War or peace? A dynamical analysis of anarchy

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28 Scopus citations


I propose a dynamical analysis of interaction in anarchy, and argue that this kind of dynamical analysis is a more promising route to predicting the outcome of anarchy than the more traditional a priori analyses of anarchy in the literature. I criticize previous a priori analyses of anarchy on the grounds that these analyses assume that the individuals in anarchy share a unique set of preferences over the possible outcomes of war, peace, exploiting others and suffering exploitation. Following Hobbes' classic analysis of anarchy, I maintain that typically in anarchy some moderate individuals will most desire mutual cooperation while other dominators will most desire to exploit others' cooperation. I argue that once one allows for different types of individuals in anarchy, any a priori analysis of anarchy requires unrealistic assumptions regarding the agents' common knowledge of their situation. However, this move also suggests a dynamical analysis of anarchy, one that assumes no common knowledge. In the Variable Anticipation threshold model developed here, individuals modify their behavior as they learn from repeated interactions. I present specific instances of this model where the individuals in anarchy converge to different equilibria corresponding to either peace or war, depending on the initial conditions. I show that individuals are liable to converge to Hobbes' war of all against all even if only a small percentage of are dominators. The presence of only a few "nasty" individuals gradually drives all, including those inclined to be "nicer", to imitate the "nasty" conduct of these few. This dynamic analysis suggests that the Hobbesian war in anarchy is indeed inevitable in most realistic circumstances. You have the same propension, that I have, in favor of what is contiguous above what is remote. You are, therefore, naturally carry'd to commit acts of injustice as well as I. Your example both pushes me forward in this way by imitation, and also affords me a new reason for any breach of equity, by showing me, that I shou'd be the cully of my integrity, if I alone shou'd impose on myself a severe restraint amidst the licentiousness of others. (David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature)

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)243-279
Number of pages37
JournalEconomics and Philosophy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Economics and Econometrics


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