The myth of declining violence: Liberal evolutionism and violent complexity

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The publication of Steven Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature popularized an emerging orthodoxy in political and social science – that is, that violence and warfare have been declining over the past century, particularly since the end of the Second World War. Invoking the scientific and political neutrality of their data and evidence, Pinker and other ‘declinists’ insist that powerful, liberal democratic states have subdued humans’ evolutionary disposition to violence. This article analyses the heuristic validity and political framework of these claims. The article examines, in particular, the declinists’ interpretation and use of demographic, archaeological, anthropological and historical evidence. The article argues that the declinists’ arguments are embedded in a utopian liberalism that has its own deep roots in the ‘cultural volition’ and history of human violence. The article concludes that the declinists have either misunderstood or misrepresented the evidence in order to promote their own neoliberal political interests and ideologies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-241
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Cultural Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018


  • cultural consciousness
  • declining violence
  • evolution
  • violent complexity
  • violent liberalism
  • war epidemiology

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