Looking at history, it feels like countries/civilizations have historically had to have enemies. Sometimes the enemies are real, other times they're imagined, but there always must be an "enemy" (Jews, Muslims, immigrants, etc.) to blame one's problems on.

Has there ever been a civilization which didn't have human enemies? A Google search lands on this New Scientist page which suggests that the Indus Valley Civilization didn't have external enemies, but the Wikipedia article indicates that it probably had internal enemies:

Around 1900 BCE signs of a gradual decline began to emerge, and by around 1700 BCE most of the cities had been abandoned. Recent examination of human skeletons from the site of Harappa has demonstrated that the end of the Indus civilisation saw an increase in inter-personal violence and in infectious diseases like leprosy and tuberculosis.

(emphasis mine)

  • I think this needs a clearer definition of what constitutes an "enemy" in this context. For example, someone who wants to destroy the civilization would probably be included, but what about someone who simply wants to change the civilization (a new form of government or religion perhaps)? What about someone who simply doesn't want to obey the laws (criminals of all types)?
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 13:11
  • @SteveBird "enemy" is, as the question says, some group which you blame your problems on.
    – Allure
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 13:19
  • If your definition of an "enemy" is as broad as "some group which you blame your problems on", then any sufficiently large human population (especially one large enough to be considered a civilization) will have factions who blame each other for whatever's considered to be wrong with their corner of the world. So the answer is trivially no. Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 14:04
  • @KillingTime you should write that as answer.
    – Allure
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 14:38
  • Also, define "civilization". Are the Swiss a "civilization"? Do they have any human "enemy"?
    – user54367
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 1:19

2 Answers 2


No. That's wishful thinking.

Humans can be pretty violent, to put it mildly. Population pressure will automatically create violence. Productive sites that are relatively save in isolation are rare. Once the most productive real estate is taken there are plenty of younger tribesman who have to move out or take it over. If that doesn't happen, it means your tribe is dying out ...

The only civilization that I can think of is Egypt, but even they were invaded occasionally. Much less than other societies, that's one of the reasons why it lasted that long.

It's a topic discussed in much more detail in Guns, Germs and Steel. In fact, every tribal society lives in constant fear for its life. Every person they meet is a potential enemy. He may not kill you, but you have to be prepared if he does. Going to bed can be dangerous, a neighboring tribe might plan a raid while you sleep.

You may or may not like it, but the only society where you have fewer human enemies than ever before in history is modern western society.

  • Double upvote for the last paragraph - insightful.
    – MCW
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 10:43
  • 1
    FWIW, warfare, along with the occasional murder, seems to be a behavior our species shares with our closest animal relatives, the chimpanzees. Its in our nature. Chalk one up for St. Augustine's concept of Original Sin.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 12:51
  • 1
    I seriously doubt that last paragraph, given the population explosion of today. I'm sure there are many millions of people who shake their fist at the West.
    – cmw
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 13:52
  • @cmw well, if we take it in the context of violence (i.e. "enemy" == "person who will use violence against you", not just "anyone who dislikes you") - it might be correct. It is one thing to express dislike or even hatred, and another - to act on it. It would be nice, though, if this statement would be supported with statistic data on interpersonal violence (in EU, for example). Even nicer would be a comparison between the trends in developed, developing and undeveloped countries. Commented Aug 3, 2023 at 3:53
  • @DanilaSmirnov It doesn't take a formal act of war to have enemies, but I was thinking of it more as a raw number, rather than a percentage. China might not yet be the US's enemy, but they're more in that direction now than they were in 1973. NK alone has some 8 million more people than 40 years ago. I think Jos is correct if he is thinking about the percentages of the whole, but not necessarily raw numbers. (That might be too pedantic of an argument to hold, though.)
    – cmw
    Commented Aug 3, 2023 at 4:06

Define "enemy"; enemies are those who are hostile to our agenda. There has never been and never will be a society that doesn't disagree about internal divisions of power and privilege, or about resource utilization. Even if the society is totally isolated from external neighbors, there will be internal divisions about how power and privilege are distributed (until you find a way to organize society so that everyone is superior to everyone else; not just equal, but superior). There will always be resource conflicts; there is always a limiting resource, land, water, food, etc. and there will always be disagreements about how limited resources are used.

And even if those are somehow perfectly balanced, there will be Helen of Troy - either conflicts over partners, or else conflicts introduced by ineffable external powers.

"society" and "enemy" are a bit like Yin and Yang; it isn't possible to conceive of one without defining the other.

but there always must be an "enemy" (Jews, Muslims, immigrants, etc.) to blame one's problems on.

Because throughout history, not a single human being has ever been to blame for their own problems. Adam wasn't responsible for eating the apple, he was merely following orders....

Not entirely sure why it is necessary to specify "human" enemies....

Aside: big hat tip to @jos, for pointing out that modernity is perhaps the closest you'll come, for reasons (at least partially )addressed in ACOUP, and IIRC Pinker

  • thank you for the compliment.
    – Jos
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 11:18

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