Wednesday, November 27, 2013

State Power and Violence

The theme of my latest Harari lecture was the remarkable decrease in violence the world has seen in the last several decades. People today are more likely to die by suicide or in car accidents than from interpersonal or state violence. Several hundred years ago, about 400 of every 100,000 people would die by violence at the hands of others every year. Even in Detroit, the US murder capital, the figure today is about 50/100,000 and in Western Europe, Japan, and Australia it is only 1/100,000. The global average is 9/100,000 but most of those deaths are concentrated in a few violent regions.

The huge decline has occurred in two categories: interpersonal violence and interstate violence (wars). The decline in interpersonal violence has come about as a result of increased state power. Large and well-equipped police forces suppress both violence and many of its provocations.

Harari attributes the decrease in interstate violence largely to the historically unusually peaceful fall of the great European empires. Most empires throughout history have ended in spasms of chaotic war and violence as the empire fought to preserve itself and others fought for the scraps. Thae Soviet Empire was particularly notable in this respect. As Harari put it, the Soviet elite simply concluded that Communism didn't work and decided to dismantle it.