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Chapter 20

Principles Of Peace And Conflict*

By R.J. Rummel

But each for the joy of working, and
each in his separate star
Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for
the God of Things as They are.
---- Kipling, When Earth's Last Picture is Painted

Volume 4

Expanded Contents | Figures | Tables


1. Perspective And Summary
2. International Relations
3. The International Actors
4. International Behavior Space-Time
5. International Expectations And Dispositions
6. International Actor And Situation
7. International Sociocultural Space-Time
8. Interests, Capabilities, And Wills
9. The Social Field Of International Relations
10. Latent International Conflict
11. International Conflict: Trigger, Will, And Preparations
12. The Balancing Of Power
13. Comparative Dynamics Of International Conflict
15. Empirical Dynamics Of International Conflict
16. Causes And Conditions Of International Conflict And War
17. Ending Conflict And War: The Balance Of Powers
18. The International Conflict Helix
19. Theoretical And Empirical Conclusions On Conflict And War


15A. Phasing Propositions and Their Evidence on International Conflict
16A. On Causes of International Conflict
16B. Propositions and Their Evidence on the Causes and Conditions of International Conflict Behavior
16C. Evidence on the Causes and Conditions of International Conflict Behavior
17A. Propositions and Evidence on the Causes and Conditions of Ending International Conflict Behavior
18A. Descriptive Propositions on International Conflict
19A. Overall Evidence on 54 Social Field Propositions on International Conflict
19B. Primary Propositions on Social Conflict
I. Unpublished Research and Results on International Relations
II. Event Data: Bases of Empirical Conflict Analysis
III. Characteristics of Published Quantitative International Relations Studies

Other Volumes

Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field
Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix
Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective
Vol. 5: The Just Peace

Other Related Work

Conflict And Violence page

Democratic Peace page

In previous volumes, I discussed a variety of levels and aspects of our selves and our behavior as foundation to understanding our peace and conflict. This covered ontology and epistemology, as well as analytic and synthetic systems. And a normative framework ("Intentional Humanism") was sketched (Part VII of Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field; Chapter 10 of Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective).

I have systematically drawn on this previous work in comprehending international conflict, violence, and war in this Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace. The empirical (phenomenological) aspects of the resulting understanding have been stated in 54 propositions on international conflict (Appendix 19A) and eight primary propositions on general social conflict (Appendix 19B).

However, these propositions are limited in encompassing the full understanding of conflict and peace developed here. By the very virtue of being empirically operationalizable, testable, and falsifiable, these propositions do not fully capture the essence of conflict and peace. What is needed now is a set of principles that define the ontological framework of these volumes and the ingredients of this perspective on our selves, society, international relations, conflict, and peace. These principles should stand at that intersection between intuition, reason, and experience; between philosophy, analytic theory, and empirical science.

Twenty-three such principles are presented in Table 20.1. Table 20.2 indexes where in these volumes the theory, ideas, and facts have been presented that clarify and support each principle; and which of the 54 propositions empirically manifest each principle. Several things about these principles should be noted.

  • These are ontological principles in the sense of fundamental assumptions and metaphysical truths1 that are the building blocks of these volumes. And they are the philosophical origin of the propositions given in Chapters 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19.

  • The principles span the psychological, interpersonal, social, and international levels and therefore are meant to be comprehensive within a direction: understanding conflict, violence, and war; and peace.

  • One master principle defines the essence of each level and assumes and incorporates the other principles at the previous levels. Thus, "We are individuals" is for me the most basic and significant psychological principle for understanding our conflict, and entails the other, previously stated principles--our Subjectivity, Intentionality, Self-Esteem, and Expectations. .

  • The principles form a chain. Each assumes the previous principles and levels; each master principle assumes the previous master principles.

  • There are no ethical principles here; that is, principles that state what ought to be done about conflict, violence, and war given these ontological principles and empirical propositions. Those will be the focus of Vol. 5: The Just Peace.

  • I have stated these principles in the simplest and most general language possible (for me), omitting any technical or philosophical jargon. I mean them to communicate widely and be generally useful.

  • [Written in 1998] I have written an entirely nontechnical, student level book, presenting these principles. See my The Conflict Helix: Principles and Practices of Interpersonal, Social, and International Conflict and Cooperation.

Only a brief presentation of each principle can be given here. Extended discussion on the theory and ideas composing each principle can be found in the volumes by reference to Table 20.2; or in more simple terms in the aforementioned The Conflict Helix.


Principle 20.1 (Subjectivity): Perception is subjective.

We perceive the world through a dialectical balance between our perspective--an outward vector of our dynamic psychological field--and the powers of reality which, as an inward vector, try to impose a perception on us. Perception is thus each person's unique balance with reality.

Principle 20.2 (Intentionality): We behave to achieve.

We generally behave to achieve future goals. Our behavior is intentional, the free outcome of a self consisting most fundamentally of id, ego, and superego. Our interests are the active interface between this basic organization of the self and our teleological behavior.

Principle 20.3 (Self-Esteem): We strive for self-esteem.

The most basic goals of our behavior are integrated with our personal self-esteem. We centrally behave to maintain, enhance, and increase our view and opinion of ourselves. And this superordinate goal organizes, screens, and weights our needs and associated interests.

Principle 20.4 (Expectations): Expectations guide behavior.

We are disposed to behave in a certain way by virtue of a situation we perceive within our psychological field of motivations (needs and interests), temperaments, moods and states. How in fact we do behave depends on our expectations of the potential outcome of this disposition.

Principle 20.5 (Responsibility): We are responsible for our behavior.

On the basis of our morality, and for practical ends, we must assume that we have free will. That we have moral choice. Whether in fact we do we can never know, but we can treat free will as a necessary hypothesis of reason. And such a conditional acceptance of free will also assumes that we are responsible for our behavior.

Master Principle 20.6 (Individuality): We are individuals.

Each of us is one of a kind. Our subjectivity is unique; our intentions are specific to our psychological field; our self-esteem fundamentally orients our actions; our expectations guide our behavior; we have free will. In short, each of us is an individual who alone can best assess our interests, and who cannot be unjust to ourself.


Principle 20.7 (Communication): We communicate as a field of expression.

We convey our feelings, emotions, desires, and intentions to others through a variety of languages, such as our speech, tone, gesture, dress, stance, actions. All these languages contribute to a field of expression--a totality--which others learn to read through trial and error. Thus, verbal or written language is only one aspect of this field; behavior is only another aspect. In communication the totality of languages must be considered as each understands them within our own psychological field.

Principle 20.8 (Causal): We produce effects.

As an individual we are not passive, but an active agent in nature. We are a cause. We exercise power, a power that comes in many forms. Of these identive, assertive, physical and force are the nonsocial powers. The social powers are coercive, bargaining, authoritative, intellectual, altruistic, and manipulative. Exercising these powers--producing effects--is an equation: power = interests x capabilities x will.

Principle 20.9 (Conflict): Conflict is a balancing of powers.

Through conflict we learn to read and mutually adjust to each other's subjective fields of expression, and to mutually balance their individual powers. And through this balance we produce social effects. A balance of powers is basically a balance of mutual interests, capabilities, and wills; and achieving this is a process of mutual adjustment, implicit negotiation, and trial and error. A process of conflict.

Principle 20.10 (Cooperation): Cooperation depends on expectations aligned with power.

Through conflict we balance with others our individuality and develop mutually reliable expectations, a structure of expectations--of correct predictions of each other's related behavior--based on a balance of powers. At the core of these expectations is a status quo that defines mutual rights, obligations, and duties; who gets what, when, and how. Overall, these mutual expectations define the social division of labor, enable and facilitate cooperation, and delineate islands of harmony and social peace. Cooperation and conflict are therefore complementary.

Principle 20.11 (Gap): A gap between expectations and power causes conflict.

Change is the constant of life. And when the interests, capabilities, and wills defining a balance of powers significantly change, a gap between their mutual balance and the associated structure of expectations can form. This gap will create a strain toward realigning expectations (benefits, agreements, rights, obligations, and the like) with the new balance of powers. The situation is then ripe for some event to trigger a disruption of expectations and conflict--balancing--through which expectations are adjusted to the changed reality of power.

Principle 20.12 (Helix). Conflict becomes less intense, peace more lasting.

Each new readjustment of expectations through conflict does not begin with an empty mind. Previous conflicts and expectations form a base of experience upon which a new structure of expectations is determined. As this background of mutual adjustments and expectations is built up and filled in conflicts become less intense. Adjustments are easier; expectations last longer because they fit better to the interests, capabilities, and wills of the parties. This assumes that there are no radical changes in the conditions of a relationship which would trigger a whole new sequence of adjustments.

Master Principle 20.13 (Interpersonal): Through conflict we negotiate an interpersonal contract.

A structure of expectations is an implicit or explicit contract worked out through a balancing of powers. Conflict behavior in a broad sense is the manifestation of this balancing and a means for negotiating the contract between individuals. This contract establishes peace and cooperation between the different individuals.


Principle 20.14 (Universality): Our interpersonal principles apply to all societies.

Society is a division of labor formed out of the diverse structures of expectations of its members. These expectations merge into general structures and core status quos which are the backbone of a society, such as the basic institutions, customs, and common and public law of a state-society. As individual relations, these general structures are based on balances of powers. If expectations in society get far out of line with the underlying balance between individuals, groups, and classes, a trigger event may disrupt expectations, thus creating a society-wide conflict and, perhaps, a violent readjustment of rights, benefits, and duties to the new reality of power.

Principle 20.15 (Trisocial).Societies are generally trisocial.

Societies are usually glued together by some combination of three powers: bargaining, authoritative, coercive. Each power can be identified with its own type of society: exchange, authoritative, coercive. Each of these societies has its own type of political system: libertarian, authoritarian, totalitarian. Each society manifests a particular dimension of conflict: pluralistic (spontaneous), communal/traditional, elite repressions/purges. And each society has its own structure of peace: an exchange structure, an authoritative structure, a coercive structure. Thus, generally, three powers, three societies, three political systems, three dimensions of conflict, three structures of peace.

Principle 20.16 (Violence). A gap between the status quo and power causes violence.

A social status quo concerns the most fundamental values and goals. It defines rights (such as property), benefits, duties. A gap between the status quo and the supporting balance of powers can lead to conflict over vital, rock bottom interests which may be resolved only by the ultimate test of violence. The most significant social violence of this kind is between classes, where a class is an authoritative division of power in a group between those who command and those who obey.

Principle 20.17 (Polarity): The more government, the more violence.

When government is small, decentralized, and one of many centers of authority and coercion in society (as for the United Nations in the international society), diverse relationships, groups, classes, and structures of expectations segment and cross-pressure interests and wills. Conflict and violence are thus restrained, localized, and drained off. However, the more government is the center of authority and coercion, the more individuals and classes are polarized along an axis of political power, then the more disputes will involve the fundamental class division of society. Local conflicts can and do then escalate to intense violence along this societal-wide, class front.

Master Principle 20.18 (Power): Power shapes peace.

Power structures society. It molds politics. It forges conflict. Thereby, power shapes the social contract which is peace.


Principle 20.19 (Field): Free actors comprise a social field.

The free and spontaneous interactions among actors, whether individuals, groups, or societies, form a social field. Balances and associated structures of expectations among actors are generally determined without outside coercion or force. These balances depend largely on the interests, capabilities, and wills of the actors involved. By virtue of their sovereignty and independence, modern states are such free actors and international relations thus comprise a social field. These relations take place in a medium of meanings, values, and norms, which are defined by the sociocultural components of international actors, including their wealth, power, and politics. And this medium is the seat of forces potentially affecting international behavior. The field locally or as a whole is in a state of equilibrium (balance of powers, structure of expectations, peace, cooperation) or disequilibrium (Conflict Behavior). Conflict is a field process by which equilibrium is reestablished, once expectations get out of line with the supporting balance of powers. As a field, international relations evolves out of the spontaneous interaction of its members and their diverse expectations.

Principle 20.20. (Exchange): Free relations form an exchange society.

The free and voluntary relations between actors that are largely unregulated by government and in which bargaining power dominates form an exchange society, a particular type of social field akin to the free market. Such is international relations. It is a society in which bargaining and promises play the dominant role in establishing expectations. It has a libertarian government (the United Nations system) and pluralistic conflict. Its structure of peace is neither coercively imposed on the whole system nor authoritatively accepted by all members. It is an exchange structure of peace.

Principle 20.21 (Freedom): Violence does not occur between free societies.

Quite simply, due to cross-pressures, the diversity of internal groups and interests, and the limited and responsive nature of a libertarian government (Polarity Principle), violence should almost never occur between exchange societies. In others words, open, pluralistic democracies with limited government form islands of nonviolent relations.

Principle 20.22 (War): A gap between the international status quo and power causes war.

As is true generally in society where a breakdown in a social status quo can lead to extreme violence (Violence Principle), a breakdown of the status quo in international relations can lead to war. War is then the means for negotiating a new status quo more aligned with the changed balance of powers.

Master Principle 20.23 (Peace): Through conflict states negotiate a social contract.

Through conflict, violence, and war, international actors mutually adjust their expectations to their changing interests, capabilities, and wills. The result is a balance of powers and a correlated structure of expectations--that is, a social contract. This contract then establishes a region of mutually reliable expectations, a region of peace and cooperation.


* Scanned from Chapter 20 in R.J. Rummel, War, Power, Peace, 1979. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book. Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated.

1. For my view on metaphysical truths, see Section 1.2 of Chapter 1 in Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field.

For citations see the Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace REFERENCES

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