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Volume 3

Expanded Contents


1. Introduction and Summary
3. Frustration, Deprivation, Aggression, and the Conflict Helix
4. Misperception, Cognitive Dissonance, Righteousness, and Conflict
5. Marxism, Class Conflict, and the Conflict Helix
6. Same and Other; Similarity and Difference
7. Cross-Pressures, Overpopulation, Anomie, and Conflict
8. Conflict as a Process and the Conflict Helix
9. Opposition, Determinism, Inevitability, and Conflict
10. Intentional Humanism

Other Volumes

Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field
Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix
Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace
Vol. 5: The Just Peace

Other Related Work

Conflict And Violence page

Democratic Peace page


Chapter 2

The Conflict Helix*

By R.J. Rummel

Aggression: (1) An unprovoked attack; the first attack in a quarrel; an assault, an inroad. (2) The practice of setting upon anyone; the making of an attack or assault.
----Oxford English Dictionary

For an understanding of conflict, hostility, and violence, many have looked to the inner person. Some have observed that by nature, by instinct, by heredity, we aggress on our fellows. Our conflict is phylogenetic in origin, and violence is part of our nature. Others have qualified this, asserting that aggression is only a potentiality manifested through a particular psychological structure and processes. Or, admitting that heredity provides the possibility, still others see conflict, aggression, and violence as the outcome of blocked drives, needs, desires--that is, of frustration.

Many of these views coalesce around the question of aggression. Is aggression instinctual or learned? Is it an appetitive drive or an instrumental action? A character syndrome or a cultural manifestation? By an answer, it is believed that we can resolve the why of our social conflict, violence, and war. Therefore, I deal first with the general issue of aggression, summarizing the major approaches and relating these to the conflict helix. I then focus on the particular frustration-aggression theory, which has so excited contemporary social scientists.


In general we can identify five approaches to understanding our aggression: ethological, psychotherapeutic, social learning, frustration-aggression, and cultural. The biological approach seeks the sources of aggression in our phylogenetic nature, mainly through the ethological study of human beings as members of the animal kingdom. The major scientist associated with this approach is Konrad Lorenz, the author of On Aggression (1966), which helped bring back to respectability the instinctual view of human behavior,1 popularized ethology,2 and spawned a counter-literature on aggression.3 In sum, for Lorenz aggression is a "driving power," an instinct toward the preservation of life, thus species. It underlies all kinds of behavior that on the surface have nothing to do with aggression and functions not only to preserve but to evenly distribute a species over the environment, to select the strongest, and to protect the young.

Lorenz clearly adopts a hydraulic model of aggression. Within animals, including ourselves, aggressive energy accumulates like the buildup of a need for sex or food. If blocked, this energy may be redirected to substitute objects, or it may explode on those nearby. If no adequate aggression-releasing stimulus is at hand, one will be actively sought. Aggression thus comes from within. We do not learn to be aggressive. It is in our nature.

Lorenz believes that species develop a number of mechanisms for redirecting or inhibiting intraspecific aggression. Ritualized fighting in which no animal is really hurt drains off aggression, and submissive behavior can block it. Carnivorous creatures, especially, with their ability to kill easily, have developed rituals and inhibitions limiting and formalizing intraspecific aggression. Humans, however, do not belong to the order of carnivores and have not developed such a protective mechanism. But we have unbalanced nature; through the development of our weapons technology, we have far exceeded the killing power of any carnivore, but have no counterbalancing inhibitions. Thus we are a great danger to ourselves. Undeterred by the submission of others, unlimited within any fighting ritual, we release our instinctual aggression on our fellows. Aggression, nature's species-preserving drive, through our weapons has become species destroying.

Lorenz sees three ways to help avoid aggression. We must first know ourselves, especially through ethology and psychoanalysis. Self-knowledge will help us devise mechanisms for redirecting aggression. Second, we must promote friendships across group lines, since bonds developed between diverse people aid in inhibiting mutual aggression. Third, and most important, we must channel aggression onto substitute objects or into aggression-draining activities, such as sports and athletic competition.

Although for many social scientists the name of Lorenz is synonymous with the ethological position on aggression, his ethological data and inferences are strongly disputed by his colleagues4 among whom the consensus is that aggression is neither wholly instinctual nor learned, but the outcome of an interaction between an animal's disposition, environment, and social structure. And social structure often appears to be the key to understanding the more violent forms of aggression.

... social organization is not something which is born into an animal, but something which is developed, and if social organization is disturbed, harmless or even beneficial aggressive behavior can be transformed into destructive violence. Thus the violent baboons in the London Zoo studied by Zuckerman were a group of individuals strange to each other and hence a disorganized society. The undisturbed societies of baboons studied by Washburn and DeVore on the South African plains present an entirely different picture. Fighting is present but controlled by a dominance order, and is chiefly directed against predators, and one sees the baboons risking their lives for the benefit of a group. Thus a baboon, in common with many other mammals, has the capacity to develop destructive violence under conditions of social disorganization, whereas under the proper conditions of social organization we have the capacity to develop peaceful and cooperative behavior, to direct fighting into useful channels, and to act in a manner which might well be described as altruistic. One wonders whether the same might not be said of man.
---- Scott, 1973:139

Animals, including humans, develop a social structure mediating between their needs and the environment. Even territoriality, often considered to be instinctual, reflects social structure.5 If this structure is disrupted, and animals must adjust to new situations such as crowding,6 radical change of environment, or scarcity of food, aggression is most manifest. That is, the conflict helix appears as a general process underlying aggression among many kinds of animals.6a

The various schools of psychotherapy represent a second approach to aggression. Whether an aggressive drive is or is not instinctual, such behavior is seen as an outcome of underlying psychological structures, processes, and mechanisms. Aggression is an aspect of our totality, our genetic inheritance, our biophysiological constitution and chemiconeurological state, and our psychology. The sources lie in ourselves, but unlike the phylogenetically programmed single instinct of Lorenz, aggression manifests a particular configuration of biological and psychological elements, only one of which may be instinctual.

The first psychotherapist to propose an aggressive drive was Alfred Adler. In 1908 he published7 his theory that aggression is a superordinate drive that dominates motor behavior and consciousness and is a confluence of other drives. It is innate, the organizing principle of our activities, and (of greatest significance to the psychotherapist) can turn on the self, creating various pathological manifestations.

Adler soon reinterpreted this drive as a masculine protest (a drive to compensate for feelings of inferiority), and finally as an upward striving for completion or perfection. In this later view, we were driven, above all else, to improve ourselves, to overcome. Aggression then became subordinate to this drive, and indeed, when directed at society, was a pathological form of striving.

Although eclipsed by the work of Freud and almost forgotten for decades, many of Adler's views8 have been revived and transformed. One such transformation is manifested through existential psychotherapy, as in the work of Rollo May.

May's major analysis dealing with aggression is Power and Innocence (1972). He considers power to be our basic drive and aggression as one form of this drive. Power has five ontological levels for May (1972:40-42): first, simply the power to be, to exist, to assert oneself as a living thing, akin to what I have elsewhere called identive power (Section 19.4 of Chapter 19 in Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix); second, the power of self-affirmation, to be recognized and to become significant; third, the power of self-assertion, of pushing against opposition; fourth, aggression, the application of power to overcome blocked self-assertion; and fifth, violence, to which we resort when nonviolent aggression is fruitless.

Aggression is basic to us, but culturally formed. Not all bad, it is a way the individual affirms and asserts himself. It is manifested, for example, in initiating a relationship, in trying to penetrate another's consciousness, in warding off threatening powers, and in love-making. "The truth is that practically everything we do is a mixture of positive and negative forms of aggression" (May, 1972:152). The expression of power in its aggressive, constructive forms is healthy. It is when such expression is inhibited or blocked that violence occurs. Violence expresses impotence.9

The views of Adler and modern neo-Adlerians stand in marked contrast to psychoanalytic thought. Adler was a member of Freud's psychoanalytic school when he proposed his aggressive drive in 1908. Freud initially rejected this view, believing that aggression did not constitute any special instinct or drive (Ansbacher and Ansbacher, 1956:37). It was not until more than a decade later that Freud, perhaps as a result of the bitter experiences of World War I and its aftermath, recognized an aggressive instinct. This he first elaborated in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, developing the concept in his later works.10

In Freud's earlier theory, we were dominated by self-preservation and sexual instincts (the ego instinct and eros). Aggression had no status as a separate instinct but was a component part of eros--an aspect of our sexuality. Moreover, eros was a tension-releasing instinct. As in the hydraulic model of aggression, we build up internal tension that must be divested. Release (catharsis) constitutes pleasure. This was a mechanical conception, reflecting Freud's early psychophysical and mechanistic perspective.

In moving to the fore the idea of a death instinct, Freud developed a particularly biological conception. All living things were now driven by two competing instincts. One was a life instinct (still eros) driving to create, maintain, and unify living things into larger systems. The death instinct drives toward breaking up living systems and dissolving them into quiescence. Being the ultimate application of the pleasure principle, death is the divestiture of all tension, the perfect state.

The death instinct is directed inward toward extinguishing the organism. To preserve the organism, the libido does battle with the death instinct and directs it outward, whereupon it becomes external aggression, the drive for mastery, the will to power. Aggression is therefore secondary, a deflection of the death instinct away from the self. Moreover, in its battle with the libido, the death instinct may combine with eros into sadism or masochism, two of its worst common pathological manifestations.

To Freud, then, aggression was always negative or destructive. It was antilife or pathological. And behavior was a manifestation either of eros, of the desire for death, or of a combination of these. The striving for identity, for self-assertion, for social interest, had no role in Freud's perspective.

Psychoanalysis has been an influential approach and framework for understanding our behavior, and the social sciences have been enriched by it. But it is such concepts as eros, libido, ego, id, superego, and catharsis that have been found useful. Few have accepted the idea of a death instinct, even though some of Freud's successors, such as Melanie Klein (1950), have adopted and developed this view.

A recent work on aggression by the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm (1973) revises the notion of the death instinct in a direction consistent with current ethological findings and psychological research. Freud saw aggression as rooted in a death instinct, although its manifestation may blend with eros. Fromm, however, recognizes two independent sources, only one of which is instinctual. Instinctual aggression is benign and defensive; uninstinctual aggression, rooted in our character, is malignant and destructive.

According to Fromm, we instinctually protect ourselves against threats to our survival, our freedom (1973:198-199), and other basic values. Hann or destructiveness that results from this defense is unintended or purely instrumental. The aim is to overcome threat, the activity ends when the threat does. Thus benign aggression is reactive, not appetitive. It is aroused by stimuli, not internally generated by an increase in tension. In this Fromm's instinctual aggression differs fundamentally from that of Lorenz and Freud.

Moreover, where human aggression for Lorenz and Freud is largely negative, hostile, and destructive, for Fromm instinctual aggression is positive, contributing to our growth, self-assertion, and independence, and to the survival of the species.

Malignant aggression, however, results from specifically human passions seated in our character. Our organic needs and emotions are integrated and organized according to our major goals.11 This structure of organization is our character. It is a "human phenomenon" (1973:253)12 enabling us to adapt to multiple environments and challenges.

Character structures differ, and malignant aggression, organized as it is within specific structures, may never be manifested. Moreover, it takes different forms. It can be vengeful or ecstatic hate and destructiveness. It can be sadistic, with the desire to have absolute control over others, or masochistic in wanting to be completely under another's control. It can be a passion to destroy and tear apart living things. Such forms are social categories resulting from our history and institutions. For Fromm, the way to reduce malignant aggression is to radically alter "techno-cybenetic society," to create new forms of decentralization in which we would be freer to assert ourselves and live the good life.13

Not all psychotherapists fall within the schools mentioned. Some, like Anthony Storr (1968), adopt almost completely Lorenz's instinctual view and hydraulic model of aggression, adding to it various psychological mechanisms that inhibit or channel its expression. Storr feels that aggression is an essential element in society, encouraging competition for food and sex, and ensuring peace and order through status hierarchies. Since it is instinctual, it is "impossible to believe that there could ever be a society without strife and competition" (p. 53). Moreover, aggression is not all negative. In childhood it is a drive toward the eventual independence and separation from the parents. Indeed, as an adult, the more dependent a person, the more latent the aggression (p. 44).

Aggression is also a means by which people establish their identity. Identity requires opposition, which is manifested through aggression. The negative effect of aggression is due to confusion between it and paranoid hostility or hatred (in which frustration plays a large role). Such hostility is reduced by encouraging competition (to drain it off), diminishing overpopulation, and preventing aggression from turning into hate.

The psychotherapeutic perspectives that have been reviewed constitute the major ones in which aggression plays an important role.14 In sum, they all include some form of aggression whether internally based, seated in our phylogenetic nature, or rooted in our subconscious drives and needs. They differ from the ethological approach of Lorenz in emphasizing the particularly human organization, psychological processes, and mechanisms involved. They include the person, the psyche with its own laws.

A contrasting approach to aggression is provided by social learning theory (Rotter, 1954, Mowrer, 1950, Bandura, 1973). As in the instinctualism of some ethologists, the person is omitted. But rather than being an innate drive in search of gratification, aggression is said to be acquired through experience, behavioral models, and reward and punishment.

This is not to deny our inherited neurophysiological and phylogenetic potentiality to aggress. The learning theorist recognizes this, but argues that actualization is dependent on external influences, on the causal nexus between stimuli, consequences, and reinforcement. The shift is from internal instincts or drives to external causes and conditions.

The basic focus is on aggression as socially defined15 injurious or destructive behavior. Then we must determine how such behavior is acquired, instigated, maintained, and modified. We learn to be aggressive when such behavior enables us to satisfy our wants or desires, when others' aggression is perceived (through movies or television, say) to be rewarded, and when alternative nonaggressive behavior is less successful. We soon realize that strong assertiveness pays, that "the squeaky wheel gets the oil." Once learned, and reinforced through social approval and acquired status, through the esteem and pride of success, and through observing the success of others, aggression will be avoided only if it becomes risky, if costs in punishment or negative sanctions develop and nonaggressive behavioral alternatives are rewarded (Bandura, 1973:222).

This theory of aggression is fundamentally behavioral. There is concern about goals and intentions, but the focus is on stimulus-response, on observable response contingent experiences, on patterns of reinforcement. Laboratory experiments provide the research setting, and the findings emerge from the quantitative analysis of observed and systematized data. In this they differ from the naturalistic observations of instinctualists and the case-intuitive verstehen approach of psychotherapists.

This behavioral approach is shared by those espousing what is perhaps the dominant view of aggression today, namely, that aggression is a consequence of our frustrated goals, desires, needs, or drives.16 The intensity with which we desire a goal, the degree to which frustration blocks our desire, and the history of our frustration presumably predict the amount of our aggression.

Frustration-aggression theory has a dominant role in many social programs. Deprivations, inequalities, and exploitation are believed to frustrate the desires of the poor and disadvantaged. Delinquency, crime, rioting, and the high level of interpersonal aggression among some minority groups are believed to result from such frustrations. The solution thus appears clear: extensive social service and welfare programs to overcome these frustrations in the short run, and in the long run, a comprehensive institutional change to promote social equality and justice.

Because of the contemporary popularity and significance of frustration-aggression theory, I treat it separately in Chapter 3, along with its variants, such as the theory of relative deprivation.

There is one final approach to consider, that of the cultural anthropologists such as Alexander Alland, Jr. (1972). Aggression is seated within a culture; it is learned in the same way a language is learned. To understand it, the research should focus on the cultural context of aggression and its function in the maintenance and development of the culture.

The basic observation is that some cultures are relatively free of collective aggression and seldom manifest interpersonal violence and destructiveness.17 Therefore, although we have the potentiality for aggressive behavior, whether it is manifest is a matter of cultural learning. We are not aggressive. Cultures are aggressive.

Clearly, the cultural approach shares with social learning theory the emphasis on the external sources--on learning. They differ in methodology, one centering on quantitative laboratory experimentation, the other on the naturalistic observation and absorption of cultures. They differ also on the focus. Learning theory emphasizes that which impinges on the individual. It is individual centered, stressing the development of aggression as an interaction between response, reinforcement, stimuli, and so forth. The cultural approach, however, is less concerned with the individual and some determinate variables than with the total field of norms, meanings, and values within which certain behavioral patterns develop.

In sum, I have identified five general approaches to or theories of aggression. Aggression results from an instinct shared with all animals, from an instinct or drive manifested through particularly human, subconscious, psychological mechanisms and processes, from an acquired response pattern, from frustrated goals or drives, or from cultural learning. More generally these approaches see aggression as resulting from our instincts or drives, from environmental influences, or some combination. Aggression is inherited or learned or both. To try to understand how field theory, particularly the conflict helix, relates to these theories, I must focus first on aggression itself.


A survey of the literature indicates the many different senses in which "aggression" is used. Like the concept of power, aggression has many forms. It can mean causing another injury or creating destruction, attacking another, or simply engaging in fighting. It can refer to strong, assertive behavior (an aggressive lover) or an offensive-besetting manner (as aggressive salesman). It can refer to a disposition (an aggressive personality) or an action (suddenly pushing another). It can mean an emotional state (anger or hostility) or an intention (to hurt someone). It can be self-assertive, or sado-masochistic. It can be instrumental or ritualistic, playful or spontaneous. It can be benign or malignant, positive or negative. Aggression, in short, is many things. It is, like so many of our crucial social concepts, a dialectical term to be contextually worked, a sense to be created within a perspective.

No wonder, then, that the asserted causes and cures of aggression vary so remarkably. It is caused by frustration or social arrangements and culture. It is instinctual or pathological. It results from threats to freedom or vital interests. It originates in wounded narcissism or a blocked death instinct. It is produced by dependency or impotence. It is engendered by low self-esteem or blocked self-assertion. It is born out of weak bonds or violated norms. It is inspired by role models.

And the cures? We must develop new forms of decentralized institutions or eliminate some crowding. We must reduce paranoid hostility or promote friendship. We must expand our self-knowledge or encourage self-expression. We must release tension through sport or find vicarious outlets. We must reward nonaggression and punish aggression. We must satisfy our needs.

From such variance in meaning and posited causes and cures, it should be clear that our view of aggression has considerable latitude. Facts are insufficient, for what must be resolved first is the orientation toward phenomena that will determine the factual angle and range. Moreover, as has been my refrain throughout, we must weigh the ethical nature of our perspective, consider the social consequences of a perspective we may hold. Where we have many degrees of freedom in choosing our view, as we do on aggression, let us choose in the direction of our freedom, creativity, and dignity.

What then is aggression, within the perspective of the social field and intentional humanism? Within a framework of social potentialities, dispositions, powers, and manifestations? First, aggression is disposed to be, becoming, or being offensive; that is, a disposition, power, or effect characterized by assault, attack, invasion. The core notion is of a strong setting upon, either as tendency or behavior. The antonym of aggression is defensiveness, which is being protective and reactive.

To assault or attack does not necessarily mean to engage in physical or violent action, for we can cast an aggressive eye at a party, invade a person's quiet, or attack another verbally without threatening or inflicting physical harm or injury. Social scientists tend to see aggression as murder, fighting, war, and hitting as the many possible kinds of violence and destructiveness. Equating such behavior with aggression misses the subjective nature of aggression and focuses on physical characteristics that apply only to some forms of aggression in some cultures. A raised eyebrow, a deliberately missed appointment, or a stare can be more aggressive in some cultures than a violent shove in others.

Moreover, defining aggression by objective behavior (or a tendency toward such) ignores the two-sidedness of violence. One can beset another with violence, or violence can be used to defend oneself. Is the man who attacks and fights off a thug aggressive? Is the nation that defends its borders against invasion aggressive? Is the girl who kicks a rapist in the groin aggressive? Of course not. Yet, most definitions of aggression equate all acts of violence, defensive and otherwise. To be aggressive is to be offensive. No particular kind of behavior or power is meant. Aggression is a style. It can permeate all a person's behavior, or it can color none.

With this understanding, I can now relate aggression to power in its various forms. In Chapter 19 of Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix, I point out that power--the capability to produce effects--has many forms. There is identive power--the unintended manifestation of being. An aspect of existing, and confronting the powers of nature, identive power can be aggressive. We can imagine an aggressive storm that unleashes its fury, an aggressive shark that tears apart a swimmer, an aggressive dog that chases anything that moves, or an aggressive child who disrupts a household. This is identive aggression, the offensive setting upon the environment as part of being. Not all things assail or attack reality with their power. A chair, a pebble, a path are passive, defensive. Their power declares their identity, confronts other powers, but does not push outward and invade the being of others.

Identive aggression is a part of interpersonal relations. Unintended, it is not social. It is personal, a thrusting power of physique, character, or behavior; a style in which nature's multifold actualities are unconsciously realized. Thus we speak of aggressive beauty, dominating personality, or besetting behavior.

Aggression, however, may be intended. We may purposely act in an aggressive manner toward others physically, toward their selves, or toward the environment. Intended power directed toward the environment is assertive. If such power is offensive, an attacking of one's surroundings, it is assertive aggression. It is a form of self-assertion, a purposive expression of self. A boy walking through the fields happily hacking off flowers with a stick is assertive in this manner, as is the hunter tracking deer or the person smashing an outworn desk with a sledge hammer to make kindling. The fundamental notion is of attacking the environment intentionally.

Most often self-assertion is thought of in terms of asserting oneself against others, either as putting up a vigorous defense, expressing one's interests, or opposing the invasion of one's rights. The term also has the positive meaning of "making a dent," of confronting and overcoming, of pushing against and forward. All these meanings represent different forms of power, which I have tried to distinguish in the previous volume (Chapter 20 of Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix). In addition, assertion may be offensive or defensive. To label all self-assertion a type of aggression (whether called benign or positive) is to confuse the grim, willful determination of a lone survivor in a lifeboat at sea--displaying a passive form of self-assertion--with the aggressive assertion of a boy chopping down a tree.

Assertive aggression is offensive power intentionally directed toward our environment. Another form of power, thus of aggression, is intentionally directed toward another's body. This is force, the use of physical power to manifest one's interests against another. The other's self is ignored, indeed, force is applied to achieve some purpose in spite of or over the opposition of the other self. Forceful aggression, which usually involves violence but not necessarily injury to another, is the offensive use of force. For example, Germany's attack on Poland in 1939, Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and North Korea's attack on South Korea in 1950 were forceful acts of aggression. The guerrilla band that attacks a police station or the police forces that attack demonstrators with clubs are using aggressive force.

The use of force, however, also may be nonaggressive. It may be defensive, as when a nation resists invasion, as the Soviet Union did in 1941-1943. Also acting defensively is the storekeeper who rigs the back door of his store with a booby trap to prevent theft or vandalism.

Not all force, therefore, is aggressive. Some mistakenly equate force, fighting, and violence with aggression, but this is to ignore the positive and protective uses of force--for example, to defend a person's freedom, independence, and deep, personal values against others.

So far, I have considered only nonsocial aggression that is directed unconsciously or intentionally against the environment or others' bodies. Social power is the capability to intentionally produce effects through another self, of which there are six forms: coercive, bargaining, intellectual, authoritative, altruistic, and manipulative. Each form can be offensive or defensive; each can be an invasive, thrusting power, or a reactive, defensive opposition. Let us consider coercive aggression first.

Coercion is the use of threats or deprivations to induce another to do what he would otherwise not do. The physical violence used is instrumental in pressuring another's will to yield. He who initially attacks another physically or with threats is coercively aggressive if this behavior is directed at another's self. But coercion also can be defensive, as when a child threatens to scream if spanked, a popular president threatens to resign if the military intervene in politics, or a nation threatens nuclear retaliation against the cities of a possible attacker.

Coercion emphasizes threats or deprivations. Bargaining power, on the other hand, is manifested through promising rewards to another self, and this can be done aggressively. Here we have social aggression not characterized by physical force or violence, although it has the same core meaning as the most aggressive destructiveness--that is, to set upon, to assail or assault, to attack another. We all have experienced this kind of aggressive bargaining, whether from a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman or from a hawker at a county fair.

Intellectual power, the use of expertise or persuasion to manifest one's interest through another self, is clearly aggressive in the attack on the ideas or competence of another, or in the invasion of another's beliefs with an army of facts and arguments marshalled to change the other's notions. Such is the intellectual aggression of the missionary, the dogmatic and outspoken scholar, or the "expert" who makes a career out of besetting others with his theory about the Kennedy assassination.

Authoritative power appeals to our concepts of what is right, proper, correct--legitimate. This is the power of the public official, of the judge, of the bishop, of the boss in any occupational hierarchy, to have others do what he wants by virtue of his position. And authoritative power can be aggressive: witness the police who invade a citizen's home to search for narcotics, the secret police who forcibly remove a suspect to an interrogation center, or the "hanging judge" who with all the sanctions at his disposal, attacks crime. Moreover, authoritative aggression occurs whenever the authority conferred by position is used to set upon or attack subordinates.

Altruistic power is the ability to generate, through another's love or altruism, positive interests in the direction of one's own. Altruistic aggression is the attacking of others on the basis of this love. The love for a leader, for humanity, for God, has been the basis of attacks on others. The love of a Christian God in part led to the Crusades, and today we have the altruistic-humanity-loving aggression bound in such ideas as "ending capitalist exploitation," "ending tyranny," "creating social justice," and "promoting equality." Guerrilla attacks, terrorism, political assassinations, and religious wars have their basis in the induction of some political formula, some solution to humanity's ills. Today's ideological and political wars are often altruistic combat among visions of the good life. And the inductive power of a political leader lies in his ability to connect the love people have for humanity, God, or country, to the formula he provides.

Altruistic aggression is not limited to collective action. Through the love of his mistress, a man may induce her to help him kill his wife; through the love of her child, a mother may heed his cries for help and attack his assailant; and through the love of his country, a person may be induced to assassinate a president.

Finally, there is the aggressive style of manipulative power, the control over potentialities or opportunities. Manipulative aggression is then such offensive control. For example, propaganda may lead a person to hate, to attack members of another group, class, or race. Indoctrination may cause a person to assail an evil economic-political system. Desire for control over a situation may provoke a person to attack another, as when a sergeant deliberately goads a private until, tired, frustrated, and angry, he strikes out at his tormentor, thus providing a legal basis for a court martial. The enlisted man aggressed, but it was a manipulated aggression.

In total, then, aggression is a style, an offensive manifesting or manifestation of power. It is inseparably linked to and takes on the form of the power employed. Thus we can speak of identive, assertive, or forceful nonsocial aggression; or of coercive, bargaining, intellectual, authoritative, inductive, or manipulative social aggression. These pure forms, of course, are rarely manifested singly. Most situations reflect a combination of aggressive forms, with perhaps one dominating. Thus the military attack of one nation on another can manifest coercive aggression (an attempt to change the will of the nation opposing the demands of the attacker), forceful aggression (an attempt to bypass the other's will and to eradicate his capability to resist),18 manipulative aggression (in whipping up hostile sentiment), and altruistic aggression (in inducing people to fight in the belief that their welfare would be improved if the battle were won). Revolutions are similarly such a mixture.

Aggression seen in this light shows the simplicity of arguments that it is environmental, instinctual, or due to frustration. Multidimensional and multifold, tied to the various forms of power, aggression is a complex of different forms melded in a single act. Let us see how aggression so understood contrasts with some conventional views.

Does aggression involve hostile injury or harm to another? Hostile injury or harm is neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition for aggression in my terms. In defense against a mugger, for example, one may inflict hostile injury. Moreover, injury or harm may or may not be involved even in forceful19 or coercive20 aggression, as well as the other forms of power. In other words, injury and violence may occur, but there is no synonymy between such occurrences and aggression. The focus in the literature on aggression as harm or injury (without considering whether the harm or injury is defensive) is a focus on secondary and partial phenomena, like a study of the nature of an elephant that concentrates on the waves it makes in a pond.

Does aggressiveness comprise hostility or anger toward another? Not necessarily. As a style of manifesting power, no particular emotion may be involved. Aggression may be instrumental. Again, it may be the one acting defensively, protecting himself or his values, who is hostile or angry. To be sure, assertive aggression can involve attacks on others manifesting paranoidal hostility. But this is not to say that aggression always comprises hostility.

Is certain behavior aggression, such as physically attacking another, invading another's territory, or assaulting another with a club? Not necessarily. What is offensive as apart from defensive or neutral behavior is culturally and situationally defined. Placing a man on a table and cutting him open with a knife may be surgery, religious sacrifice, a warrior rite, or torture. Striking another with a club may be a sport, an attack, or a defense. In some cultures merely crossing another person's shadow is interpreted as an act of aggression on that person's spirit. The ultimate aggression is presumed to be killing another, yet such activities as carrying the old to a secluded spot to die, infanticide, and euthanasia have been culturally sanctioned as neutral behavior. Even within the same culture, there are different views of what constitutes killing. Witness the debate over abortion, a practice that some feel is an act of aggression against a living fetus. To focus on an objective behavior to define aggression is to commit the typical behavioral physicalistic fallacy. It is not what is physical that counts for us, but rather the perspective through which we manifest reality, the meanings and values this reality has for us.

Is aggression, then, an intention to do harm? Aggression can be intentional, but some acts occur unconsciously as in the identive aggression of a crying, kicking infant. Moreover, the intent to do harm can exist without the quality of being offensive, as in a police unit defending itself against a guerrilla attack.

In short, aggression can be, but is not necessarily, instrumental or intentional, and it may involve anger and hostility, injury and destructiveness, or certain acts or actions, although these might not be present. It is this subjective, multidimensional, multiform nature of manifest aggression that scientists and scholars have seen and defined differently. The latent definition underlying this variety, the core meaning in aggression, is the use of power to produce offensive effects.


As noted, the psychological relationship of aggression to us depends on its associated form of power. One form, identive aggression, is an offensive manifesting of being, an unconscious thrusting outward toward reality of our physical or psychological dispositions, of our individuality. Physically, this may be our size, manner of movement, and appearance; psychologically, our temperament and unconscious needs.

Temperament involves a person's characteristic behavior. It is patterned behavior, a consistent syndrome that does not vary dependent on gratification or satisfaction, as does behavior resulting from needs or drives. Temperament is also multidimensional in that the character of a person forms a psychological profile across a number of common temperamental components found among all people. For example,21 one such temperamental component is affectothymia versus sizothymia, or the tendency to be outgoing, good-natured, easygoing, cooperative, soft-hearted, attentive to people, and trustful versus being reserved, critical, grasping, obstructive, cool, aloof, hard, and suspicious.

Another is ego strength (stability) versus emotionality and neuroticism, or the tendency to be steady, calm, realistic about problems, mature, and lacking neurotic fatigue versus changeability, emotional impulsiveness, avoidance of necessary decisions, the inability to tolerate frustration, and neurotic fatigue. A third temperamental component is surgency versus desurgency, or the propensity to be happy-go-lucky, cheerful, sociable, energetic, humorous, talkative, and placid versus a sober character, depressed, seclusive, subdued, dull, taciturn, and unable to relax. Character is a consistent behavior made up of such components.

Table 2.1

Now, as a matter of character, some people consistently and generally manifest more identive aggression than others. Is there then a particular temperamental component of character associated with such aggression? Yes, the dominance versus submissiveness component,22 which manifests the behavior associated with aggression in both primates and humans. Table 2.1 lists the manifestations of this temperament.

The dominating temperament is strongly self-assertive, confident, and adventurous, but also tends to anger, quarrelsomeness, and destructiveness.

As would be expected from our experience with aggression among primates, dominance as a form of aggression is most manifest in males. Among females dominance becomes a composed (versus shy or bashful), poised, hypochondriac, and to a lesser extent, reserved, secretive, and independent minded temperament. In young children a dominating temperament goes along with disobedience, teasing, insensitiveness, not respecting the property of others, bossing, and attacking verbally and physically.

In other animals, the dominance pattern has been found associated with masculine sexual aggression, grabbing food from others, and bullying, as well as concentration of the male hormone (testosterone).

In apes, this temperament includes initiating most fighting, never cringing under aggression, mounting subordinates regardless of sex, pre-empting food supply, being more active, initiating more play, and doing more grooming.

In mental outpatients, the dominance temperament involves a lack of guilt feeling, little need of approval, strong assertiveness, and overt expression of hostility. Among psychotics, it includes bullying and aggressiveness, being assaultive, obscene, irritable, critical and sarcastic, having temper outbursts; and the use of projection to escape unacceptable drives.
----Chapter 22 of The Dynamic Psychological Field

Clearly, dominance is a temperament manifesting what most have associated with aggression in the literature.23 And it is of mixed genetic and environmental origin (Cattell, 1957: 111). Heredity seems to contribute most to its variation from one family to another, whereas differences within families seem to be due mainly to environment.

The dominance temperament is a major contributor to character-rooted identive aggression. A second temperament, which also contributes to such aggression, is a paranoidal (suspicious) versus an inner-relaxed (trusting) component. This manifests the paranoidal hostility that Storr (1968) associates with our aggression. The paranoidal (Cattell, 1957:143-146) person is suspicious, jealous, self-sufficient, and withdrawn, whereas the inner-relaxed person is trusting, understanding, composed, and socially at home. Those who are paranoidal

are also aggressive, short tempered, extra-punitive, hostile, and feel systematically persecuted. Paranoidal psychotics, especially, are assaultive, uncooperative, delusioned, and obsessed, and mental outpatients have been found with obsessively hostile impulses, and high tension.

This temperament appears both in normal and abnormal people (who tend to be at the extremes of temperament) and is distinct from paranoid schizophrenia (which has been found as a separate temperament also existing in normal people). Those with a tendency toward the paranoidal end are basically characterized by high tension handled by projection as a defense mechanism, and by suspicion and hostility. Therefore, that aggression should also be part of or a result of temperament is understandable.
----Chapter 22 of The Dynamic Psychological Field

In review, then, we find that identive aggression as an unconscious, offensive behavior against reality is partially a pattern of behavior that varies among us all along dominance versus submissiveness and paranoidal versus inner-relaxed temperaments. This form of aggression is therefore characteristic of some people but not all. It is in part hereditary, in part environmental, in part a matter of temperament.

But we not only are temperamentally inclined, we are also motivated to behave in certain ways. We have urges, drives, or needs. To what degree does our motivational structure contribute to identive aggression? First, I must clarify the difference between needs and drives.

By need I mean an innate psycho-physical potential, which when actualized is a cluster of dispositions associated with specific emotions (such as feeling hungry), a common goal (food), provocative situations (the smell of bacon and eggs cooking), and goal gratification (eating). The need itself depends on the constitutional nature of a person in addition to the history of how the need has been satisfied.

Moreover, the strength of the actualized need depends on a person's physiological state in relation to the degree of associated goal gratification.

A drive is that part of an actualized need referring to the purely physiological urge in relation to the physiological gratification received. It is inherent in the person and is that which is felt irrespective of external stimulation. Need is therefore the broader concept, not only involving the drive, but also the constitutional and hereditary nature of the individual (for example, some have constitutionally stronger sex drives than others), our past history of gratification, and the overall present satisfactions of the need.
----Chapter 21 of The Dynamic Psychological Field

A need therefore constitutes psychophysical dispositions toward particular goals, actions, and emotions. It is a complex of attitudes. A drive, a part of a need, is the state of a purely innate physiological urge in relation to its gratification. For example, everyone has a sex drive. As expressed in needs, however, the drive is differentiated. Differing sexual potency, and varying cultural and environmental influences, affect the inner expression of this drive and associated emotion. Some gratify this drive through a need for homosexual relations; others need certain perversions.

With this understanding, I use the broader and more attitude-linked concept of need and ask: Do we have aggressive needs? Through a variety of empirical analyses, multivariate research has determined the existence of several core needs relating to sex, hunger, gregariousness, protectiveness, curiosity, security, and self-assertion.24 In addition, evidence is accumulating for a need to express pugnacity.25 Pugnacity is akin to sadism. It is a need to fight, hurt, attack, damage, destroy, or get revenge. It involves hostility and the associated emotion of rage or anger. Clearly, this description is of an aggressive need-drive, as often defined in the literature. And so it is recognized by the multivariate researchers who have uncovered it. Cattell and Warburton (1967:176) label it a "pugnacity of aggression erg [sic]" In Cattell and Horn (1959:22), it is "pugnacity-sadism" (for Fromm, a component of malignant aggression) of which is said "The popular term aggressiveness' seems to cover this and assertiveness."26

Is this need an aggressive urge in my terms, that is, an urge to the offensive manifestation of power? Yes. Once activated, a need pressures us to seek its gratification. We may absorb this pressure into the pursuit of our superordinate goal, or block it internally if in conflict with this goal. Nonetheless, the need is appetitive, driving us to seek its gratification. Surely, then, to gratify pugnacity (such as in revenge), we will resort to offensive behavior, to the pushing, thrusting, besetting manner so characteristic of aggression, to initiating and provoking violence.

However aggression comprises not only violence, but also a thrusting of the self, a will-to-power of being. Is a need associated with this kind of offensive assertion? Yes, the need for self-assertion and its associated emotion of pride. This is a status-striving need, a driving to exceed one's fellows and rise in the pecking order.27 Self-assertion is a need to establish one's self, a striving to reach a higher level. Surely this is an aspect of aggression as I have defined it. Self-assertion implies an initiating action, a moving into another's territory, a pushing against the status quo.

Besides pugnacity and self-assertion, there are the security and protectiveness needs. Insecurity (or the need to escape),28 and its emotion of fear, form a source of defensive aggression, the benign aggression described by Fromm (1973). When fundamental being or values are threatened, when risking death, financial loss, or military invasion, one may lash out. A cornered man often attacks, but such action is no less aggression for being provoked by fear and threat.

The protectiveness (parental or succorance) need is, I believe, basic to understanding contemporary collective violence. It involves care of the young, especially one's children, but also extends to concern for the welfare of others and acts of humanity. It is the need underlying the desire to improve our lot, as well as the aggressive instrumentalities associated with this, and its associated emotion is pity (compassion, humanity, charity, sympathy, empathy). Parents will aggressively defend (and advance) their offspring, bystanders will sometimes aggressively jump to the aid of those in distress (as they may leap in to restrain a man from beating his child), and people collectively will attack the "evils" of capitalism, communism, fascism, racism, sexism.

One final need is less solidly based in the scientific evidence than self-assertion, but there is systematic support for its existence. Psychotherapists have long recognized narcissism (Cattell, 1972:246; Cattell and Horn, 1959:22; Cattell and Warburton, 1967:185), which Fromm (1973:200-205) treated as an important source of aggression. Narcissism is a need to gratify the self sensually, to self-love, to have an easy life. It is self-indulgence. Its accompanying emotion is sensuousness.

Such are our common needs, which together with our character-rooted sources of aggression, explain our unconscious tendency to offensively manifest our power. In summary, the unconscious sources of aggression are multidimensional. On the one hand aggression is seated in our common and independent needs of pugnacity, self-assertion, security, protectiveness, and narcissism. Fed by our associated emotions and feelings of anger and rage, pride, fear, pity, and sensuality, it waxes and wanes, depending on the stimulation of these needs and their gratification. On the other hand, aggression is partly rooted in character. It is also temperament, an individual's style or manner of behaving, which involves both dominating others and a tendency toward paranoia. Thus Freud, Lorenz, and Storr are correct to a degree. Fromm is also correct. And the environmentalists and learning theorists? They also have a point, as the next section reveals. We have here the perception of the same reality from different perspectives, a reality comprising the dynamic psychological field.


As described in Section 6.3 of Chapter 6 in Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix, attitudes are want-goal-means dispositions connecting to our needs. They are absorbed from our culture, forged in our family and interpersonal relations, and developed through experience. Needs become energized, associated attitudes become activated, and behavioral dispositions are manifest. Activated attitudes are interests--powers toward the realization of specific goals in order to satisfy particular wants.

It is within the dynamic calculus of attitudes that our sentiments and roles lie. Whereas the needs define our id, the attitudes are organized into an integrated self, reality oriented (ego) and morally conscious (superego), that direct action toward the superordinate goal of self-esteem. The ego is formed through transactions with social reality, and the superego embodies cultural values and morality.

It is within this dynamic system of attitudes that cultural learning and experience play their roles. Humanity shares the same needs, but not the same culture or experience. Environment shapes the attitudes that will gratify needs. The same protective need may be gratified through fifteen years of close supervision and training of the child in one culture, and casting him off at age ten in another; it may be satisfied through forced missionary conversion of heathens, or through respect for different beliefs. The same security need can be stimulated by fear of a shaman, a god, inflation, or nuclear war.

Events, objects, and situations take on subjective meaning depending on the cultural matrix through which we interpret reality, and on our personal history. A pugnacity need may be gratified by sticking pins in an enemy's effigy, making a culturally indecent gesture toward him, purposely stepping on his shadow, spreading malicious gossip about him, or belting him one. Thus it is incorrect to characterize a need by certain specific acts. A need is reflected in certain emotions, such as fear, pity, and pride. How these emotions and underlying needs work themselves out in behavior depends on the attitudinal interface developed through culture and experience. Certain types of attitudes, nonetheless, connect to specific needs, otherwise these needs could never be identified. For example, pugnacity connects to attitudes involving attacking and fighting others. The precise behavior, however, whether stomping on someone's flower garden or kicking the person in the shins, is a matter of individual learning. As any academic soon learns, there are many ways of attacking and cutting up a rival without lifting a finger in anger.

Here we have the heavy hand of culture and the precise mechanisms of social learning. Through both, we may develop aggressive (offensive) attitudes--aggressive goals and means which gratify our needs, but are a danger to ourselves and others. On the other hand, we may learn to gratify our needs in part through "benign" aggressive attitudes and the replacement of aggressive means-goals linkages with solidary, conciliatory, consensual attitudes.29

Most important, such attitudes are organized into a reality-testing, moral self striving for self-esteem. Much depends on what the esteem is based on. If, for a gang member, it is his ability to beat up an old lady, his esteem will be linked to such aggressive attitudes, and this aggression will be an integrated part of his behavior. A soldier in combat whose self-esteem is linked to his buddies' opinion of him, may be an aggressive killer of the enemy in striving for approval. If esteem is tied to command and coercive power over others, one may ape the more successful and aggressive villains in movies and television.

The keys to understanding environmentally based aggression are our dynamic attitudes as they are integrated into a self striving for esteem. Intentional aggression occurs at the level of attitudes. Whether aggression is assertive, coercive, bargaining, authoritative, inductive, and so on, is a matter of the intentions, of the goals and means, of the self.

Identive aggression is unconscious, a manifesting of being. Intentional aggression is goal directed, involving acts and actions, reason and morality. What then is the connection between temperament, needs, and attitudes? Temperament is the style of our reflex behavior, of our practices (custom, etiquette), and of achieving our goals. Our goal, for example, may not be to dominate another, but we may do simply by character. Thus temperament, which is partly hereditary, partly influenced by environment, helps fashion the manifesting of our interests. Needs, however, energize attitudes and drive us to gratify them. Pugnacity, self-assertion, security, protectiveness, and narcissism may provide inherent aggressive urges, but the attitudinal means-goals and their scope and intensity linking these needs to acts or action is a matter of learning and culture. And these attitudes are under the control of a self and will striving for self-esteem.


Needs are stimulated within a perceived situation in which we have certain behavioral dispositions and expectations about the outcome of our behavior. To emphasize temperament, needs, or attitudes in discussing aggression is to forget that character and motivations are contextually keyed, and that associated behavior is situationally selected from a repertoire.

Consider the situation first. Our perception is a dialectical outcome of a confrontation between reality's powers bearing on us and our outward directed perspective. An aspect of this perspective consists of the cultural schema and meanings-values-norms through which stimuli are interpreted. There can be no perception without interpretation. And through this interpretation we contribute to manifesting the dispositions of reality.

We are not born with a way of perceiving reality other than with our physiological equipment. Since perception is a meaning endowing process, it is gradually learned through our culture and by trial and error. Moreover, the process does not end with interpretation through the cultural matrix. What is interpreted automatically, unconsciously, becomes a conscious percept only within the total psychological field. Field forces may alter perceptions to maintain cognitive balance, to conform with a person's hopes, wishes, or preconceptions, or to contribute to defensive delusion or projections. We often see what we want to see.

Clearly, perception is crucial to understanding aggression. For offensive behavior is directed toward a situation, and the direction and nature of that behavior depend on our perception of that situation. Needs are partly energized from within (a growing hunger, an increasing sexual desire), partly stimulated from without (the smell of bacon cooking, seeing an erotic movie). But stimulation requires perception, and this becomes a matter of interpretation and the forces bearing on perception within the field. One person's pugnacity may be aroused by a perceived slur on his race, another by the perceived surliness of a clerk, a third by the perceived inconsiderateness of another driver. We interpret and thereby transform our world. And the world we create may be peopled by insults, threats, aggressiveness to which we respond with fear, pity, anger. But the world is partly of ourselves, of our culture and experience melded through the psychological field into our reality-transforming perspective.

The case is similar with attitudes, which link needs to concrete means-ends behavior. Attitudes are energized into interests by needs, but their keying to reality depends on our perception of that reality; their content is situational. Consider the concept "police" as a part of an attitude. This cultural construct consisting of certain percepts (nature and color of clothing, weapon, size) embodies expectations of certain behaviors and a sense of legitimacy (or exploitation, depending on the subculture). The concept of "police" within an attitude is a meaning-value-norm complex, and the linkage of the associated attitude with a given situation is a perceptual keying in of this complex. Thus the situation of a white policeman frisking a black person on the street can be perceived as "arrest" or as "black subjugation."

Normally nonaggressive people become quite aggressive if they perceive threats to their security, attacks on their values, or slurs on their self. But they must learn what constitutes a threat, an attack, or a slur. What interest will thereby become engaged, whether to attack, to defend, to flee, to ignore, is a matter of the perceptual linkage of these interests to the situation.

With temperament, too, the case is similar. Our character is manifested in behavior that is situationally directed and linked. Whether it is a matter of aggressively dominating others or reacting with paranoidal hostility, the object of such behavior must be perceived. Again, a particular interpretation of reality will influence the direction of such behavior. By character, we may aggress against those above us in a hierarchy but cooperate with those below us who, we perceive, accept our status. By character, we may be hostile to those perceived to be "out to get us." And by character, we may bully those who, in our perception, are weak and ineffectual.

Perception is the interface between ourselves and external reality. It is the matrix through which our innate and character-rooted aggressiveness is transformed.

Whatever the perceived situation, however, our behavior is not fixed, not preprogrammed within our genes. We have a repertoire of behaviors, a multifold, multidimensional variety of actions defining our culture and delineating our society. These accumulate from experience, from learning and individual experimentation, from trial and error, and from the example others, forming our space of potential behaviors and behavior dispositions, a space physiologically bounded, of course, but dimensioned by our culture and experience.

What is considered to be aggressive behavior in one culture may not be potential forms of behavior within another. Revolution or riot may be inconceivable and unknown; war, unthinkable and unrealized; political murder, unimaginable and absurd. It is true that many modern forms of collective aggression are passed from culture to culture, like useful technological innovations.

Within any situation30 we are disposed to behave in a certain way, depending on our needs, interests, temperament, and moods and states. The nature of these dispositions depends on the behaviors available to us in our behavior space. How we do behave, however, is a matter of the expectations that weight our choice. Like behaviors, expectations are wholly learned. They are norms, customs, implicit rules of behavior, social roles31 that are forged through experience and trial and error. Through social learning we come to expect reward or punishment from certain behaviors, and these expectations weigh on our behavioral dispositions.32 Although disposed to behave aggressively, we may act differently because we fear expected criticism, ostracism, or a public scene. On the other hand, although not disposed to behave aggressively, we may select such behavior because of the respect and prestige (as with a gang member) we believe we would thereby incur. In either case, we may behave aggressively or nonaggressively as we anticipate such behavior from others.


Often unmentioned in the literature is the influence on aggressive behavior of our mood or state. If ill, fatigued, hot, or very hungry, we can be irritable and touchy; we may lash out and attack. Some have claimed that urban riots take place mainly during the hot summer months for these reasons. No doubt there are more basic causes, but it is also likely that our physiological state influences our aggressiveness.


I have briefly considered the structures of the psychological field in their relation to aggression. My purpose is not a complete elucidation, but a clarification within a direction. I wish to show that aggression is multidimensional, that its psychological foundations are complex, and that the connections between the sources of aggression within us and our observable behavior are multifold. That instincts produce aggression, that drives generate aggression, that learning creates aggression--each proposition, standing by itself, is a simplistic theory. All dimensions are present to some degree and are simultaneously part of a field of relationships and dynamic forces that can modify, dampen, or inflate aggressive impulses, attitudes, and behavioral dispositions. The whole is a complex of perception, personality, behavioral dispositions, and expectations. To emphasize one without the others within the field is to forget that we are always a feeling-thinking-doing, integrated totality.

This means that pugnacity or self-assertion or protectiveness may be aroused, but no aggression may occur because the self wills otherwise, because no triggering situation is perceived, because expectations suggest defensive behavior, or because one's mood is inappropriate. On the other hand, we may act aggressively even though such needs are satiated, because it is in our character to do so in the perceived situation. Finally, needs or character aside, we may act aggressively in the pursuit of our superordinate goal. Aggression may be a learned instrumentality for achieving self-esteem, for striving upward. To understand aggression as the offensive manifesting of interests, therefore, is to understand ourselves as personality-situation-dispositions-expectations, as needs-attitudes-interests-temperament, as id-ego-superego, as field-self-will.


How does aggression so understood relate to the conflict helix--the process of social conflict? First, in restricting the discussion to aggression within this process, I am focusing on intentional aggression. Manifest social conflict involves willful actions guided by the self to achieve specific interests through another. Second, we must keep in mind that aggression is subjective. It is contextual. The same objective act can be aggressive or defensive depending on its meaning and the actor's intent within a situation.

The conflict helix moves through potentiality, conflict-structure, conflict-situation, initiation, balancing, balance and the structure of expectations, disruption, and a new twist of the conflict cycle. Aggression may be present during all these phases. It may be potentiality lying within our meanings, values, norms, and statuses. It may be dispositional as part of our dynamic calculus--our system of attitudes contributing to the structure of conflict--and our behavioral dispositions. It may be an aspect of opposing interests and associated expectations. It may be the manner in which the will tries to manifest its interests and woven through the balancing phase. Capability to aggress and its credibility may underlie the resulting balancing, the disruption of the structure of expectations may be manifest through aggression.

Aggressive energy from activated needs can add power to the conflict process, and the scope, direction, and intensity of that process can be influenced by learned aggressive attitudes and temperaments. Moreover, since conflict is opposition, and the manifestation of opposition requires initiation, social aggression as offensively manifesting social interests is woven into the very nature of the process. That is, aggression does not cause conflict. Rather, aggression innately characterizes the manifesting process. Aggressive needs add fuel to the process; aggressive attitudes add substance; aggressive temperaments add style.

But the social process itself is seated in our social relationships. Conflict is an adjustment to changing circumstances, and aggression is a characteristic of that process. Where there is environmental stability and interpersonal relations have become locked together in overlapping, crosscutting, and intersecting expectations, nested upward into a crystallized cultural system, there is little social aggression. Thus so-called aggressive primates live together in harmony under stable conditions; human tribes manifest little social aggression if they have lived for generations in a stable environment; even those living in advanced societies show little social aggression in a stable network of norms and expectations. Let there be disruption, or rapid change, upsetting expectations and norms, and the conflict helix takes another twist, with social aggression becoming manifest.

The mistake of the instinctualist, the drive theorists, and the behaviorist, of ethology (à la Lorenz), psychotherapy, and social learning theory, is not in wrongly identifying a source of aggression. All are partly correct. Aggression is partly instinctual, partly drive, partly character, partly learned. But their analyses have been static, physicalistic, and asocial--a physical study of crossed sticks without an analysis of the subjective meaning of cross in human interaction.33 Regardless of source, aggression is a wholly subjective manifestation within a conflict process. More on this in Chapter 3. 


* Scanned from Chapter 2 in R.J. Rummel, Conflict In Perspective, 1977. 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 the treatment of instinct as a psychological issue, see Birney and Teevan (1961). For a classic attack on the belief that we have instincts, see Bernard (1924), and for a current counterview, see Fletcher (1957). For an ethological treatment of instinct, see Tinbergen (1951).

2. Lorenz put ethology on the social scientist's map. For a well-written popularization of Lorenz's view on our "instinctual aggressive drive," see Ardrey (1966, 1970).

3. See, for example, the collection of reviews and articles in Ashley Montagu (1973).

4. See the many negative reviews in Montagu (1973). Johnson (1972) and Fromm (1973) summarize some of the contra-Lorenz findings on animals. See also Carthy and Ebling (1964).


. . . we have already argued that territoriality cannot be conceived as a species property, like leg length or plumage pattern; rather it is a group characteristic expressing the effects of the interaction of individuals with one another and the environment. Territory is but a single aspect of the social system shown by a species. An understanding of the system as a whole is more likely to inform us regarding territory than will the particular study of territory to the neglect of other social behaviours.
---- Crook, 1973:203.


Every animal species lives within a social structure characteristic for this species. Whether hierarchical or not, it is the frame of reference to which the animals behavior is adapted. A tolerable social equilibrium is a necessary condition for its existence. Its destruction through crowding constitutes a massive threat to the animal's existence, and intense aggression is the result one would expect, given the defensive role of aggression, especially when flight is impossible.
---- Fromm, 1973:106.

6a. On the conflict helix, see Chapter 29 of Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix.

7. I am relying here on the selections from Adler's early writings presented by Ansbacher and Ansbacher (1956:34-39).

8. My own perspective has been influenced by Adler, especially my emphasis on understanding ourselves teleologically through our superordinate goal.

9. See also Hannah Arendt (1969), who makes this one of hex Majul observations.

10. For a clear and brief summary of Freud's views on aggression, see Storr (1968). A more extended and complete analysis is given by Fromm (1973) in an appendix.

11. Fromm's observations on self-assertion, on the importance of meaning (e.g., it is the meaning that frustration has that is important in producing aggression [p. 678]), on the integrating and directing function of central goals, and on the role of impotence, overlap in perspective with those of Adler and May. Indeed, in many ways Fromm's view on aggression appears as a compromise between the psychoanalytic outlook and the Adler-May standpoint. Significantly, Fromm nowhere in his book mentions Adler, who formulated the first psychological theory of aggression while a member of Freud's Vienna psychoanalytic circle and is alleged to have said later in life, "I enriched psychoanalysis by the aggressive drive. I gladly make them a present of it" (Bottome, 1939:64).

12. Italics omitted.

13. Fromm seems to adopt a Marxist interpretation of society and to lean heavily toward socialism. On the other hand, he emphasizes freedom (above equality) and favors a decentralization of authority (p. 216); in this Fromm seems to be more an anarcho-libertarian, but his would be hardly consistent with socialism in practice.

14. The index to Ford and Urban's Systems of Psychotherapy (1963) gives only six references to aggression: three to a discussion of Freud's work, one to Adler's, and two to Karen Horney's. Horney (1945) was a Freudian who broke with orthodox psychoanalysis to stress the role of learning in creating disordered behavior, and the importance of patterns of behavior developed within the family.

15. In emphasizing a social definition of aggression, as does Bandura (1973:8), for example, social learning theory has made a significant advance over other theories. Rarely is it recognized that what constitutes an attack, an injury, or forceful behavior is a cultural matter. Most theories assume aggression to have objective characteristics, yet one culture's aggression may be another's healing practice, religious ritual, or athletic event.

16. The first behavioral statement of this theory was by J. Dollard et al., in their well-known Frustration and Aggression (1939), in which they asserted that aggression always results from frustration (p. 1). This extreme position has been qualified by subsequent researchers to incorporate the influence of learning, perception, and expectations. Frustration is now seen as a predisposing rather than triggering cause (Megargee, 1972:9-11).

17. This is a favored observation used to counter the theory that aggression is instinctual. See, for example, Fromm (1973) and the reviews of Lorenz in Montagu (1973), where this point is often made. Those using this argument often neglect to consider that aggression is subjective in meaning. A stare in one culture may be as aggressive as a slap in another. To anticipate my discussion below, it is the self-assertive and forceful meaning of aggression that is important in intercultural comparisons, not an objective manifestation such as physical violence.

Second, those using the comparative culture argument deal with structures, not dynamics. Surely, cross-sectionally, some cultures manifest little aggression. They may live in harmonious equilibrium, established over centuries, with their environment and with their neighbors. But let the environment be modified by the exhaustion of land to be divided among villagers, by the introduction of new tools, or by natural disasters, and the rapidly changing situation will create aggression of a more physical variety, simply because physical aggression is instrumental for establishing new fundamental relationships in a situation of change and uncertainty.

18. The distinction here is between war fought over a particular policy, or war fought to defeat the other party to the point of unconditional surrender. The first is coercive, since the attempt is to influence the other's will; the second is forceful, since the attempt is to destroy the other's ability to do as it wills. World War II saw the application of forceful power by the United States; in the Vietnam War there was application of coercion.

19. For example, police may forcefully restrain a suspect and carry him to the police station without hurting him. Yet, this is forceful aggression.

20. For example, kidnappers may abduct and threaten to kill a child if his millionaire parents refuse to pay a ransom. This is aggressive coercion, but if the ransom is paid, the child may be returned unharmed.

21. The following examples are from Cattell (1965, Chapters 3-4).

22. The major scientific evidence for this temperament is given in Cattell (195 7:108-110). See also Cattell (1965:89-91).

23. The dominance temperament manifests that behavior Lorenz most associates with aggression. Moreover, the character-rooted malignant aggression Fromm describes would reflect, in my terms, a dominating temperament. Fromm is one of the few to uncouple a type of aggression from needs, drives, or instinct, and seat it in character, as I have done here.

24. Chapter 21 of The Dynamic Psychological Field.

25. Pugnacity is included as a need by Horn (1966:633) and by Cattell (1965:190, 315). Cattell. and his colleagues include tests for pugnacity in their personality-motivation questionnaires (Cattell and Horn, 1959; Cattell and Warburton, 1967).

26. I discuss assertiveness later.

27. This is a need that has been consistently uncovered in multivariate motivational research. See Horn (1966), Cattell (1957), and Cattell and Warburton (1967). The scientific-quantitative findings on these needs and the aforementioned temperaments are scattered through hundreds of research articles and books. Therefore, I have focused on the leader and major synthesizer of this research, the one whose works generally reference the other literature. I am not basing my discussion on the personal speculations or experience of one person or school of psychological thought, but on more than twenty years of systematic, programmatic scientific research into our dynamic motivational structure.

28. In one place, Cattell and Horn (1959:22) call this an escape erg.

29. I do not mean to imply that this is desirable in some larger ethical sense. To seek justice and the Good may require some aggressive attitudes. Cultures may stagnate and people may be impotent without some channels for aggressive individuality. However, these are questions aside from my interest here, which is to determine the nature of aggression from the psychological field perspective.

30. Henceforth, "situation," unqualified stands for a subjective, perceived situation.

31. Roles are two sided, consisting from one perspective as a pattern of role expectations, from another as a cluster of attitudes sharing the same mean&

32. Expectations do not determine behavior, but they weight behavioral dispositions. We are less inclined to behave in a way that will elicit punishment. However we may so behave, even if the punishment is severe. If a dictator demands upon threat of jail that we lie to help convict and execute a friend, we may choose jail. We are guided by our perceptions of right and wrong, as well as by reward and punishment. Through our bloody history, many have willingly chosen death, the ultimate punishment, instead of doing evil.

33. Adler is an exception to this, as is Rollo May. Both, however, have focused on the individual, not the interpersonal process.

For citations see the Vol. 3: Conflict in Perspective REFERENCES

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