Military Strategy Magazine  /  Volume 9, Issue 2  /  

Rule Guided Behavior and Violence – A Cultural Evolutionary Strategy to Foster Peaceful Cultural Entities

Rule Guided Behavior and Violence – A Cultural Evolutionary Strategy to Foster Peaceful Cultural Entities Rule Guided Behavior and Violence – A Cultural Evolutionary Strategy to Foster Peaceful Cultural Entities
Photo by U.S. Army Pfc. Melissa Stewart, Flickr upload by ISAF Headquarters Public Affairs Office from Kabul, Afghanistan, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons,
To cite this article: Gabriel, Rainer, Mühlmann, Heiner, and Stojek, Nicolas, “Rule Guided Behavior and Violence – A Cultural Evolutionary Strategy to Foster Peaceful Cultural Entities,” Military Strategy Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 2, winter, 2024, pages 42-47.


A New World Order?

Although the evolving conflict in Ukraine had long been under observation, the actual Russian invasion and the onset of a war came as a surprise to most European politicians and observers.[i] Nevertheless, the escalation of the simmering conflict between Russia and Ukraine confirms a trend that has been forecasted in the field of International Relations for some time now: the decline of the Western-liberal influenced world order dominated by the United States as the hegemon.

Henry Kissinger defines world order as “the concept held by a region or civilization about the nature of just arrangements and the distribution of power thought to be applicable to the entire world.”[ii] This world order was conceived as a system of universally respected legal codifications aimed at promoting global freedom, human rights, free markets, and democracy.[iii] From Kissinger’s definition, it is evident that a certain ethnocentric element is inherent in any world order. Kissinger himself notes that while Western principles may be globally acknowledged, there has been no consensus on the application of these principles.[iv]

In retrospect, it can be observed that this interpretation underestimated the fault lines within the Western-influenced world order and the intensity of dissent regarding its fundamental principles. Alexander Dugin, also referred to as “Putin’s Brain,”[v] characterizes American dominance as a global dictatorship and considers the development of a genuinely Russian political theory a matter of existential significance for Russia.[vi]

Zhang Weiwei, a political theorist from the rising Chinese power center, articulates his criticism of the Western-influenced world order more in line with Kissinger’s thinking. He accepts human rights and democracy as universal values but emphasizes the diversity of their implementation.[vii] Nevertheless, doubts persist about whether Weiwei’s semi-compatible view of the principles of the current world order finds consensus among China’s political thinkers.[viii]

The discontent expressed to varying degrees about the American-dominated world order in recent decades has led to explicit reactions, such as anti-Western terrorism and the formation of an anti-Western bloc. The West is primarily accused of pursuing an imperial policy camouflaged in humanitarian slogans. Many people delegitimize the West, especially in countries that have experienced U.S. military interventions, by alleging double standards in humanitarian matters.[ix]

A widely embraced forecast that arises as a response to the fault lines of the current world order is the model of a so-called “multipolar order.”[x] This order, whatever its precise configuration may be, will, as described by the German political scientist Herfried Münkler, consist of distinct power centers with accompanying spheres of influence, where specific cultural and legal norms will apply. The key challenge in this context will be to tolerate these spheres of influence without challenging them with universalistic rationale. Power ambitions within this system will be balanced through the competition among major powers and the political dependency of major powers on their vassal states.[xi]

In the words of Carl Schmitt, “Großraum” orders will emerge, featuring a prohibition on intervention by foreign powers.[xii] Anticipated conflict zones will be the border regions between each pair of “Großraum” orders. In these border regions, it is essential to establish cross-regional agreements to prevent the escalation of rivalry between the major powers. Münkler consequently suggests the creation of buffer zones for this purpose.

It is worth noting, therefore, that the concept of universalism is being questioned, and secondly, that the feasibility of an international order whose legal codifications cannot be consistently enforced is an illusion.

This article addresses the aforementioned challenges of the declining world order from a cultural theoretical perspective. This approach employs conceptual models of cultural evolution and system theory. The resulting perspective aligns with the prediction of a future “multipolar” international order, whose political coherence is based on relative cultural homogeneities. The issue of conflict potential at the borders of these “Großraum” orders is discussed by expanding the relatively ineffective understanding of rules as purely legal codifications to a system-theoretical concept of rules. The aim is to design an order in which rules achieve an enculturating embodiment effect and may thus be capable of conditioning populations against warfare.

Rule-adjustment as a result of cultural evolution

Rules that organize the behavior of collectives are culturally relative order structures. The rules of Chinese culture – for example, the “Li System” – are different from the corresponding rules of European culture – for example, the “Decorum System”.[xiii] Cultural regulatory work is mostly governed by legal systems. Examples of European legal works are the “Twelve Tables” of Roman Law, the “Corpus Iuris Civilis” (especially the “Codex Iustiniani”) of historical Byzantine culture, and the “Civil Code” of modern German culture. Rule-adjustment is the result of cultural evolution. In the language of system theory, as laid down by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, one would say that: laws are results of allopoiesis (generation of a product by a producer).[xiv] “Li rituals” and “Decorum rituals” are results of autopoiesis (emergent results of evolutionary processes, growth through endogenous forces of growth, as in living beings).[xv]

This implies that from regular processes at the micro level – that is, from functionally interconnected interactions of elements – a global order gradually emerges over time. Within this order, functional elements and regulatory loops interact within and between levels (micro, meso, macro), thereby generating a complex systemic structure.

Models of cultural evolution describe cultures as transmission dynamics in which transmission units are transferred “vertically” and “horizontally”.[xvi] “Vertical” refers to transmission from one generation to another, while “horizontal” refers to transmission between individuals living within the same generation.

During the early days of cultural evolution science, these transmission units were referred to as “cultural genes,” akin to the “genes” in genetics, but later simply termed as “units” or “variants.”[xvii] The German research group TRACE (Transmission in Rhetorics, Arts and Cultural Evolution) has proposed using the term “rule” as a concept for transmission units in the descriptive schemas of cultural transmission dynamics.[xviii] This concept of rules would encompass law rules, ritual rules, and uncodified regularities arising from cultural routines and imitative behavior.[xix]

“Transmission” implies storage in biological memories, i.e., in brains. Merely storing information in artificial memory carriers such as books, archives, and archaeological monuments is not sufficient. The process of memory storage in individual brains is also called “enculturation.”

We refer to the hypothesis that there are three types of enculturation:

  1. “complete and partial enculturation.” This involves the storage of rules in declarative memories, representing consciously retrievable knowledge. A minimum of verifiable knowledge is essential in any culture.
  2. There is “strong and weak enculturation.” This refers to the storage of information in body memories, involving skills learned by the procedural memory, such as trained body movements in riding, driving, and playing the piano.
  3. Finally, there is emotional enculturation, the storage of stress events in the collective emotional memory. This includes traumatic experiences in wars that shape later development as formative events.[xx] For example, anticipatory obedience can arise through this process.

Rules and Their Enforcement

The enforcement of certain rules is accomplished through the threat and use of violence. This is especially true for the enforcement of laws and the penalties prescribed by those laws. Rule enforcement can also be achieved through the attribution of honor and shame. In other words, rules that effectively influence behavior consistently follow a recognizable if-then structure. Penal laws that predict the loss of physical integrity and individual freedom as punishment influence deep-seated memory systems through imaginative embodiment and the emotional aspect of the threatened loss of fitness. In this manner, they foster the emergence of preemptive obedience.

The threat of punishment under the law and the violence announced for its enforcement are also referred to as the “state’s monopoly on violence.” Thomas Hobbes’ discussions of the “Leviathan” reflect the state’s right to extensive, potentially violent enforcement of the codified order.[xxi] This state monopoly on violence has two aspects: one is directed inward within the state. This involves the enforcement of laws by police and judicial personnel. This form of violent behavior is rule-governed because the laws precisely specify the violent penalties for various law violations.

The second direction of violence extends outward into the realm of interstate behavior. This form of violence is generated by armed forces, and its application is de facto unregulated, as clear if-then structures become unrecognizable in the “fog of war.”[xxii] This unregulated violence creates the domain of military strategy, as military strategy is made possible by the absence of rules. Due to the paradoxical logic of strategic behavior, wars are characterized by total unpredictability, strategic cunning, and the advantage gained through surprising the enemy.[xxiii]

According to prevalent cultural theories, the genesis of a system that gives rise to a culture begins with a stress event that requires cooperation among individuals (interaction of elements at the micro level, as mentioned above) to withstand existential threats. This cooperation represents the baseline and primary function of a culture.[xxiv] Consequently, this realm of violence provision, where the actors are states or states in the process of formation, claims the largest shares of the overall cultural output. This includes the allocation of financial resources and human labor.

The deployments of UN peacekeeping forces, for instance, in Rwanda, demonstrate that despite military presence, the international community often fails to effectively prevent wars and war atrocities. As a result, the legal systems of international law lack the required deep-seated incorporation into cultural memory systems due to their limited enforcement power and the absence of reality-based narratives capable of conditioning human behavior. They also fail to elicit the desired preemptive obedience that could influence a conflict-prone culture through a rule-based automatism with emotional memory activity. In other words, the “laws” of international law do not access the enculturation behavior of collectives, and there is no effective global Leviathan.

Reasons for the deficient enforcement of rules include the differing strategic and constitutional concepts among the member states of the UN Security Council. Due to culturally rooted disagreements, it becomes evident that even the UN cannot be a Leviathan, as coherent rule enforcement is unattainable.[xxv] Consequently, it can be asserted that when rules exist merely as formulations without influencing behavior, they remain pure codification, thereby lingering in a quasi-fictional stage.

The conclusion that can be drawn is that the decision-making power over the largest sphere of overall cultural activity, namely the realm of “military affairs and international strategy,” is not subject to the control of rule-governed behavior. If we come to the assessment that this domain of decision-making cannot be governed by rules because in a strategic context, any rational argument can be undermined by the argument of the threat of violence in any situation, we are confronted with a fundamental philosophical experience referred to by the Greek predecessors of European thought as “Aporia.” “Aporia” signifies an unanswered question that is not only unanswered so far but one that can never be answered.

Fire and Counterfire

The reality and existence of war can only be destroyed by superior force, much like wildfires that can only be extinguished by counterfire, or slavery that could only be abolished through costly wars against slave economy states.

The “counterfire” of war would be a league that is prohibited from taking sides with any of the belligerent states at the outbreak of war. This league would possess a highly deterrent military force and would declare war on all those engaged in warfare, both on each side of the conflict. Thus, each belligerent party would face not just one but two enemies. Such a league, established with the proclamation of “war against war,” would introduce a rule that anticipates the principle of strategic and war surprise. In this way, the principle of rule-governed behavior would penetrate into the realm of strategy, which until now has been effectively governed by the principle of lawlessness or the suspension of all rules by the activation of the rule “war.”

The influence of this league would divide into two strands. One branch of influence would affect the realm of military intervention and military outcomes. The second branch would target the conditioning of collective emotions and the deep embedding of collective memories to induce the emergence of anticipatory obedience.

The armed forces of such an anti-war league could be organized along the lines of the French Foreign Legion. By not being tied to a specific citizenship, the potential pool of recruits would be significantly larger compared to national armies in Europe, especially in larger states facing recruitment challenges. A supranational military force with a multinational recruitment base would also have the advantage of alleviating the loss aversion of European populations and simultaneously mitigating nationalist sentiments within the ranks.[xxvi]

War and Sovereignty

The generative principle of the lawlessness of war is the concept of state sovereignty. Sovereignty describes the right of a culturally defined population (state) to declare war on other populations of the same kind. The provision of reasons for such declarations plays primarily an internal role. This is because when two states are at war, it is typically impossible for neutral observers to prove which state is the aggressor. Consequently, both sides must be prohibited from waging war, and both should face penalties if they continue to engage in hostilities. This requirement would be essential in the buffer zones of a hypothetical “multipolar” order. A historical precedent for such a model, in which a sovereign Leviathan could achieve full embodiment effect, is the French Fronde.

The concept of sovereignty was developed during the late 16th century in France by Jean Bodin in his book “De Republica”.[xxvii] It was then adopted by the French kings Louis XIII and Louis XIV in the next generation. Based on the doctrine of sovereignty, France evolved into the first modern territorial state, initially in the form of an absolutist state, which fully consolidated under the reign of Louis XIV. Previously, during the time of Louis XIII, all aristocrats fought against the king and the enforcement of the sovereign state. The aristocrats collectively formed the party of the so-called “fronde.” The “frondeurs” were the enemies of the sovereign state and the absolutist monarchy. Each aristocrat considered themselves de facto as a sovereign political entity and claimed the right to declare war on other aristocrats. These wars were mostly fought in the form of duels. The aristocrats were duel prone.

Louis XIII had a visionary minister, Cardinal Duc de Richelieu. He prohibited dueling by law and imposed the death penalty. Richelieu rigorously enforced this law, reminiscent of the abolitionist movement against slavery. He ensured that aristocrats who dueled were executed, often against the will of the king, who frequently argued that the condemned were his relatives.

Declaration of War

Applied to a “multipolar” order, this system would result in neighboring major powers agreeing on buffer zones that act as fences separating these major powers from each other. Three fundamental scenarios would emerge:

  1. One major power declares war on another major power. Given the high opportunity costs, this case is considered unlikely.[xxviii] However, should it occur, national armies as well as the major power’s supranational army would be authorized for war and the destruction of the opponent.
  2. One major power declares war on a state within the buffer zone. In this scenario, the supranational armies of the neighboring major power would be authorized to indiscriminately destroy the forces of the buffer states as well as the invading forces of the major power.
  3. Buffer states declare war on each other. The supranational armies of the neighboring major powers would indiscriminately annihilate the forces of the warring buffer states.

In this model, war becomes synonymous with annihilation, making it not only politically and economically unprofitable but also generating an embodiment with deep-seated effects in populations. War is equated with destruction, and thus, fitness loss. When there is nothing left to gain in war, and rules are enforced through massive violence in clearly defined areas, populations undergo a motivational imprint that makes sustainable behavioral change seem promising.[xxix]

The most significant challenge in this system would likely be the consequent neglect of moral sentiments that serve as justification for military interventions by foreign powers in the current humanitarian-oriented world order.


[i] Peter R. Neumann, Die neue Weltunordnung: Wie sich der Westen selbst zerstört (Berlin: Rowohlt, 2022), 271-273; Nicolas Stojek, „Kann Deutschland Verteidigung? Eine kulturevolutionäre Perspektive auf die Zeitenwende,“ Österreichische Militärische Zeitschrift 01/24 (forthcoming publication).
[ii] Henry Kissinger, World Order (USA: Penguin Books, 2014), 9.
[iii] Neumann, Weltunordnung, 19-33.
[iv] Kissinger, World Order, 364.
[v] Michael Millerman Inside ‚Putin´s Brain‘: The Political Philosophy of Alexander Dugin (s.l.: Millerman School, 2022).
[vi] Alexander Dugin, The Fourth Political Theory (London: Arktos, 2012).
[vii] Zhang Weiwei, The China Wave: Rise of a Civilizational State (Hackensack: World Century Publishing Corporation, 2011), 117-19.
[viii] Herfried Münkler, Welt in Aufruhr: Die Ordnung der Mächte im 21. Jahrhundert (Berlin: Rowohlt, 2023), 277-282.
[ix] Carlo Masala, Weltunordnung: Die globalen Krisen und die Illusionen des Westens (München: C.H. Beck, 2022).
[x] Masala, Weltunordnung; Münkler, Welt in Aufruhr; Kwa Chong Guan, „Competing Rules-Based Orders in Southeast Asia,” RSIS Commentary no. 151 (2023).
[xi] Münkler, Welt in Aufruhr, 401-456.
[xii] Carl Schmitt, Völkerrechtliche Großraumordnung mit Interventionsverbot für raumfremde Mächte: Ein Beitrag zum Reichsbegriff im Völkerrecht (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2022 [1941]).
[xiii] Heiner Mühlmann, Ästhetische Theorie der Renaissance: Leon Batista Albert, (Bochum: Dolega, 2005).
[xiv] Francisco Varela, Principles of Biological Autonomy. (New York: Elsevier North Holland, 1979).
[xv] Refer to Heiner Mühlmann, The Nature of Cultures: A Blueprint for a Theory of Culture Genetics (New York: Springer, 1996); in this context, the expression "growth forces akin to those in living organisms" should be understood metaphorically. In reality, cultural evolutionary processes consist of various forms of learning (individual learning vs. social learning) and complex coevolutionary processes (including epigenetic feedback processes).
[xvi] Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson, Culture and the Evolutionary Process (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1985).
[xvii] Charles J. Lumsden and Edward O. Wilson, Genes, Mind and Culture: the Coevolutionary Process (Singapur: World Scientific Publishing, 2005).
[xviii] Heiner Mühlmann, Kulturevolution: Die europäische Philosophie des tribalen Humanismus (forthcoming publication).
[xix] Terms such as "cultural genes" have no molecular biological connection in the discussion of cultural evolution. "Cultural genes" are simply transmission traits, also referred to as "memes" or simply "units." For these transmission units, the term "the rule" has been proposed by the TRACE group. In cultural evolution, therefore, not "cultural genes" but "rules" are transmitted. This terminological proposal offers significant advantages for the descriptive coherence of cultural evolutionary theories because it establishes a bridge to the literature on sources and rules in the humanities. It is, not least, the central argument in the present essay "Rule Behavior and Violence," posing the question, "does the principle of rule guidance have a chance in military strategy when embedded in an evolving culture?" A comprehensive exploration of the prevalent politically motivated misinterpretations of cultural evolution in the past 50 years can be found in Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (London: Penguin, 2019 [2002]).
[xx] Thomas Grunwald, Gehirn und Gedudel: Warum die Fußball-Europameisterschaft das Leben verlängert, der Musikantenstadl aber nicht (Wien: Springer, 2008).; Heiner Mühlmann, Die Natur des Christentums (Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink, 2017).
[xxi] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1996).
[xxii] Carl von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege (Hamburg: Nikol, 2020).
[xxiii] Edward Luttwak, Le Paradoxe de la stratégie, (Paris: Odile Jacob, 1989).
[xxiv] Mühlmann, Nature of Cultures; Peter Turchin, Ultrasociety: How 10.000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth, (Chaplin: Beresta Books, 2016).
[xxv] Christine Gray, „The Use of Force and the International Legal Order,“ International Law (2018): 601-632.
[xxvi] Vgl. Eckard Michels, Fremdenlegion: Geschichte und Gegenwart einer einzigartigen militärischen Organisation (Freiburg/Basel/Wien: Herder, 2020), 384-390.
[xxvii] Jean Bodin, Les Six Livres de la République (Paris: Fayard, 1986).
[xxviii] Münkler, Welt in Aufruhr.
[xxix] See also Steven Pinker, Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (USA: Penguin Books, 2012).