This article finds Steven Pinker’s argument for a decline of violence too Eurocentric
and generalizing to fit all cases. Study of the early modern Russian criminal law, and
society in general, shows that different states can develop radically different approaches to
violence when influenced by some of the same factors (in this case Enlightenment values).
The centralized Muscovite autocracy in many ways relied less on official violence and exerted
better control over social violence than did early modern Europe, while at the same
time it supported violence in institutions such as serfdom, exile, and aspects of imperial
governance. Violence in the form of capital punishment declined but many aspects of social
and official violence endured. Such a differentiated approach is explained by the state’s
need to mobilize scarce human and material resources to survive and expand.