In Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, there is a before and an after.
Before the Enlightenment, the world was superstitious, cruel, and violent; after the Enlightenment,
the world was rational and more peaceful. Pinker thus reduces violence to a fairly
simplistic concept: all violence can be equated with irrationality, unreason, and ignorance.
History is never as straightforward as Pinker would have his readers believe, and violence is
a much more complex notion that is often driven not by superstition or unreason, but perfectly
“rational” motives. This article argues that there is little causal connection between
Enlightenment values and the decline in violence and that changes came about as a result
of a complex series of reasons, some of them less than edifying. It raises the interesting
question of whether ideas drive history, or whether they are simply the “ideological” bedrock
on which change is grounded.