ISBN: 978-1-107-47949-4

Matthew Evangelista

Cornell University

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Siniša Malešević has written a wide-ranging and compelling overview of organized violence. It combines a macrohistorical approach, comparing violence from the time humans were nomadic foragers up to the present, with an explanation of mechanisms of ’microsolidarity’ that allow people to overcome inherent inhibitions against killing fellow human beings. The book is in part a critique of scholars such as Joshua Goldstein and Steven Pinker, who argue that there has been a dramatic reduction in armed conflict (Goldstein) and violence of all kinds (Pinker) over the span of human existence, especially, as Pinker in particular emphasizes, with the advent of ’modernity’ and the spread of Enlightenment values. Along with Michael Mann, Pasquale Cirillo, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and others, Malešević criticizes Pinker’s calculations, and particularly his practice of dividing episodes of major violence by world population – making the world wars of the 20th century rank well below conflicts and massacres of centuries past. More fundamentally, the author disagrees with Pinker’s assessment of modernity and the latter’s attraction to Norbert Elias and his notion of the ’civilizing process’ that transformed ’medieval barbarity’ into increasingly peaceful modern life. Instead, Malešević finds modernity’s organizational capacity, technological capabilities, and ideological diversity the main sources of an increase in the intensity and transformation of violence over time. He brings a wide range of theories and authors (among them, Foucault, Galtung, Mann, Weber) to bear to make his case, covering topics from revolution, terrorism, and genocide to surveillance and the carceral state. Although one might quibble with the author’s overly broad definition of violence, The Rise of Organised Brutality is a valuable and erudite contribution to a lively and important debate.