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Regality theory

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Regality theory describes how war and other collective dangers have a profound influence on the psychological disposition of people, and how this in turn influences the structure and cultural values of a society. People who experience war or perceive that their social group is in danger will develop a psychological response called regal. This includes authoritarianism, intolerance, xenophobia, and punitiveness. The opposite of the regal psychological response is called kungic. The kungic psychology typically includes tolerance and peacefulness.

The regal–kungic dimension is applied not only to the psychology of individuals but also to the whole society. The psychological reactions of the members of a society are influencing the social structure and mentality of the whole society. Thus, a society marked by perceived collective danger will develop in the regal direction, while a society in safe and peaceful surroundings will develop in the kungic direction. Typical characteristics of regal and kungic societies are summarized in the following table.

Regal society Kungic society
The world is seen as full of dangers and enemies The world is seen as peaceful and safe with little or no distinction between us and them
A hierarchical political system with a strong leader A flat and egalitarian political system
Strong feelings of national or tribal identity High individualism
Strict discipline and punishment of deviants Lax discipline and high tolerance of deviants
Xenophobia Tolerance of foreigners
Belief that individuals exist for the benefit of society Belief that society exists for the benefit of individuals
Strict religion Religion has little or no disciplining power
Strict sexual morals High sexual freedom
High birth rate Low birth rate
Low parental investment, i.e. short childhood and low education Long childhood and education
Art and music is perfectionist, highly embellished, and follows specific schemes Art and music express individual fantasy with appreciation of individuality and innovativeness

Societies can be placed on a continuous scale from the extremely regal to the extremely kungic, where most societies are found somewhere near the middle of this scale, according to regality theory. [1]

Theoretical background[edit]

Regality theory is based on evolutionary psychology and evolutionary game theory. A person perceiving that his or her social group is in danger will show a psychological preference for having a strong leader because this helps solve the collective action problem of fighting for the group.

Explaining why people are willing to sacrifice themselves for the benefit or their group in war is a long-standing problem in evolutionary theory. Many explanations have been proposed, including kin selection, group selection, sexual selection, altruistic punishment, reputation, benefitting from the spoils of war, wife capture, and cultural group selection.[2]

It has been argued that the abovementioned effects are too weak to compensate for the severe risks that individual warriors are running, and that most of the benefits of war are going to whole group while the costs are carried mostly by the individual fighters. Considerable rewards and punishments are needed to compensate warriors for the risks of death or injury and for making free riding less attractive than fighting. Regality theory posits that significant rewards are needed for making warriors fight to the best of their abilities, while a system based only on the punishment of defectors will make warriors deliver mediocre performances.

A strong leader can solve the collective action problem by rewarding brave warriors and punishing cowards and defectors. The leader has the ressources to deliver the necessary rewards and punishments, and he also has the motivation because he has more at stake than his followers. If enough members of the tribe or social group desire a strong leader then they will get a strong leader and a hierarchical society. The leader can coerce everybody to fight including any minority that do not support him. The individual member will benefit from the collective fighting and from the suppression of free riders by supporting a strong leader. Therefore, the psychological tendency to support a strong leader in times of collective danger is an evolutionarily stable strategy.

While having a strong leader is an advantage in situations of war and collective danger, it is a disadvantage in times of peace and security. A tyrannical leader can take advantage of everybody else and monopolize common resources. Therefore, we will not expect people to support a strong leader when they experience collective security. Regality theory maintains that humans have a flexible psychology, showing preference for a strong leader when they perceive collective danger, while they prefer an egalitarian social structure under collective safety. The joined actions of many individuals showing preferences either for a strong leader or for an egalitarian organization has emergent effects on the structure and organization of the whole society.

This theory is supported by extensive statistical studies of both ancient and contemporary societies.[1]


Regality theory has its origin in a theory of a cultural analogy to biological r/K selection, where an r-culture allocates many resources to spreading the same culture, while a k-culture has higher priority on satisfying the needs of its adherents. An r-culture was named regal while a k-culture was named kalyptic. The latter term has later been changed to kungic after the ǃKung people.[1] This theory has also been called cultural r/k theory or cultural r/k selection.[3] [4]

The original theory assumed that the psychological reactions to collective threats are adaptive, but the coupling between biological and cultural selection was described only in general terms of gene/culture coevolution and vicarious selection, without proposing any detailed mechanism.[4] Several other scientists have later proposed independently that the psychological preference for a strong leader in times of crisis has an adaptive function, without going into much detail about why this response would be adaptive.[5] [6] [7] [8] A subsequent study argues that leadership can help solve collective action problems in intergroup conflict by means of rewards and punishments.[9]

The current version of regality theory has more focus on evolved psychological response patterns and emergent effects and less on cultural selection.[1]

Cultural effects of regality[edit]

Societies engaged in war need a strong political leadership, organization, and discipline. These are characteristic traits of regal societies. Other typical signs are the ideology, philosophy, and religion which are developed in directions that strengthen the morale and fighting spirit of regal societies. More surprising is perhaps the observation that cultural traits and artistic tastes often reflect differences in regality. People prefer psychological congruence between their art and the social structure they experience. For example, regal societies have often produced grandiose and majestic art and architecture designed to exalt political or religious authorities, such as large and luxuriously decorated castles and cathedrals. Kungic societies, on the other hand, tend to prefer styles of art that are less perfectionist and rule-bound, and more expressive of individual fantasy and creative innovation. These stylistic differences between regal and kungic cultural products are also seen in music, poetry, novels, theatre, dance, and other forms of art.[3]

Regality theory as an alternative to authoritarian personality theory[edit]

The psychological reactions that are identified as regal according to regality theory are very similar to the traits that have traditionally been identified with the authoritarian personality. This includes submission to authorities, a need for order and discipline, and aggression towards minority groups. Later research on the authoritarian personality make a distinction between two kinds of authoritarianism based on social cognition. A view of the world as a dangerous place leads to a personality trait called right-wing authoritarianism, while the perception of the world as a competitive dog-eat-dog jungle leads to social dominance orientation. Both of these traits involve authoritarian political attitudes and prejudice towards outgroups and minorities.[10][11]

The perception of collective danger in regality theory is very similar to the view of the world as a dangerous place in the theory of right-wing authoritarianism, and the described psychological effects are also very similar. The two theories are obviously looking at the same phenomenon based on two different paradigms. The advantage of regality theory is that it provides a deeper level of causal analysis and avoids the political bias that critics of authoritarianism theory have often pointed out.[1]

Explaining the rise and fall of empires[edit]

Regality theory aligns very well with the cliodynamics theory of Peter Turchin and his coworkers. Turchin has analyzed the historical rise and fall of empires and identified some important mechanisms that drive the dynamics of these changes. The growth of a civilization requires a force called asabiya which is described as group solidarity, loyalty, and military strength. The asabiya is likely to grow in a conflict zone between culturally different peoples, such as a frontier between farmers and nomadic pastoralists, according to Turchin.[12] This theory has made important contributions to our understanding of the growth of empires, but critics argue that the concept of asabiya is poorly defined and it is not clear how it is generated.[13]

The asabiya in Turchin's theory is very similar to the concept of regality. It is argued that the theoretical insight in the growth and fall of empires can be improved by replacing the poorly defined concept of asabiya by regality. The regality that is generated in a conflict zone can under favorable conditions make social groups expand and grow into city states, kingdoms, and finally large empires. This process is driven by a self-amplifying cycle involving sedentary living, efficient food production, growing population density, growing social stratification and centralization, improved military technology, and violent territorial expansion.[12][1]

An empire will start to lose its asabiya or regality when it stops growing due to logistic, economic, or geographic limitations. The population will lose interest in wars that take place at distant borders, while internal conflicts begin to dominate. The empire is weakened by increased competition within a growing elite, combined with economic collapse, poverty, rebellion, and external pressure. Large parts of the population may die from war, famine, and disease epidemics. The survivors inherit the wealth of their deceased relatives, and a new cycle of prosperity and growth begins. Each cycle of growth and decline has typically taken hundreds of years until the empire has collapsed completely after several such cycles.[14]

Political manipulation of regality[edit]

Some of the most powerful emperors in history have had hundreds of children. Evidently, there is a huge advantage in terms of Darwinian fitness to being on top of the political hierarchy. The more regal the society, the more power and fitness does the top leader have. We can therefore expect political leaders and aspiring leaders to have an egoistic interest in making the society more regal and hierarchical. Regality theory implicates that leaders and potential leaders may try to influence the culture in the regal direction because of the fitness advantage it gives them at the cost of their followers. They may do this by fighting unnecessary wars, by escalating conflicts, by provoking inferior enemies to attack, by exaggerating the dangerousness of terrorists or other enemies, by whipping up moral panics over minor dangers, by fabricating fictitious dangers such as devils and witches, and by deceiving their population by staging false flag attacks.

Obviously, powerful leaders of the past who have used such strategies had no knowledge of regality theory, but they may have learned from history that these strategies work. There is evidence that some influential politicians and military strategists in various countries have deliberately fabricated political violence and chaos in order to foster support for the military and for a more authoritarian rule. This has been called the strategy of tension.[15] Evolutionary psychology does not require that people understand the effect of what they are doing as long as there is a heritable component in the behavioral pattern that increases their fitness.

The following motives have been identified in a collection of historical examples of the fabrication or exaggeration of collective danger:[1]

  • To create psychological support for a planned war
  • To pave the way for a transition to a less democratic form of government
  • To consolidate a government when its power is dwindling
  • To defame an enemy by blaming an attack on them

Exaggeration of dangers can happen for a number of reasons other than attempts to consolidate power. Commercial mass media have an economic interest in exaggerating dangers in order to attract readers, listeners, or viewers. This has given rise to the so-called mean world syndrome with profound effects on the social and psychological climate, even if this effect is unintended.[16]

Applications of regality theory[edit]

Regality theory highlights some significant relationships between many different aspects of social organization and culture. This gives rise to many different applications of the theory. Proposed and actual applications of the theory include studies of how social hierarchies and political climates are influenced by conflicts and dangers as well as by fearmongering in the mass media. This can also be useful in conflict and peace research to study the factors that contribute to war-making or peacebuilding.

The theory has been used in terrorism research to understand social factors and effects of terrorism.[17] Regality theory is also useful in archaeology to extract information about past societies based on their artifacts and to understand sampling bias.[18]


Regality theory has mostly been well received and considered useful for studies of a number of different topics.[19] A review argues that some of the statistical analyses that were presented to support regality theory fail to consider the monopolization of resources as a possible independent variable contributing to economic inequality. The same review argues that collective fighting does not always involve a collective action problem according to certain theories.[20] The author has replied to this criticism in a commentary.[21] Another debate centers on the question of whether China fits the theory.[22]

See also[edit]

  • Authoritarianism
  • Authoritarian personality
  • Cliodynamics
  • Competitive exclusion principle
  • Cultural evolution
  • Cultural selection
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Male warrior hypothesis
  • Obligate vs. facultative adaptations
  • Realistic conflict theory
  • Right-wing authoritarianism
  • Social change
  • Social cycle theory
  • World-system


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Fog, Agner (2017). Warlike and Peaceful Societies: The Interaction of Genes and Culture. Open Book Publishers. doi:10.11647/OBP.0128. ISBN 978-1-78374-403-9. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  2. Van der Dennen, Johan M. G. (1995). The Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy. Origin Press. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  3. 3.0 3.1 Fog, Agner (1999). Cultural Selection. Kluwer. ISBN 978-94-015-9251-2. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  4. 4.0 4.1 Fog, Agner (1997). "Cultural r/k Selection". Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission. 1 (1).
  5. Navarrete, C. David; et al. (2004). "Anxiety and Intergroup Bias: Terror Management or Coalitional Psychology?". Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. 7 (4): 370–397. doi:10.1177/1368430204046144.
  6. Van Vugt, Mark (2006). "Evolutionary origins of leadership and followership". Personality and Social Psychology Review. 10 (4): 354–371. CiteSeerX doi:10.1207/s15327957pspr1004_5. PMID 17201593.
  7. Hastings, Brad M.; Shaffer, Barbara (2008). "Authoritarianism. The Role of Threat, Evolutionary Psychology, and the Will to Power". Theory & Psychology. 18 (3): 423–440. doi:10.1177/0959354308089793.
  8. Kessler, Thomas; Cohrs, J. Christopher (2008). "The evolution of authoritarian processes: Fostering cooperation in large-scale groups". Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice. 12 (1): 73–84. doi:10.1037/1089-2699.12.1.73.
  9. Glowacki, Luke; von Rueden, Chris (2015). "Leadership Solves Collective Action Problems in Small-Scale Societies". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 370 (1683): 20150010. doi:10.1098/rstb.2015.0010. PMC 4633846. PMID 26503683.
  10. Duckitt, John; Sibley, Chris G. (2009). "A Dual-Process Motivational Model of Ideology, Politics, and Prejudice". Psychological Inquiry. 20 (2–3): 98–109.
  11. Perry, Ryan; Sibley, Chris G.; Duckitt, John (2013). "Dangerous and competitive worldviews: A meta-analysis of their associations with Social Dominance Orientation and Right-Wing Authoritarianism". Journal of Research in Personality. 47: 116–127.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Turchin, Peter (2007). War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires. Penguin. ISBN 9781101126912. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  13. Zhao, Dingxin (2006). "Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall by Peter Turchin". American Journal of Sociology. 12 (1): 203–310.
  14. Turchin, Peter; Nefedov, Sergey A. (2009). Secular Cycles. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691136967. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  15. Bull, Anna Cento (2007). Italian Neofascism: The Strategy of Tension and the Politics of Nonreconciliation. NY: Berghahn. ISBN 978-0-85745-174-3. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  16. Glassner, Barry (2010). The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things. Basic Books. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  17. Rominek, Melissa F. (2012). Suicide Terrorism And Indoctrination: A Comparison Of American And Pakistani Perspectives (Thesis). The Chicago School of Professional Psychology / ProQuest. Retrieved 2018-06-09.
  18. Fog, Agner (2006). "An Evolutionary Theory of Cultural Differentiation". Proceedings of the XV world conference of the International Union of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Scientists. Lisbon. pp. 31–34.
  19. Tyler, Tim (2011). Memetics: Memes and the Science of Cultural Evolution. Mersenne Publishing. ISBN 978-1461035268. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png Tylor, Tim (2014-03-02). "Cultural r/K selection". On Memetics. Retrieved 2018-09-27. Vidal, Clement (2014). The Beginning and the End: The Meaning of Life in a Cosmological Perspective. Springer. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png Finkelstein, Robert. "A Memetics Compendium" (PDF). Robotic Technology Inc. Retrieved 2018-09-27. Bloom, Howard (2013). The Mohammed Code: Why a Desert Prophet Wants You Dead. Feral House. ISBN 978-1627310369. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png Carment, David; Harvey, Frank P. (2001). Using Force to Prevent Ethnic Violence: An Evaluation of Theory and Evidence. Praeger. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png Blute, Marion (2010). Darwinian sociocultural evolution: Solutions to dilemmas in cultural and social theory. Cambridge University Press. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  20. Schaik, Carel P van (2018). "What's war got to do with it?". Adaptive Behavior. 26 (1–2): 177–178. doi:10.1177/1059712318771975.
  21. Fog, Agner (August 2018). "About warlike and peaceful societies". Adaptive Behavior. 26 (4): 179–180. doi:10.1177/1059712318787476.
  22. Zarncke, Gunnar. "Regal vs Kalyptic Society". WikiWikiWeb. Retrieved 2018-09-27.

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