Is War Declining - and Why?

WarriorCredit: Curaphotography: DreamstimeBritish philosopher Thomas Hobbes asserted in his 1651 book, Leviathan that “it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man.” So in order to obtain peace and security people form a social contract in which they surrender some of their natural liberty to "a common power to keep them all in awe.” And it fact, the modern anthropological literature does show that violence is endemic in pre-state societies. People living outside of states are in fact engaged in a war of every man against every man.

The good news is that the evidence for the declining trend in the mortality rate from violence continues to accumulate. The headline of this post is the title of a new article by University of Tel Aviv political scientist Azar Gat in the journal Peace Research. Gat's review of the recent literature finds:

...that claims a sharp decrease in fighting and violent mortality rate since prehistory and during recent times. It also inquires into the causes of this decrease. The article supports the view, firmly established over the past 15 years and unrecognized by only one of the books reviewed, that the first massive decline in violent mortality occurred with the emergence of the state-Leviathan. Hobbes was right, and Rousseau was wrong, about the great violence of the human state of nature. The rise of the state-Leviathan greatly reduced in-group violent mortality by establishing internal peace. Less recognized, it also decreased out-group war fatalities. Although state wars appear large in absolute terms, large states actually meant lower mobilization rates and reduced exposure of the civilian population to war. A second major step in the decline in the frequency and fatality of war has occurred over the last two centuries, including in recent decades. However, the exact periodization of, and the reasons for, the decline are a matter of dispute among the authors reviewed. Further, the two World Wars constitute a sharp divergence from the trend, which must be accounted for. The article surveys possible factors behind the decrease, such as industrialization and rocketing economic growth, commercial interdependence, the liberal-democratic peace, social attitude change, nuclear deterrence, and UN peacekeeping forces. It argues that contrary to the claim of some of the authors reviewed, war has not become more lethal and destructive over the past two centuries, and thus this factor cannot be the cause of war's decline. Rather, it is peace that has become more profitable.(emphasis added) At the same time, the specter of war continues to haunt the parts of the world less affected by many of the above developments, and the threat of unconventional terror is real and troubling.

In his new book, Human Capitalism, Cato Institute senior fellow Brink Lindsey notes:

Contrary to romantic fantasies about noble savages, the evidence now suggests that intergroup interaction in the prehistoric era was unremittingly violent. According to anthropologist Lawrence Keeley, about 0.5 percent of the population died every year from warfare. To put that modest-sounding figure in perspective, consider the fact that about one hundred million people died in the bloody wars of the twentieth century. Had the prehistoric mortality rate still prevailed, however, the death toll would have been two billion!

Although Lindsey's 100 million killed in the 20th century may be an undercount, even doubling it shows a considerable decline in the rate of violent deaths. The fact that you are less likely to die a violent death today than at any other time in human history and that violence has been declining for centuries was also reported by Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker in his book. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Go here to see my interview with Pinker.

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  • Hugh Akston||

    Rule of Acquisition #35: Peace is Good For Business.

  • Goldwyn Smith||

    In AD 2101 War was Beginning.

  • Hollywood||

    “It makes no difference what men think of war. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.”

  • Irish||

    Men are born for games . . . Games of chance require a wager to have meaning at all. Games of sport involve the skill and strength of the opponents and the humiliation of defeat and the pride of victory are in themselves sufficient stake because they inhere in the worth of the principals and define them. But trial of chance or trial of worth all games aspire to the condition of war for here that which is wagered swallows up game, player, all.

  • Ashlyn||

    This is the nature of war, whose stake is at once the game and the authority and the justification. Seen so, war is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one's will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence.War is god.

  • ||

    As long as they're are women to love and conquer there will be war.

  • Harvard||

    I've never heard John McCain described in those terms before.

  • RyanXXX||

    You're crazy Holden. Crazy at last.

  • LynchPin1477||

    UN peacekeeping forces

    LOL

  • prolefeed||

    People living outside of states are in fact engaged in a war of every man against every man.

    So the hypothesis is that the group responsible for the single largest cause of contempory violent death -- states waging wars -- is really the cause of the reduction in overall violence?

    Maybe an alternative hypothesis fits the facts better -- the wealth generated by peaceful trading and technological advances leads to less violence?

  • LynchPin1477||

    As well as increasing respect for the life and rights of others, regardless of what group they belong to.

  • prolefeed||

    That is, perhaps the organized criminal gangs known as the state are a parasitical, violence-causing entity that has attached itself to, and grown with, the rise in trading and technological advances?

    And that the thesis is like claiming that a starving person who suddenly gets adequate nourishment, and thus can feed an exploding load of intestinal parasites, got better because of the parasites instead of the food?

  • Ron Bailey||

  • Tony||

    States waging wars is not the leading cause of violent death in the modern world (war accounts for only about 10% of violent death). And you can't have functioning markets without states.

    This is an extremely important point, you know. Libertarians need to be honest enough to acknowledge that their values system necessitates a more dangerous world. You can't get by with hand waving bullcrap such as "We'll be individually more free, yet also more peaceful to each other." It just doesn't work that way.

  • Irish||

    This is an extremely important point, you know. Libertarians need to be honest enough to acknowledge that their values system necessitates a more dangerous world. You can't get by with hand waving bullcrap such as "We'll be individually more free, yet also more peaceful to each other." It just doesn't work that way.

    You have a disgusting and depraved view of human nature, Tony. Maybe without state coercion you'd go around murdering people, but thank God most people aren't Tony-level sociopaths.

    I'd also love to hear how this argument is any different than idiotic fundamentalist religious people claiming that 'Without God, everyone would kill everyone else because we'd have no morals.' It's the same argument. You're nothing but a power worshiping religious adherent who exchanged the power of God for the power of government.

    States waging wars is not the leading cause of violent death in the modern world (war accounts for only about 10% of violent death). And you can't have functioning markets without states.

    Citation? And how much of the other 90% is states murdering people? If a state just butchers its own people, it wouldn't count as war.

    And what are you defining as a 'violent death?' Do car accidents count?

  • ZackTheHypochondriac||

    irish “You have a disgusting and depraved view of human nature, Tony. Maybe without state coercion you'd go around murdering people, but thank God most people aren't Tony-level sociopaths.”

    Umm did you read the article? The evidence is that Tony is right and without state coercion there is much more violence.

  • Tony||

    Not everyone has to be a psychopath for human society to break down in the absence of law and order. Just a small number of people, added to the regular people who will take advantage of the situation for perfectly rational reasons. Are you suggesting that the existence of the state makes more psychopaths? Or do they merely not get away with violence as much, you know, because of law and order? You're doing exactly what I said you'd do: claim, absurdly, that people would be more respectful of others' rights in the absence of the state. Makes no sense at all.

    Yeah I think the stats include car accidents and suicides. We an quibble down until we only define violent death as what happens by the state, but let's just take the US, a relatively violent place both internationally and domestically. People die from being shot by other people illegally than by even our wars.

    The whole point of this article is that the evidence suggests that the overwhelming factor in reducing human violence is the presence of a state. I repeat, it's an important point because it contradicts libertarian presumptions.

  • sarcasmic||

    it's an important point because it contradicts libertarian presumptions.

    It only contradicts your straw man caricature of libertarian presumptions.

    Repeat after me: limited government does not mean no government.

    Allowing people to engage in economic activity without asking for permission and taking orders does not mean no government.

    Restricting acts defined as "criminal" only to acts that harm the life, liberty, or property of another person (that's how the existence of a state means less people within it being subject to violence from each other than without a state) does not mean no government.

    Restricting the military to defending against actual threats instead of being the world policeman does not mean no government.

    Recognizing that government is run by the very same flawed humans that you claim cannot be trusted to run their private affairs does not mean that there should be no government at all. Just that it should be limited.

    All your arguments against libertarian presumptions are based upon the premise that we want no government.

    Any argument, however logical, that is based upon a false premise is... you guessed it... a fallacy!

  • DJK||

    "People die from being shot by other people illegally than by even our wars".

    I think you're claiming more people are shot and killed in the us than in our wars. And this is a load of bullshit. There are 11k murders by firearm in the US each year. Using the lowest estimates, there were 110k deaths as a result of the Iraq War from 2003-2009. That means there were 77k murders by firearm in the US during the same time. 77

  • sarcasmic||

    I think you're claiming more people are shot and killed in the us than in our wars. And this is a load of bullshit.

    It was my understanding that more American civilians are murdered on the streets of Chicago than troops are killed overseas on the average day.

    Granted, that's the average day. That doesn't count invasions and major battles. But still, I think it's statistically safer to be a soldier than to live in a city with strict gun laws.

  • Tony||

    Chicago exists in a country with very weak gun laws, and there aren't gun checkpoints at state borders. But it's a real example of my point: in the name of even one specific personal liberty, you're willing to tolerate a rather huge level of violence.

    That'd be fine, a starting point, a mere difference in moral priorities. Until you throw in the hand-waving BS, such as the throwaway nonsense claim that tighter gun control is causal of increased gun violence. And it's clearly because you don't want to admit that your social priorities lead to more dead people. I'd respect you more if you just admitted it!

  • Dweebston||

    I assumed you only skim others' posts before replying, but I now suspect that you don't bother about your own before clicking submit, either.

    So it's Indiana's fault that Chicago, despite it's stringent gun controls, remains so badly afflicted? Rather than recognize ptohibition's failure on the municiple front, you'd prefer seeing to expanded up to the borders of Illinois? Of course, when that, too, fails abysmally, you'll return whinging for national registries and selective prohibitions.

  • Redmanfms||

    Why then does Houston, a city of approximate size to Chicago have much lower violent crime rates (to include gun crime)?

  • Tony||

    Why don't you tell me your theory.

    I was merely rejecting the claim that tighter gun laws cause more gun violence.

  • DJK||

    Here's the theory. Chicago is a major urban area. As such, it tends to have a greater number of people involved in the drug trade. One is most likely to be killed if they're involved in the drug trade. Thus, one is more likely to be killed in Chicago. Relax drug laws and you'd see the murder rate plummet.

  • Redmanfms||

    No you weren't, you were drawing a direct causal link between strictness of gun laws of prevalence of crime:

    Chicago exists in a country with very weak gun laws, and there aren't gun checkpoints at state borders.

    You're the one with the theory (that weak gun laws cause crime), the example of a nearly analogous city with much lower crime despite being in a state with much weaker gun laws damages the very premise of your argument.

    Why is why I posed the question you disingenuous twat.

  • DJK||

    How's this, Tony? There is absolutely no correlation between gun control and gun violence, at least not in the United States. Or is that claiming that gun control leads to more deaths?

  • DJK||

    Soldier, perhaps. Random person in a war zone? Not a chance.

  • Sam Grove||

    The existence of the state puts sociopathic personalities in charge, and as long as the people support them, the people will be relatively safe.

    The deaths of conquest always diminish after the conquest is complete.

  • sarcasmic||

    Hey moron. Limited government does not mean no government. Dipshit.

  • Tony||

    The point is you want to limit government to roughly the scope of governments that existed when the world was a much more chaotic and violent place. You may say I want more government, but only as a means to a safer, healthier, and happier place to live for human beings. Do you care about those things, or do you just pretend you're caring about them while you're fixated on one minor sliver of the spectrum of human well-being?

  • Redmanfms||

    Your point is itself based on a fallacy.

    You continue to claim, but have yet to prove, a causal relationship between powerful mega-states and a reduction in violence and war. Just because they exist coincidentally does not mean they are related.

    Using your idiot (il)logic I can claim that war and violence cannot exist without the state, therefore the state causes war and without the state there would be no war or violence and it would just as much sense as your moronic ramblings in this thread.

  • sarcasmic||

    The point is you want to limit government to roughly the scope of governments that existed when the world was a much more chaotic and violent place.

    Look up "non sequitur."

  • MJGreen||

    Nah. I disagree.

  • Brandybuck||

    It's called controlling your enemy. Institutionalizing violence into a government could theoretically lead to lesser overall violence. It's the Sheriff Trade-Off. Towns hire sheriffs not because they want more violence, but because they want less. That peaceful trading and technological advances occurred because they had hired some sheriffs.

  • Killazontherun||

    And then you think that given the choice, a robot or an escaped convict wanting a full pardon, the robot would make the better candidate for sheriff, only to come back a month later and find a gang of wasteland raiders have taken over the town's only casino. How could I have been so stoopid!

  • ZackTheHypochondriac||

    prolefeed “So the hypothesis is that the group responsible for the single largest cause of contempory violent death -- states waging wars -- is really the cause of the reduction in overall violence?”

    yes, the thing is, as bastiat would say, you’re only looking at the seen. We can see states cause wars and the horror that entails. What we don’t see is what level of violence that would permeate society without a state, which as this article suggests is much greater than when there is a state.

  • Cytotoxic||

    the wealth generated by peaceful trading and technological advances leads to less violence?

    The creation of the state created the peaceful conditions that lead to trading and tech advances. The nation-state is one of the greatest social advances for mankind. It is indispensable.

  • DJK||

    I don't know that I believe this. The state came about in a time when there was basically no development of ethical systems. We now have extremely highly-developed systems of ethics that do not presuppose a state. Why do we still need the state?

  • Tony||

    The world now sees history's most sophisticated system of law and order, a means of achieving social order roughly in line with popular ethics. Even in the most sophisticated governments, do people always get along ethically? Or are there still horrific crimes every day? How could that decrease by subtracting the institutions?

    Ethical systems that are enforceable (meaning people pay attention to them) absent a state are what we call churches. Sounds like a backslide to me.

  • DJK||

    Bullshit. Private defense contracts. God, it's like you've never even bothered to read up on these things. Page one of "Anarchy, State, and Utopia". Until you've gotten caught up, it's pointless to talk to you.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    One reason that war is less attractive than it used to be: People don't have as many kids. It's unusual, these days, for families to have more than one son. Parents don't want to see their one and only son go off to war. It would take an almost inconceivable crisis for the U.S. to consent to the draft armies of the past. Only a war with fission/fusion weapons could equal the body counts of WWI and WWII, because in such a war almost all the casualties would be civilians.

  • Sidd Finch||

    Another reason is that we're so far removed from Malthusian conditions that land isn't worth much.

  • mr lizard||

    SPARTANS!!!!!!!

  • ||

    I repeat.

    As long as they're are women to love and conquer there will be war.

  • ZackTheHypochondriac||

    What if we develop cyber women that are sexier and funner? And maybe a distribution program so that each man gets one, would this end war? If so we could justify the redistribution scheme by labeling it a national defense program(and thereby legitimate force to most libertarians).

  • sarcasmic||

    Cyber women, like any computer program, will only be as sexy or funny as the imagination of the person who wrote the program.

    I'll stick to the real thing than something imagined by dorks.

  • ZackTheHypochondriac||

    Even if the real thing leads to war, poverty, and disease? What if we make the program highly customizable/moddable, then you could pick the traits and features you like. We can do this!

  • Tony||

    You underestimate the imaginations of dorks.

  • Harvard||

    Your a dork and your cyber cooch would be a young boy, what the fuck do you know?

  • MJGreen||

    Wait, so what is this guy saying? He starts the abstract by attributing the decline to the "state-Leviathan," but ends the abstract by saying:

    The article surveys possible factors behind the decrease, such as industrialization and rocketing economic growth, commercial interdependence, the liberal-democratic peace, social attitude change, nuclear deterrence, and UN peacekeeping forces. ... the specter of war continues to haunt the parts of the world less affected by many of the above developments

    So... is it the pretty ordinary argument that industrialization, commerce, and liberal attitudes lead to a reduction in warfare? Or is it the state acting as centralized rule-maker and rule-enforcer? Because as we like to point out, there are plenty of strong nation-states in the world today with high rates of homicide.

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    As societies grow richer and more complex, war becomes less and less profitable. When nations consisted of small agrarian communities and city-states, it was commonplace to go to war simply to steal a neighbouring tribe's cattle. This was considered a profitable endeavor for the victors, and it provided a great incentive to go to war.
    War is much more expensive nowadays, and standards of living are so much greater, that looting a country just doesn't provide enough to make it worthwhile. So war requires greater justifications now, and as the costs of war rise further, and the benefits become relatively devalued, it's just gets harder and harder to stir up the population to support it.

  • sarcasmic||

    You mean more wealth is generated by trade than by plunder?

    I never!

  • Dweebston||

    Are some articles at reason awkwardly titled? And how!

  • WomSom||

    Over the hilsl and through the woods dude.

    www.GetYourAnon.tk

  • Sam Grove||

    Violence is higher under regimes that hew to a mercantilist line, violence decreases when freer trade becomes the norm.

    Discuss

  • Sam Grove||

    Maybe this: Those with warrior tendencies killed each other off increasing the proportion of "sheep" in the gene pool.

    Also, the rise of monogamy kept sociopathic types from producing excessive progeny.

  • Harvard||

    Tell this to the average welfare mom.

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