Warfare and Society: Archaeological and Social Anthropological Perspectives

By Ton Otto; Henrik Thrane et al. | Go to book overview
Save to active project

3 Laying Aside the Spear:
Hobbesian Warre and the Maussian Gift


Ethnologists inevitably come to their subjects with a certain philosophical baggage which is part of their own, North Atlantic universe of cosmological and moral meaning, and influences the way they gather and interpret their data. In the following, I will examine one particular, widespread assumption informing Maussian and structuralist theorising on gifts and reciprocity: the idea of violence as a basic tendency of human nature. While the other contributions to this volume focus on detailed archaeological and ethnographic data pertaining to conflict and violence more directly, the present one looks at historical and epistemological backgrounds of one particular, quite influential way of handling such data theoretically and conceptually.

From violence to sociality

The notion of disorder and conflict as a ‘natural’, ‘primordial’, or ‘original’ state of humankind, and at the same time of human nature, is continually present in Marcel Mauss’ Essai sur le don. It guides his empirically directed work as a conceptual or ontological presupposition, linking his thought to that of the leading social theorists of the Enlightenment. In his analysis, état naturel refers to both humankind before history and civilisation its natural history and a state of ‘raw nature’ that is partly constitutive for human society, as a condition that must continually be transcended to make humanness possible. Becoming human, as Mauss analyses it, happened in (pre)history, but it is also, ontologically speaking, a permanent, structural feature of humans who, according to this view, continually transcend the state of nature, by exchanging. The ‘natural state’ is seen as primordial, both ontologically and phylogenetically, and social order as discontinuous with nature in both respects.

Mauss holds exchange to be constitutive of social life and social order because it is the chronologically earliest and ontologically most fundamental solution to the Hobbesian warre of all against all that, in Hobbes’ view, ensues from man’s selfish nature. ‘ocieties have progressed’, he writes in the conclusion to the Essai sur le don,

In so far as they themselves, their subgroups, and, lastly, the
individuals in them, have succeeded in stabilizing relation-
ships, giving, receiving, and finally, giving in return. To trade,
the first condition was to be able to lay aside the spear. From
then onwards, they succeeded in exchanging goods and per-
sons, no longer only between clans, but between tribes and
nations, and, above all, between individuals. Only then did
people learn how to create mutual interests, giving mutual


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Warfare and Society: Archaeological and Social Anthropological Perspectives
Table of contents

Table of contents



Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 557

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?