Thursday, December 29, 2011

The state and violence

Tim Snyder has an interesting takedown of Steven Pinker's new "violence" book. Interesting b/c it's not just a snarkfest (easy to do w/ Pinker). A taste:
Pinker believes that people are more pacific when they have the time and the occasion to repeat interactions and reconsider their actions. Yet he has trouble ­acknowledging that, according to his own story, the one and only agent that can create that sort of cushioned society with educated minds and spare time has been the functional welfare state. This refusal seems rooted in Pinker's commitment to free-market libertarianism. His book's vision of a coming age of peace is a good example of how two trends favoring political passivity -- the narcissistic discursiveness of the American left and the antistate prejudices of the American right -- conspire in the same delusion: that while we talk, talk, talk, markets do the work of history. Unlike the Enlightenment thinkers he lauds, Pinker fails to see that the state is not simply, as he puts it, "an exogenous first domino" that fell long ago, beginning a chain of events but remaining motionless itself. L'état, c'est nous: the state is what we do, how we vote, the military service we do or do not perform, the taxes we do or do not pay, the federal grants that we do or do not apply for.
Worth a look.

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