WAR AS A BIOLOGICAL PHENOMENON
Selection," and this in its turn results in the "Survival of the Fittest."
Natural Selection, of course, works only in a mass way, so that those
which survive in the struggle will merely have an average of fitness
a little above those which perish or fail to reproduce themselves.
But some of the qualities which make for success in the struggle, and
so for a greater chance of survival, will certainly be inherited; and
since the process continues generation after generation not merely for
thousands but for millions of years, the average fitness and efficiency
of the race will steadily and continuously be raised until it can be
pushed no higher. In any case, say the believers in this doctrine,
struggle is necessary to maintain fitness; if the pressure of competi-
tion and conflict is removed, biological efficiency will suffer, and de-
generation will set in.
Darwin's principle of Natural Selection, based as it is on constant
pressure of competition or struggle, has been invoked to justify various
policies in human affairs. For instance, it was used, especially by
politicians in late Victorian England, to justify the principles of
laisser-faire and free competition in business and economic affairs.
And it was used, especially by German writers and politicians from
the late nineteenth century onwards, to justify militarism. War, so
ran this particular version of the argument, is the form which is taken
by Natural Selection and the Struggle for Existence in the affairs
of the nations. Without war, the heroic virtues degenerate; without
war, no nation can possibly become great or successful.
It turns out, however, that both the laisser-faire economists and
the militarists were wrong in appealing to biology for justification of
their policies. War is a rather special aspect of competition between
members of the same species—what biologists call "intra-specific
competition." It is a special case because it involves physical con-
flict and often the death of those who undertake it, and also because
it is physical conflict not between individuals but between organized
groups; yet it shares certain properties in common with all other
forms of intra-specific struggle or competition. And recent studies
of the way in which Natural Selection works and how the Struggle
for Existence operates in different conditions have resulted in this
rather surprising but very important conclusion—that intra-specific
competition need not, and usually does not, produce results of any
advantage to the species as a whole.
A couple of examples will show what I mean. In birds like the
peacock or the argus pheasant, the males are polygamous—if they