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The Decline of Violence

Be skeptical of claims that we live in an ever more dangerous world
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ON JULY 22, 2011, a 32-year old Norwegian named Anders Behring Breivik opened fire on participants in a Labour Party youth camp on the island of Utoya after exploding a bomb in Oslo, resulting in 77 dead, the worst tragedy in Norway since World War II.

English philosopher Thomas Hobbes famously argued in his 1651 book, Leviathan, that such acts of violence would be commonplace without a strong state to enforce the rule of law. But aren’t they? What about 9/11 and 7/7, Auschwitz and Rwanda, Columbine and Fort Hood? What about all the murders, rapes and child molestation cases we hear about so often? Can anyone seriously argue that violence is in decline? They can, and they do—and they have data, compellingly compiled in a massive 832-page tome by Harvard University social scientist Steven Pinker entitled The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Viking, 2011). The problem with anecdotes about single events is that they obscure long-term trends. Breivik and his ilk make front-page news for the very reason that they are now unusual. It was not always so. (continue reading…)

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