Without a Leviathan to defend him, the life of man is “nasty, brutish, and short”, as Thomas Hobbes argued. However, for each individual bearing arms, the decision to fight is tricky. The cost can be extreme – he runs the risk of death. The benefits are also large, but they accrue to the collective.
In small communities, the problem is typically solved by social norms (Costa and Kahn 2003). Evolutionary anthropologists have long argued that warfare co-evolved with a tendency towards altruistic parochialism – a willingness to undertake costly actions favouring the in-group (Choi and Bowles 2007).
Modern states with millions of citizens cannot use the same tools to encourage participation in war as hunter-gatherer communities and small societies did. This begs the question: how can governments convince men and women to fight and die for their country, putting aside their ‘selfish’ instinct to stay alive?VOX EU