Thursday, August 9, 2007

A Less Violent World?

I had previously posted about Steve Pinker's fascinating article about how the world today is far less violent and far less cruel than in the past. According to Pinker, the "leading edge [of the decline in violence and cruelty] has been in Western societies, especially England and Holland, and there seems to have been a tipping point at the onset of the Age of Reason in the early seventeenth century."

The New York Times published a very interesting article this week about Gregory Clark, an economic historian at the University of California, Davis, who believes that the Industrial Revolution — the surge in economic growth that occurred first in England around 1800 — occurred because of a change in the nature of the human population.

I may blog about Clark's work in a separate post, but what I found most fascinating in the article was the graph above that confirms Pinker's assertion--that there was a sharp drop in violence beginning in the sixteenth century. Notably, this drop occurs before the industrial revolution that forms the focus of Davis's work.

So why did this drop in violence occur? In my view, one of the leading causes of the decline in violence and cruelty, and the end of such abhorrent practices as slavery, was the strong and prophetic voice of religious leaders. But the possibility of such a prophetical voice could only arise when religious institutions developed some degree of independence from the State, since before the Reformation, the Church was an Ally to the State. And such an independence in Western Europe only began after the Reformation. And the personal piety that arose from the Reformation may well have been a strong motivating factor in those who chose to be a prophetic voice.

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