History, Violence, and Steven Pinker
Mark S. Micale and Philip Dwyer
Violence in Britain’s Twentieth-Century Empire
From 1930s Palestine to Kenya in the years following World War II, systematized violence shaped and defined much of Britain’s twentieth-century empire. Liberal authoritarianism, and with it the “moral effect” that coercion had upon colonial subjects, gave rise to the systematic use of violence against colonial subjects. The ideological roots of these tactics can be located in the twinned birth of liberalism and imperialism, together with metropolitan responses to imperial events in the mid-nineteenth century. Despite copious amounts of empirical evidence documenting the evolution of liberal authoritarianism, and the creation and deployment of legalized lawlessness throughout the British Empire, Steven Pinker either ignores this evidence, or implicitly denies its validity. In reframing Britain’s civilizing mission, and challenging liberalism’s obfuscating abilities, this article critiques not only the British government’s repeated denials of systematized violence in its empire, but also Pinker’s reinforcement of the myths of British imperial benevolence.
Bioarchaeological Perspectives on Pinker’s “Prehistoric Anarchy”
Steven Pinker’s thesis on the decline of violence since prehistory has resulted in many popular and scholarly debates on the topic that have ranged—at times even raged— across the disciplinary spectrum of evolution, psychology, philosophy, biology, history, and beyond. Those disciplines that made the most substantial contribution to the empirical data underpinning Pinker’s notion of a more violent prehistoric past, namely, archaeology and bioarchaeology/physical anthropology, have not featured as prominently in these discussions as may be expected. This article will focus on some of the issues resulting from Pinker’s oversimplified cross-disciplinary use of bioarchaeological data sets in support of his linear model of the past, a model that, incidentally, has yet to be incorporated into current accounts of violent practices in prehistory.
This article explores Pinker’s analysis of sexual violence in modern history. It argues that his analysis is flawed because of a selective choice of data, a minimization of certain harms, the application of an evolutionary psychology approach, the failure to interrogate new forms of aggression, and a refusal to acknowledge the political underpinnings of his research. By failing to acknowledge and then control for his own ideological bias, Pinker has missed an opportunity to convincingly explain the changing nature of violence in our societies.
Violence in Classical Athens
This article explores Steven Pinker’s thesis with regard to fifth-century BCE Athens. Pinker’s view that the political state became the arbiter of violence is important, but for ancient Greeks that meant that wars became more devastating. States coordinated military action more e?ectively than earlier tribal chiefs. With regard to violence within communities, the absence of civic values, human rights, or robust legal systems meant that violence mediated many relationships between men and women, masters and slaves, and even aristocrats and lower-status citizens. Violence was a prominent aspect of all ancient people’s lives. In short, Pinker’s thesis provides an excellent heuristic device to analyze Greek antiquity if only to discuss how it may or may not apply in real terms.
Mark S. Micale
The Better Angels of Our Nature is severely compromised by an overly narrow conception of human violence, a cramped statistical source base, and ideologically predetermined interpretations. Despite its aspirations to comprehensive coverage, the work singularly fails to incorporate violence of a colonial, or indigenous, or environmental, or biological, or technological nature. Ultimately, Pinker’s lengthy, attention-grabbing tome is most noteworthy for what it leaves out.
Pinker’s (Mis)Representation of the Enlightenment and Violence
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.
Keïta Fodéba and the Imagining of National Culture in Guinea
Andrew W. M. Smith
This article addresses the cultural activity of Keïta Fodéba, a popular musician, poet, dramatist, and ultimately prominent member of the independent Guinean government. His experiences during the 1950s reflect emergent trends during this period of profound negotiation, in which the terms of the “postcolonial” world were established. Fodéba was a formative figure in the emergence of Guinean national culture but also played an important role in providing Guinea’s independence movement with a renewed impetus beyond Marxist ideology and demands for political equality. Using archival material that reveals French metropolitan fears about his activities, one gains insight into the networks of anticolonial activism with which he engaged. Following Fodéba, from his triumph on Broadway to his death at Camp Boiro, gives new perspectives on his challenging work and offers greater insight into the transfers and negotiations between metropole, colony, and beyond that characterized the decolonization process.
The Power of Aesthetics in Women’s Cookbooks of the Belle Époque
Throughout much of the nineteenth century, men enjoyed hegemony in the French culinary arts, an entitlement enshrined in the books they wrote about cooking and gastronomy. The Belle Époque brought the first challenge to this absolute authority with the publication and popularization of cookbooks written for women, by women. Through the close reading of a selected corpus from the period, this article considers the implications of this shift in authorship. Women cookbook writers infused aesthetic discourse and principles into both the content and style of their texts. While male chefs had also drawn parallels between the culinary arts and the fine arts in order to augment their professional status, female authors evoked this relationship in as well as on di?erent terms. I argue that women cookbook writers engaged with aesthetic theory in a way that legitimized the labor of the private sphere and contested normative ideas about the inferiority of the feminine.
Elizabeth C. Macknight
In France the Falloux Law of 1850 set out the distinction between state-run public schools and écoles libres maintained by individuals or associations. This article argues that Catholic nobles’ historic property-based and charitable ties with rural communities underpinned their foundation of écoles libres. Drawing upon the private archives of noble families, the article shows how networking between aristocratic laity and religious orders facilitated the running of these schools. Nobles’ determination to guard a reputation for charitable patronage, especially in the locality of their landed estate, meant they were impelled to invest financially in écoles libres when doing so made no practical sense. From 1879 successive governments of the Third Republic introduced secularizing legislation that clashed with the aims of Catholic school founders. Even when taken to court for breaking republican laws, nobles, nuns, and monks remained passionately committed to upholding the culture of Christian faith within education.