Fluctuations in the Intensity of War

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Joshua Goldstein:

"Wright (1942:227) studies "fluctuations in the intensity of war" and concludes that "There appears to have been a tendency in the last three centuries for concentrations of warfare to occur in approximately fifty-year oscillations, each alternating period of concentration being more severe" (p. 227). Wright defines these concentrations as follows:

  • War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14)
  • Concentration of wars around the Seven Years' War (1756–63)
  • Napoleonic wars (1795–1815)
  • Concentration of wars around 1853–715
  • The World War (1914–18, renewed in 1939)

He concludes that "in the modern period of world-civilization fluctuations of war and peace have tended to become stabilized at about fifty years" (p. 378). These fifty-year concentrations of war are synchronous with Kondratieff's long waves.


Wright is not explicit about any longer-term cycles and does not elaborate on the alternation of more severe and less severe war recurrences (which, as Toynbee argues, form a one-hundred-year cycle). Wright does, however, delineate four long-term periods (about 150 years) that define the stages of development of military technology in Europe:

  • 1450–1648: Experimental adaptation of firearms and religious wars
  • 1648–1789: Professional armies and dynastic wars
  • 1789–1914: Industrialization and nationalist wars
  • 1914–: The airplane and totalitarian war"