including the both-and and the neither-nor. But then Aristotle opened our discourse horizon at another point by postulating four types of causality, not only one, not to be confused with the co-arising dependency of buddhist epistemology, opening for circular and spiraling causation.

Aristotle has four types of causation, the efficient, material, formal and final causes, in Latin causa eficiens, causa materialis, causa formalis and causa finalis. Imagine I want to understand what happens when I write this article. Yes, my fingers touching the keyboard of my computer is the causa eficiens for the final article. But that computer, with printer, paper etc, is the causa materialis; remove it and there would be no article. The causa formalis is the form of the article, the kind of linear introduction-body-conclusion form authors tend to follow. And the causa finalis is my image of what I want to communicate, even the final conclusions I can conjure upon my mind. An image is needed; to be changed in the process.

We may put the other three into the causa eficiens as necessary causes? The goal and the form, both in my mind, and the computer at my finger tips, existed prior to the article.

The author is a body-mind-spirit-computer complex, with the brain giving signals to hand and fingers and the computer being an extension of the body, the mind storing the form, and the spirit the image of the finished, final, article. That complex is sufficient cause for the article; in aristotelese a causa eficiens causing, “effecting”, the effect.

But in doing so we lose something. First, the Aristotle Four is a useful typology, and hence a check-list, of causes. Second, the Aristotle Four have a human touch dignifying the goal. Causation is not only a push by an efficient cause like my fingers. There is also a pull, a telos to be pursued and attained. Push and pull hand in hand so to speak. As the song has it, “if you do not know where you are going any road will take you there”, is the push without the pull of a goal. The pull without a push is also well known: zillions of books and articles have whispered to some author, Write me, please! The causa finalis was there, but the causa eficiens, the author ready, dying! to go, was absent. Maybe because of over-pull?

Matter, causa materialis, adds material causation to the mental goal and form. That matter has to be shaped, formed to provide the link between push and pull: the causa formalis.

Compare an author to a stone in free fall. The force of gravity is the causa eficiens. That implies the matter of stone and Planet Earth as causa materialis. And the other two? We attribute goals to life, adding intent for humans, not to stones “seeking their natural place, down”. There is form in the curve linking time and distance of free fall even if not in the stone. There may be causa finalis and formalis somewhere. To place them in the stone, however, is a fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

Now compare a stone in free fall to an author in free fall. Given his goal of survival he might like to change the form relating time and distance, from g=9.8 to g=0 or even negative; making it a self-denying prophecy. Stones may not harbor causa finalis and formalis. Humans may. Aristotelian causation is for human not only natural sciences, for subjects not only objects.

3. Enters war

The causa finalis is clear and the unambiguity of the pull, the intent to win, reinforces that cause. The causa materialis is also clear: arms and army, geography, the strategic and tactical interrelations of all capabilities and circumstances.

Together they may constitute sufficient cause: We have the capability, the circumstances are propitious, our goal is crystal clear, get going! Causa finalis and causa materialis are both necessary; together they are sufficient. Aristotle’s typology of causes may also be used for a typology of wars.

However, intent and capability are deemed insufficient. Ius ad bello demands a just cause, Ius in bellum establishes rules of combat. We might introduce as causa eficiens an unsolved contradiction, and as causa formalis the rules of combat; some of them in the structure of combat, like between uniformed people only, some in the culture of combat, like in the rules of proportionality. But that is surface form. Deeper down there may be deep cultures of dualism, manicheism and the idea of an armageddon as final arbiter, DMA, and deep structures of past victories frozen into hierarchies to be preserved or destroyed.

This defines war as a deadly sports game where winning is not everything but the only thing. The more unsolvable the contradiction, the stronger the arms/army, the more elaborate the rules, the higher the urge to win, the more likely the war – by all necessary means (Clausewitz) compatible with the rules.

But could the rules not have a dampening effect on warfare? Possibly, but it could also be argued that more arms/army will be needed to compensate for belligerence ruled out by the rules. In short, the total synergy of the four causes is what matters.

4. Enters peace

The causa eficiens is clear: transform the underlying conflict so that the parties can live with it without violence; in other words negative peace. The causa finalis is equally clear: transcend the gap between the parties, create some symbiosis, even synthesis; in other words, positive peace.

In UN jargon they are known as peace making and peace building respectively. Peace keeping enters as causa materialis to dampen violence by peaceful, nonviolent, defensive means.

The causa formalis would be the whole culture of peace, including the rules of conviviality and mediation-conciliation; with the pull from a compelling solution as a key causa finalis, not only the push away from the present. And the structure of peace, symmetry, reciprocity, equity; the “equiarchy” opposed to hierarchy. Underlying this would be a deep culture of tetralemma, yin-yang and transcendence, not dualism/dilemma, manicheism and armageddon. Problem: where are the monuments, street names, the history on the side of peace rather than war?

Back to causa materialis: does peace beyond materialize? Answer: in zillions of mutually beneficial equitable exchanges, so normal and natural that we do not even notice them. Like the air around us we pay attention to their absence. But we may, perhaps, be trained to see them, mobilizing peace education and journalism to focus on the positive, not only the negative.

War is a process from “just cause” to “victory”, peace is a process from “conflict transformation” to “transcendence”. Both have the Aristotle Four as causes to sustain them, but they are certainly more crystallized and articulated on the war side. Our presentation is symmetric, state system reality is not.

5. Enters war abolition

The table below summarizes the argument so far:

Aristotle Four War Peace
causa eficiens Intention: unsolved
transformed contradiction
causa materialis Capability:
arms and army
nonviolent peace forces
causa formalis Rules ad bello Rules of
Rules in bellum
deep culture DMA
deep structure of hierarchy
Rules of mediation-conciliation
deep culture TeY-YTr
deep structure of equiarchy
causa finalis Victory
by winning
by transcending

The table suggests eight approaches to war abolition in the 21st century, trailing the slavery abolition of the 19th and the colonialism abolition of the 20th centuries. They are weakening the causes of war and strengthening the causes of peace, guided by the Aristotle Four causation discourse:

  • by delegitimizing war as a means even if the end is legitimate
  • by arms/army control, distargeting/de-deployment, disarmament
  • by critiquing war rules and war deep culture and structure
  • by focusing on the visible and invisible costs of violence
  • by giant mobilization of mediation and conciliation
  • by giant mobilization of nonviolent peace forces
  • by improving peace rules and peace deep culture and structure
  • by focusing on the visible and invisible benefits of peace

All of this is happening today. There is a giant struggle between the war and peace paradigms, the former passing under the name of security. A giant institution, the military, is heading for decline and fall. That global struggle is a worthy successor to the tired struggle between domestic left and right.