Reputation as a common source of cooperation and violent conflict: The case of the noble feud in early modern Germany

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Abstract

Feuding was a near-universal phenomenon, and a classic topic of anthropology and sociology. This article focuses on feuding among nobles in early modern Germany. The German noble feud assumed characteristics that differentiated it from vendetta. It developed into a distinct institution in terms of its legal status, methods and social conditions. It presents a puzzle: most feuds punctuated ongoing relationships between people who were closely related and socially and economically interdependent. Nobles tended to feud against the very people from whose goodwill they had much to gain and from whose enmity much to lose. Examining it from an evolutionary perspective suggests an answer to a problem that traditional historical approaches have not convincingly explained. The article argues that the same dense web of ties that facilitated cooperation between nobles generated violent conflicts between them. Reputation played a crucial role in this environment. Feuds are best seen as mechanisms of costly signaling one's underlying qualities and commitment to aristocratic values.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)218-225
Number of pages8
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Volume41
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 May 2020

Keywords

  • Cooperation
  • Costly signaling
  • Feuding
  • Honor
  • Reputation
  • Violence

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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