The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

Steven Pinker

Language: English

Pages: 832

ISBN: 0143122010

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

A provocative history of violence—from the New York Times bestselling author of The Stuff of Thought and The Blank Slate

Believe it or not, today we may be living in the most peaceful moment in our species' existence. In his gripping and controversial new work, New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows that despite the ceaseless news about war, crime, and terrorism, violence has actually been in decline over long stretches of history. Exploding myths about humankind's inherent violence and the curse of modernity, this ambitious book continues Pinker's exploration of the essence of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly enlightened world.











other, Kant argued, for two reasons. One is that a democracy is a form of government that by design (“having sprung from the pure source of the concept of law”) is built around nonviolence. A demo­ cratic government wields its power only to safeguard the rights of its citizens. Democracies, Kant reasoned, are apt to externalize this principle to their deal­ ings with other nations, who are no more deserving of domination by force than are their own citizens. More important, democracies tend to

avoid wars because the benefits of war go to a country’s leaders whereas the costs are paid by its citizens. In an autocracy “a declaration of war is the easiest thing in the world to decide upon, because war does not require of the ruler, who is the proprietor and not a member of the state, the least sacrifice of the pleasures of his table, the chase, his country houses, his court functions, and the like. He may, therefore, resolve on war as on a pleasure party for the most trivial reasons.” But

other to avoid being shot first. This paradox is sometimes called the Hobbesian trap or, in the arena of international relations, the security dilemma.8 How can intelligent agents extricate themselves from a Hobbesian trap? The most obvious way is through a policy of deterrence: Don’t strike first; be strong enough to survive a first strike; and retaliate against any aggressor in kind. A credible deterrence policy can remove a competitor’s incentive to invade for gain, since the cost imposed on

resulting contraction of empathy for groups perceived to be outsiders, particularly the Jews. It would be a stretch THE CIVILIZING PROCESS 79 to say that he rescued his theory with these analyses, but perhaps he shouldn’t have tried. The horrors of the Nazi era did not consist in an upsurge in feud­ ing among warlords or of citizens stabbing each other over the dinner table, but in violence whose scale, nature, and causes are altogether different. In fact in Germany during the Nazi years the

these bigger and smarter police forces actually drive down crime? Research on this question is the usual social science rat’s nest of confounded 124 THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE variables, but the big picture suggests that the answer is “yes, in part,” even if we can’t pinpoint which of the innovations did the trick. Not only do several analyses suggest that something in the new policing reduced crime, but the jurisdiction that spent the most effort in perfecting its police, New York City,

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