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Yale University Professor of History Timothy Snyder reviews Steven Pinker's new book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why violence has declined.

According to Snyder, Pinker's libertarian bent contributes to a basic flaw in his analysis: he "overlooks the crucial relationship between the individual and the state" (quoting from the article summary provided at the link above).

Snyder writes:

"There is also a more fundamental way in which the book is unscientific. Pinker presents the entirety of human history in the form of a natural experiment. But he contaminates the experiment by arranging the evidence to fit his personal view about the proper destiny of the invdividual: first, to be tamed by the state, then, to civilize himself in opposition to the state. The state appears in Pinker's history only when it confines itself to the limited role that he believes is proper, and enlightenment figures as the rebellion of intelligent individuals against the state's attempt to exceed its assigned role."

Please read the entire review. It is informative and interesting with respect to the topic of human violence and the role of individuals and the state. But in addition to that, it is an important reminder of what scholarship and research should aim to do, and of how an ideology can corrupt one's assessments of reality.

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Comment by Brenda Trerice on January 9, 2012 at 14:38

Short version to your question, Tim - yes.

Comment by olly stearn on January 3, 2012 at 7:55

quite full on but very interesting, for its historical analysis if nothing els.



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