Conflict between civilizations has played a key role in the technological development of the human race. If humanity never had a single war, how would technology in such civilization evolve? Would it be advanced as it is now? Given that war is a major source of technological advancement, what would be the factors driving the technology in a world without war?

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    $\begingroup$ I have a feeling that this question is rather too broad to be properly answerable within the framework of a single question on this site. I'm not going to close it by mod hammer right away, but if there was the option of making my vote non-binding, I probably would vote to close as "too broad". Perhaps you can narrow its scope a bit? $\endgroup$
    – user
    Nov 10, 2014 at 9:42
  • $\begingroup$ maybe, to help me provide better answer than I provided, you can start with setting the rule of what should happen if one tribe meets another... $\endgroup$ Nov 10, 2014 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ I think the question could be a bit better but I'm not sure it is too broad. Is technological advancement slower in a world without wars ? Is that any better ? $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Nov 10, 2014 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ War is continuation of politics by other means - Clausevitz. If you have different tribes, inevitably you have war. $\endgroup$ Nov 18, 2014 at 18:13

9 Answers 9


Civilization without war, a nice idea. Possible?

First of all, we should clarify why mankind fight in upscale acts of war. There are plenty of reasons, I will try to hit the remarkable:

Why do cultures attack other:

TL;DR: There are many reasons for war, primarily the fact that one group has some kind of fear which makes them aggressive to prevent future damages.

  • Fear of each other

    A mighty tool of leadership is to spread fear against another bunch of people. Just think about the Crusades or the 3rd Reich. Without the cruel fairy tales about evil Muslims, Jews, or any other Side, the people wouldn't had fought them that enthusiastically.

    Also the reestablishment of old honor has to be put in this category. A nation that once had a good reputation loses their state to another, they have a lot to gain in a war. Sometimes war reestablishes the old force the nation once had. The state of shame is a big disadvantage which generally a culture doesn't want to handle and would be willing to fight against.(See France and Germany enmity).

  • Resources

    There are plenty of resources available to be conquered in war. From the simple "food" problem in the Stone-Age, to Lifting-Space in later times. This reason can be combined with the fear, for a lack of specific resources could lead to angst. Also an opposite force which one does not trust, that has access to a resource capable of giving them a big strategic advantage, would be one such an example (Think of Nuclear Weapons).

  • Ideological and Religion

    If one looks at how religions define the contact between believers and non-believers, it's often the case that we can discover the reason for poor treatment. Usually, the first people of this belief had problems with others. This is similar to how Jesus Christ had his problems with the Jewish arch priests and traders (later in medieval Europe, Jews weren't allowed to work as craftsmen which forced them to be traders, double bad,..). This does not necessarily result in war, but prohibition, prosecution, disadvantages in trading and so on are possible. So even if the first believers'/founders of the religion did not tell to make war or something, this probably created a bad opinion of some other groups. Later, that could lead to wars. (Crusaders again, Jihad (Translated from German Dschihad), ...)

Ideologies can lead to wars between cultures, but much more often they lead to civil wars. Therefore see Revolution.

Is it possible for cultures to live for millenniums without war?

TL;DR: If you want the people to not make war, give them everything they need. One need you must not forget about is to avoid feelings of envy.

Well, this is highly speculative, but I'll give it a try. First of all, the main reasons of war must be absent. So the People must have enough food, space, and so on.

There must not be any "disease" which could be interpreted to come from a specific group; common sense must be incredibly strong.

Basically groups must not be in any competition, as every little reason could lead to war as history has shown. This also means that no group has resources which other groups do not to prevent any competition.

So if you could generate such a scenario without being implausible, go ahead. This is the most difficult part I can see.

Last but not least, evolving:

TL;DR: War often leads to big advances in culture and technology, but the invention arise not only in war. There are plenty of examples of civil inventions being used for war.

We don't know much about war in the Stone-Age, but in the first Copper-Age times there are plenty of recorded wars. In particular, when empires arise and cultures get lost, the specific culture of the empire evolves very fast (even when the repressed cultures have influence). Empires generate affluence which in turn generates more technological steps. (Think about ancient Rome, medieval China, currently USA.)

Many inventions are made particularly for war and get altered for civilian markets, for example radio; many civil inventions are used for war as well, such as nitroglycerin.

Much of the technological evolution does not only take place in or during war, but is enhanced by it. Many inventions are made just during wars and are specifically designed for it. We cannot say if firearms where invented just for hunting (maybe), but war had been the reason in reality for their general use.

Short answer:

I don't think history would have been possible without war, not due to the evolution that had taken place, but due to more complex social structures leading to more problems between groups. War is a fast solution to many problems and mankind likes the fast way rather than the right way.

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    $\begingroup$ Radio was in no way, shape or form "made particularly for war, and (got) altered for civilian markets". In fact, your own citation shows exactly the opposite. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    May 10, 2017 at 2:27

I am going to delete my previous rather not so popular answer and try add several things to be considered:

You have to define what happens if two tribes meet Sometimes they traded, sometimes they fought (war). Since "fight" is not an option, they have to trade. But there is still one flaw in this scenario:

What happens if one tribe does not have anywhere to grow? We fight wars because we want supplies (they are now traded) and land. Since (again) the fight is not an option, you would probably get the land using "medieval" style of obtaining it by prearranged marriages and joining two "kingdoms" into one.

What happens when Columbus (and others) discover America? As I am not an historian, and also I am from Europe, my vision of how USA became to life includes loads of killing of native Americans. In your setup you have to assume the native people willing and wanting help with the development

How will religious disagreements be handled? Its not only now so popular "clash" of Islam versus western world, but for example, there are Christians fighting Christians in Nothern Ireland and only "difference" is, that one are protestants and other are Catholics. You have to decide what happens there. Somewhere I heard that if two ancient tribes wanted to join, they did "marriage" of their Gods, so I think this could be the way

In nutshell, I belive there are two options how to get around it:

The hard, historical way

Go as far into history as possible and see where and which tribes existed. Do not forget to do it globally (in Europe we completely miss out the whole India development before the colonization era in our history classes).

Let the tribes evolve and follow the rules above.

I think, that best assumption in this scenario is, that you eventually end up in one global "tribe" worshiping every known God and Goddess. The setup would be really Utopian civilization of happy cooperating people. Main drive of the progress would be to ease the trade and communication, so you can assume the civilization technological progress would invent today cargo ships and planes.

The easy naive way

Or, you can say yourselves "screw it" and let your tribes at small, local level, not allowing them to grow, not allowing them to meet themselves.

The would would most likely look like one big jungle inhabited by small tribes

  • $\begingroup$ Is this answer still up to date ? $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Nov 13, 2014 at 16:28
  • $\begingroup$ The first sentence refers to my already deleted answer. So yes. It's up to date $\endgroup$ Nov 13, 2014 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure it's accurate to describe the Troubles in Northern Ireland as being about religious disagreement. The two sides are the loyalists who favour Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK and the unionists who believe that Northern Ireland should be under Irish rule. The vast majority of loyalists are protestants and the vast majority of unionists are catholic but it's not impossible to have a protestant unionist for example. There are of course belligerents in each community who will emphasise religious differences but this is secondary. $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2015 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ @DaveHalsall In what sense is it secondary? Everybody in England, Scotland & Ireland essentially suffered the same treatment at the same times as each other at the hands of landowners they had no means to challenge, the Catholic Scots harbor hatred, the Irish Catholics harbor hatred, the English poor harbor hatred. The difference between the three is that the English poor decided it was about time there was a democracy, whilst the Scot and the Irish decided it was about time for terrorism. $\endgroup$
    – Giu Piete
    Mar 5, 2019 at 10:32
  • $\begingroup$ For the average Irish & the average Scot it's far more (even if they refuse to acknowledge it) a religious and racially based hate than a territorial or political policy one. $\endgroup$
    – Giu Piete
    Mar 5, 2019 at 10:34

Civilizations make technological advancements even without war but war is a powerful accelerator.

Randomness of ideas: To begin with, the technology progress from time to time as new things get discovered. Some are just the result of luck, a good idea but some require a lot of effort and experimentation. Even the most simple discoveries are impossible without the right idea. No one can predict when someone will get a new idea, it's pretty random actually.

Research and development: When you get an idea, you might need a lot of work to make it possible. It might not always work in the end. A lot of resources are required here. The speed of the progress cannot be linked only with the resources dedicated to the research. Increasing the resources will give a better result to a point. Past some point, the benefits for each new resource added into research is getting smaller and smaller.

Is there a better way to get ideas?: Sure, it's called a war.

When you are at war, you will do everything you can to get an edge on the enemy. In return, he will do everything to adapt in order to stay alive. Thus, one of you will need to come with another invention and the cycle goes on. This is the case of World war I because it was a rather long lasting war.

Without conflict, there is less incentive for change. Not only it might take longer to come up with new ideas but making these ideas possible and applying them also take longer.

It happens more quickly during war because the countries are pouring all of their resources into the conflict as they cannot afford to lose. During World war I, the dept of the United Kingdom exploded and reached (if I remember correctly) 500% of the country's GDP. Austria, France, Russia and Germany were also ruined at the end of the war but they had to do it. All that money went into the development of new weapons, new gears, new planes, new ships and new tanks. Just an example: before the Great War, planes were only used as prototypes but the war allowed planes to become a possible alternative for transportation.


War produces an incentive for technological progress: Inventing a new and better weapon may mean that your society survives instead of being annihilated or enslaved.

On the other hand, war also destroys huge amounts of resources.

There was certainly great technological progress during World War 2. It would be hard to argue that the war did not CAUSE progress.

But there was also a lot of technological progress in the 19th century, a time of relative peace. And of course there's been a lot of technological progress since World War 2, little of which really seems to be attributable to any wars.

Well the threat of being killed or enslaved is certainly a powerful incentive, there are many other reasons why people might want to devote energy to technological progress. The desire to live a more comfortable life, for example. The desire for novelty, excitement, and adventure. Pure curiosity.


If you're looking to disqualify wars and conflict between civilizations, you might get similar pressures (and the developmental benefits thereof) by other kinds of conflicts - this might include a harsh environment, or (obviously non-sentient) predators, diseases, or even limited access to resources - if and only if there was an obvious way to cooperate towards getting (more than) enough for everyone instead of competing for the less that's obvious.

One of the reasons war has such a high benefit towards development, is that when it's an urgent, life and death pressure, societies will dedicate resources to solving the problem or finding workarounds. A deadly problem might not only serve as a similar obstacle to spur a people against, it might serve as a common 'enemy' to encourage different tribes to cooperate and share solutions instead of compete with each other.

As for what other factors would drive technology? I expect that a strong cooperative drive could sometimes function similarly to a competitive one in pressurizing R&D, once something like pride or honor comes into play - each wishing to have more, or the most, to contribute towards a common good. Some cultures idealize hospitality and generosity in a similar way, where status is linked to what one can give rather than have. There would probably be development for labor saving devices, driven by a desire for leisure similar to our own. Perhaps there would be some advantage, instead of using survival pressure to combat a disadvantage - like better communication so ideas can get explored and implemented after discovery, instead of waiting for a conflict and necessity to popularize them.

As for, would this civilization be as advanced as ours? It would depend. If the original pressures were very difficult, and the rewards of cooperation quite high, its quite possible - with the caveat that the pressures would have to keep building to maintain that kind of cooperation. It's even possible that such a society could advance further, since their best minds would be cooperating rather than competing. It would also be easy, however, for the civilization to top out once they've comfortably conquered whatever their enemy was... even a cooperative society might be content with a peaceful and slow advancement once the predators are gone, instead of rushing to find new advances as much as possible because, say, the latest disease has adapted again.


The only way you could have such a state is if there is a way to resolve disagreements that provides a universally accepted result that is then never reconsidered. So for example, if your party lost the last election, not only would you accept the result, but you would now join and become firm supporters of the winning party!

If you allowed reconsideration, then the previous losing side would have a huge incentive to resort to stronger means to decide the next 'vote'...and force would certainly eventually come up as an alternative.

So, the obvious means for this would be some kind of hive mind, possibly with a limited range. But when two such groups met, they would "think out" the issue and come to "one mind" on the subject, then split up again with identical concepts agreed upon.

You'd think this might be a bit of an evolutionary or cultural non-starter as the avant garde would be wiped out by the majority whenever they met.

  • $\begingroup$ Or, you could have a society where people believe that if they lose in a political struggle, they can continue the conflict through peaceful means, like attempting to persuade opponents to change their minds. Someone MIGHT conclude that because he lost the election, the only resort is the violent overthrow of the government. Or he could be convinced that the political system is reasonably fair and he can try to win the next election. The U.S. and western Europe certainly have many flaws in their political system, but we've managed to go a fair amount of time now without a violent revolution. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Jun 23, 2015 at 18:06
  • $\begingroup$ Never is a long time. To make something never happen you need more than just good wishes. That goes double when there are multiple governments, where there is no elections to overturn a result. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Jun 23, 2015 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ Sure. Could I create a system that did not involve coercive mind control and that would GUARANTEE that there would NEVER be violence? Of course not. But it's not clear how you could create a system of mind control that would be guaranteed to work either. The problem I have with many proposed social reforms is that the reformer contrasts the current system, with all it's real flaws and imperfections, with his proposed reform, as he imagines it could be in an ideal, perfect world. Of course the reform sounds better. Okay, I don't think you're actually proposing this as a social ... $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Jun 24, 2015 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ ... reform, as any sort of concrete policy proposal. If your point is, "No one has ever invented a system that completely ends all violence", sure. But -- and I'm a very concrete, practical person; when I'm the starry-eyed dreamer in the room you know things have gone in a very strange direction -- we could certainly work toward systems that minimize incentives for violence. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Jun 24, 2015 at 13:52

War isn't the primary driver for technological advancement. There are more basic ingredients that have led to innovation:

  • Hardship. More to the point, recognition of a difficulty that prevents an entity from reaching its a goal.
  • Motivation. Specifically the urge to overcome the hardship.
  • Reason. The ability to enumerate, and test, different ways of overcoming the hardship.
  • Education. Essentially the ability to retain and transfer knowledge to others.

Yes, war can lead to development of new technologies. However it is by no means the only, or even primary, reason that most technology has been developed.

Take a simple thing like the transition from nomadic to agricultural lifestyles. There are many theories about why this occurred, none of which involve war being a motivator. Further, it is arguably one of the greatest changes that early humanity went through and whose technology is still advancing even today. If war was the only driver then we likely would never have made the switch as it's obviously more advantageous to be nomadic in that situation.

It is entirely possible that a culture without war never advances beyond a nomadic existence. Generally speaking this means that something is missing from that culture. However, it is entirely possible that a culture without war would be so far advanced that they would appear as gods to us.

One thing to consider is that peace is what helped get the renaissance period started. Any period of relaxation for a naturally inquisitive species will lead to testing new concepts and ideas.

Examples of drivers include: a population explosion would lead to new ways for collection and distribution of food; while a period of depopulation might lead to innovating ways of keeping entities alive (exa: soap, clean water). Either of those could also lead to inventing written communication - in order to preserve knowledge and transfer knowledge. Eventually this would lead to long distance communication would rise if the need were great enough.

So, in the end, war isn't necessary for the advancement of the species. If you look at history, war actually sets all parties back as it causes depopulation of the prime members of the participants, results in upheaval of societies, stops and even destroys most industrial activities, etc. Generally speaking, the cost of large wars far outstrip the benefits received and is a reason why most reasonable leaders use this as a last resort.

We can even look at specific inventions credited to war and with a bit of reflection realize that those inventions likely would have come out anyway. If for no other reason than to solve economic hardships.


All of these answers assume that we are referring to a human, or human like, civilization. One where the individual has independence and value outside of the larger society in which it lives.

Consider how things would be different if your people were descendants of a herd species. How different things would be if the needs of the group were always placed ahead of the needs of the individual?


'War drives technological progress' is a massively simplistic and ultimately false statement.

1: The technology used in warfare generally is not developed during wartime.

2: What allows technology to spread is investment, in a world in which there are no stock markets, venture capitalists, global advertising platforms or commonplace bank loans for entrepreneurs etc, there are two ways of significantly expanding production - going to your own government - or going to someone else's government.

Because government was by and large the only place where wealth pooled when everybody with wealth became government and governments necessarily become 'invested' in finding means of self-preservation when it is obviously threatened (see: war and threat of war.)

Taking as a given that no war means no significant threat of war:

Every soldier, officer and part of the logistical setup must be maintained by civilian product whilst producing nothing and offering no service.

Each one of those is not simply drawing off from the product of useful people, but could be producing something themselves.

Technology growth is primarily a product of economic excess, it hardly matters the educational level of the people involved - if they have excess 'funds' (read: time) a proportion of the population will involve themselves with attempting to improve themselves and their surroundings.

The only sense in which War 'creates' excess in these terms is that taxes are almost invariably raised during wartime and theft[appropriation] almost invariably is taken from the losing civilian tax base. This is of course then a matter of redistribution of product, rather than a product.

If you read a historical work, it was almost invariably written by somebody who was supported financially by means other than the production of that work. That is, either the idle rich or those supported in their idleness by the rich. This is the same as what supported almost all technological growth throughout history. Of course, it had a major flaw: Somebody who works on what amounts to a hobby has no need to disseminate their product. So society is left relying on ego-stroking and greed to even begin the process of dissemination.

Technological spread of course meets other barriers, the same as today. People don't want potential enemies or competitors to have the same information they do.

One thing we can credit to war, one supposes, is that war is quite public, especially when contractors are required[government buys/takes license to produce and spreads license around available manufactories.] Whilst it might not be the case that the general public learns via this mechanism how to manage x process or synthesise y, somebody other than the original inventor will.

and bla.

It follows then, that it would develop further and faster than one with war.


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