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Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field (entire)

Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix (entire)

Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective (entire)

Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace (entire)

Vol. 5: The Just Peace (entire)

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The Miracle That Is Freedom (entire)

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Principles And Practices
Of Interpersonal, Social, And
International Conflict
And Cooperation


By R.J. Rummel

New Brunswick, N.J.:
Transaction Publishers, 1991

Arms on armour clashing bray'd
Horrible discord, and the madding wheels
Of brazen chariots rag'd; dire was the noise
Of conflict
-----John Milton. Paradise Lost VI. 209-212

This is an elementary book on conflict and cooperation for the general reader and student. Technical material and scholarly form and style have been discarded in favor of an active, direct, and plain language. The purpose is to make the abstract and complex simple, to present the essence of a well-rounded view of peace; to help you and others understand the difficult world of social and personal violence and conflict; and to make, keep, and foster peace.

I thus use the active voice and write from your viewpoint, whenever possible. I have avoided the ambiguous for the categorical; the hedged, qualified statement for the direct. And especially, I have reduced the essence of this book to a series of basic principles, each at a level or concerning an aspect of conflict and peace (psychological, interpersonal, societal, international, conflict resolution), each of these having its own master principle.

These principles are not merely organization devices, but are deeply theoretical and empirically fundamental; they express the core ideas, results and conclusions of my major scientific and philosophical five-volume work Understanding Conflict and War1.

For this reason this book also should be of value to the professional reader or advanced student. Many of my relevant professional publications are mainly quantitative and technical, abstract and complex. Moreover, the social field theory that underlies this work is little known and conceptually and mathematically difficult to absorb.2 In dropping all technical and theoretical material and focusing on principles and meaning, this book gives you a simple outline of peace that conceptually organizes and outlines this more difficult matter. In this sense, The Conflict Helix is not only an elementary introduction, but also an executive summary.

Now, our several thousand years of written history shows a hatred of conflict and war and a passion for peace. Only Love and Justice rival Peace as our ultimate Good. Each generation has speculated on conflict; each delved into its causes and conditions. Apparently all that can be said about conflict, violence, and war has been written; every conceivable nostrum and cure offered. Each generation may have new weapons or tactics, but the situations appear timeless: the eternal triangle between man and woman; the mother-in-law; the weak ruler; and ambitious state. One need read only the speeches of the politicians in Thucydides' The Peloponnesian War written over 2,400 years ago to see how little the nature and characterization of interstate conflict has changed.

I do not pretend to offer a new scheme, therefore, a new insight denied all who have studied conflict and peace before. Rather, this book builds on our accumulated understanding and research. What it does provide (and this I hope will be helpful in personal and professional ways) is a distillation and integration of well tested and reliable accumulated knowledge. Put simply as principles and elements; and within a perspective.This perspective consists of a number of themes. One is that physical things or behavior are significant for your conflict or cooperation with others only as these things have meaning for you, or relate to your values or norms, within a particular social context. That is, your conflict and cooperation, or that of your group or nation, are wholly subjective; to understand them and their related behavior requires unpacking your mental field. Objective things like your income, race, social class, age, or relative to others, your poverty, social inequality, and minority status, or a host of other objective factors presumably causing conflict and violence, must operate through your mind and that of others. And how such factors are interpreted, what meaning people give to them (the may see their poverty as decreed by God, for example), how they value them, and how the social context is perceived will determine whether in fact they result in conflict or peace

A second theme is that power is one of the most basic ingredients in conflict and its resolution, which is almost a truism for political scientists and politicians, and fundamental to peace and cooperation. Here power is understood as beyond simply force or coercion, big muscles or many guns or tanks; it is a family of powers, including coercion, naturally, and also altruistic (love), authoritative, and bargaining powers, among others. Virtually all your socially relevant powers (and I insist on the plural) essentially reflect your interests, will, and capability; they are basically mental in operating on the will of others. For example, a mother may try to get her son to willfully do his homework by threatening to keep him home during the weekend (coercive power); or a husband may willfully wash the windows because his wife asked him (the power of love); or one may willfully change his opinion to agree with another because of her rational arguments (intellectual power). Your conflict with another is then seen as a balancing (equilibrating) of such powers--a solving of a simultaneous equation of your mutual interests, capabilities, and wills--and cooperation as dependent upon the balance thus achieved. Your social power thus enters into both conflict and cooperation.

Too often conflict and cooperation are treated quite separately, as though mutually exclusive, or as snapshots of social relations and behavior. Here there is a conflict, there is cooperation; or at one time these people or nations were in conflict, but now they cooperate with each other. Such treatment of this behavior neglects the obvious: social behavior is always a stream of actions, always ongoing, always with purposes and behaviors that meld into each other in time and space. Another theme of this book is that behavior is thus a social space-time field. And within this field the conflict and cooperation between people, groups, or nations form a particular process. That is, what conflict you have generally issues from and was embedded in your previous cooperation, and this cooperation itself was born in and got its structure from previous conflict. Conflict and cooperation are intrinsic to your continuing relationship with other people and that of your groups with others. One cannot be comprehended without the other and the process connecting them. This means that explaining and predicting your interpersonal and group behavior and resolving your conflicts requires understanding the history of your social relations and their contexts. Not only is it important to know who has what now, and did what to whom, but who has had and did what, when.

A related theme is that change in this process is discontinuous, taking place as does much of the movement in the great tectonic plates that form the earth's surface--through minor or major social earthquakes. In other words, change in your behavior from conflict to cooperation and cooperation to conflict generally takes place in jumps. You may have long periods of relative harmony and peace, cooperation and solidarity with an other, punctuated by bursts of conflict and perhaps even some violence. And these jumps may be triggered by a minor event, unimportant in itself. A couple who have had an apparently long and harmonious relationship may abruptly break up after an argument over a credit card; a Korean market which has operated successfully in a black neighborhood for years may suddenly be faced with a violent black boycott and the Koreans with racial slurs after a clerk has an argument with a Black shopper over her handling fruits; after a generation of peaceful relations, two nations may lurch into war over an assassination of a minor official.

This discontinuous process of conflict and cooperation is part of all our lives and that of the relations among groups and nations. It is called the conflict helix. This is because the process moves upward helixically in mutual learning and adjustment through cooperation and conflict, achieving longer and longer periods of peace and cooperation, separated by bouts of increasingly milder conflict. Such is true, for example, of many couples who have been married for decades. Their greatest conflict was in the early years of their marriage, with cooperation and harmony within the marriage increasing over the years. Such a trend will exist, however, only as the conditions of a relationship remain largely the same. Change jobs, move to a radically different neighborhood, become crippled, have a child, or let a mother-in-law move in, and the conflict helix is sheared. New conflicts are caused, and a new process of adjustment to these changes and learning must take place.

All this implies yet another theme of this book, which is that conflict is normal, not deviant; that it is as important to social relations as is cooperation and love. Moreover, conflict also plays a role in enabling people and groups to learn through trial and error and to adjust to each other. Indeed, basic to the principles of this book is the understanding that conflict can not only enable cooperative and solidary relations to occur, but can determine and underlie them. Some might consider this a "conflict model" of society, as opposed to a norm based or cooperative model. Hardly. Cooperation and norm based behavior are not seen as deviant either. Rather, conflict and cooperation are treated as collaborative aspects of society, of different people, each with their own subjective universe, able to live and work together. They are two fingers of the same hand.

Still another theme is that the conflict helix and associated ideas underlie not only interpersonal and social relations, but also international relations. While the terminology of international relations is different from that of interpersonal and social relations, using such concepts as state, treaty, foreign minister, arms control, etc., and there are different institutions and kinds of behavior to comprehend, international conflict and cooperation involve the same process. It takes place in the minds of the participants; its history is essential to its understanding; and it is discontinuous, taking place in jumps. A recent example of this is the transformation that took place in Eastern Europe in 1989, and the end of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain. For years, East Germany and Czechoslovakia appeared to be stable Soviet satellites and members of the Warsaw Pact, with communist governments that would allow no internal opposition. Then, suddenly, cracks appeared in their authority. Within weeks their governments had collapsed and each was looking toward a democratic election and a non-communist government. And in the following months East Germany would rapidly move toward a previously unthinkable unification with West Germany.

Finally, there is a theme of conflict resolution intrinsic to the conflict helix and that crosses all levels of social behavior. This is that the freedom of people, groups, or nations to do their own thing, consistent with a like freedom of others, ultimately lessens extreme conflict and violence and fosters the resolution of conflict. Democratically free nations, for example, have had no wars between them and virtually no violence; their domestic affairs are less violent than that of other systems. At the individual level, your freedom eases the process of learning about and adjusting to others, and achieving levels of cooperation most consistent with your own values and interests. That is to say, the freer you are, the easier is the movement of your conflict helix toward less conflict and a more enduring solidary relationship with others.

There is, of course, much in all this themes that needs to be elaborated and clarified. But that is the job of the following principles. They and their elements will provide the details and linkages to pull all this together.

You need not take all to be offered here entirely on faith. You can apply three simple tests in each chapter to judge their value to you. First, ask whether what I say provides insight for you. That is, do you feel a greater subjective understanding than you had before? Do a number of things about conflict and cooperation that were separate in your mind now nicely fit together? Is there a "click" of awareness? Do you now perceive a greater integration and unity in events?

Second, ask whether what I say accords with your experience. Does it fit what goes on in your home and work, or what you read about in the newspaper? Do you nod in agreement as you read, or do I seem to be writing at right angles to your experience? My assertions should be sensible, consistent with man's accumulated wisdom. We all personally know conflict; most of us know some form of violence. What I say should be compatible with and help clarify this.

The third test is to ask whether as a result of your reading you feel better able to manage conflict and make, keep, or foster greater harmony in your relations with others. Conflict resolution requires understanding conflict and cooperation and correctly anticipating the outcomes of various actions. It involves making conflict work for you to best satisfy your interests; to provide you with more contentment, self-satisfaction, and self-esteem.

Of course, these tests of insight, experience, and helpfulness would have to be supplemented with scholarly knowledge and scientific tests to gauge fully the truth of what I say, and applying such has been the purpose of my professional research. However, this only adds precision and greater objectivity to the three tests you can personally apply. However, for those who wish additional arguments and evidence for what is offered here, selected readings, organized by principle, are listed at the end of each chapter.

Note that this book is a republication of In The Minds of Men, published by the Sogang University Press in Korea in 1983,3 and which was written in 1981. This was during a resurgence in the Cold War and a heightened risk of a Soviet-American war. Some of the examples given here reflect these times, and are clearly dated in these post-Cold War years. The process of republication did not allow for revision of these examples, but whether dated or not they still exemplify the relevant principles, as does the manner in which the Cold War was ended.

To sum up this introduction: my aim is that you understand conflict and cooperation, war and peace. If I achieve some measure of this, it may reduce the heat and fever of your conflict and foster your conflict resolution and peace. If this be so, it is more than enough for me. 


* From the pre-publisher edited manuscript of R.J. Rummel, "Introduction," to the Conflict Helix: Principles and Practices of Interpersonal, Social, and International Conflict and Cooperation, New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1991.

1. The principles are listed in Chapter 20 of Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace.

2. See, for example, my "A Catastrophe Theory Model Of The Conflict Helix, With Tests."

3. The Korean Press that published this book, then titled In The Minds of Men, did not give me a chance to correct the galleys. As a result the publication has too many typographical errors. In order keep their costs down, Transaction Publications would only agree to republish the new edition, with a new title and introduction, if only they could reproduce it as is. I reluctantly agreed and apologize for the errors that were passed on.

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