On violence in history

Philip Dwyer, Mark S. Micale

Research output: Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook


Is global violence on the decline? Scholars argue that Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker's proposal that violence has declined dramatically over time is flawed. This highly-publicized argument that human violence across the world has been dramatically abating continues to influence discourse among academics and the general public alike. In this provocative volume, a cast of eminent historians interrogate Pinker's thesis by exposing the realities of violence throughout human history. In doing so, they reveal the history of human violence to be richer, more thought-provoking, and considerably more complicated than Pinker claims. From the introduction: Not all of the scholars included in this volume agree on everything, but the overall verdict is that Pinker's thesis, for all the stimulus it may have given to discussions around violence, is seriously, if not fatally, flawed.The problems that come up time and again are the failure to genuinely engage with historical methodologies; the unquestioning use of dubious sources; the tendency to exaggerate the violence of the past in order to contrast it with the supposed peacefulness of the modern era; the creation of a number of straw men, which Pinker then goes on to debunk; and its extraordinarily Western-centric, not to say Whiggish, view of the world. Complex historical questions, as the essays in this volume clearly demonstrate, cannot be answered with any degree of certainty, and certainly not in a simplistic way. Our goal here is not to offer a final, definitive verdict on Pinker's work; it is, rather, to initiate an ongoing process of assessment that in the future will incorporate as much of the history profession as possible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherBerghahn Books
Number of pages147
ISBN (Electronic)9781789204667
ISBN (Print)9781789204643
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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