ISBN: 978-1-350-14059-2

Gordon Burt

Conflict Research Society (CRS)

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Steven Pinker claims that there has been a decline in violence. Seventeen historians see this as a false celebration of progress, typical of outdated Whig approaches to history. They follow a more modern approach, focusing on issues previously ignored and excluded. They discuss sexual violence, racial policing and environmental violence. They criticise Pinker's use of statistics, arguing that past times (prehistoric times, the Middle Ages) and other places (pre-Columbian Aztecs) were either not as violent as Pinker suggests or that there is insufficient evidence to say. The history of violence in Russia and Japan has not been like that in the West. Whereas Pinker focuses on the Enlightenment, key developments occurred both before and after that period. Pinker emphasises the overall trend, but there have been reversals of the trend. Pinker argues that progress has been caused by 'better angels', reason, science and humanism – but the authors challenge Pinker's historical accounts: of human rights and inequality; of Norbert Elias and the Civilising Process; and of the Enlightenment. Pinker's books are 'panegyrics to capitalism', denying that economic inequality is a form of violence. As a book about the history of violence, the Dwyer & Micale book provides a valuable, rich account. As a book about Pinker, it claims to be a 'refutation'. But: is Pinker so different from the authors? Are the authors not against progress as such – but rather seeking better progress? Is it a two-sided conflict between Pinker and the authors or is there a distribution of opinion? And is the debate helped by being so heated?