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Ian Morris: A History of Peacemaking

Professor Ian Morris, Jean and Rebecca Willard professor of classics and professor of history at Stanford University, spoke about current international conflicts and the role of peacemaking in war throughout history in the context of his most recent book, War! What Is It Good For?

On the evolution of war over thousands of years: “Rulers realized they wanted their fellow tribesmen to get up in the morning and milk the cattle, plow the fields and pay their taxes – not go around killing each other. So there was a pressure to pacify the group they ruled. The result was the formation of bigger societies that got more complex and more able to wage destructive wars, but also more able to pacify larger groups of people. The paradoxical end result is that over 10,000 years, war has created bigger societies that have stronger governments that pacify the world.”

On current global instability and declining US power: “When you put the two of those together, the short term is more full of risks than anything we’ve seen in a very long time, and it’s very scary…I still remain reasonably optimistic that people will figure this out.”

On the creation of the European Union: “I think what’s happened with Europe since the second World War has been one of the most extraordinary experiments in the history of the world. It’s arguably the only case in world history where very large numbers of people have come together and surrendered a lot of their freedoms to a central authority and in the process dramatically lowered rates of violent death, increased prosperity and freedom. And they’ve done all of this without anybody threatening them.”