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Keywords:

  • civil war;
  • climate;
  • collectivism-individualism;
  • imperialism;
  • infectious disease;
  • intrastate armed conflict;
  • national wealth;
  • pathogens;
  • parasites

Geographic and cross-national variation in the frequency of intrastate armed conflict and civil war is a subject of great interest. Previous theory on this variation has focused on the influence on human behaviour of climate, resource competition, national wealth, and cultural characteristics. We present the parasite-stress model of intrastate conflict, which unites previous work on the correlates of intrastate conflict by linking frequency of the outbreak of such conflict, including civil war, to the intensity of infectious disease across countries of the world. High intensity of infectious disease leads to the emergence of xenophobic and ethnocentric cultural norms. These cultures suffer greater poverty and deprivation due to the morbidity and mortality caused by disease, and as a result of decreased investment in public health and welfare. Resource competition among xenophobic and ethnocentric groups within a nation leads to increased frequency of civil war. We present support for the parasite-stress model with regression analyses. We find support for a direct effect of infectious disease on intrastate armed conflict, and support for an indirect effect of infectious disease on the incidence of civil war via its negative effect on national wealth. We consider the entanglements of feedback of conflict into further reduced wealth and increased incidence of disease, and discuss implications for international warfare and global patterns of wealth and imperialism.