Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Today's "Long Peace" Is A Nearly Unprecedented Blessing

As I study what makes for a happy society, I am struck again and again by two related points:

Many many conditions of life are much better now than they ever have been, and are getting better; and

Most people, and especially most intellectuals, are unwilling to believe that this is so.


The Long Peace that the world has enjoyed since the end of the Second World War is one of the greatest blessings in the world.  Indeed, it is one of the greatest blessings in human history. 

To be sure, there have been and are smaller wars, and even a few medium sized ones.  But the Great Powers have not fought a war with one another since the Korean War, and arguably not since World War II.

Steven Pinker, in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, makes this remarkable point:

As of May 15, 1984, the major powers of the world had remained at peace with one another for the longest stretch of time since the Roman Empire. Not since the second century BCE, when Teutonic tribes challenged the Romans, has a comparable interval passed without an army crossing the Rhine.

5 comments:

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

Most people don't have historical perspective. They just have perspective within the narrow confines of recent memory. We're doing better than 99% of human history, but we're not doing as good as a few years ago... hence the lunatics who craft propaganda are able to get away with making it seem like we're at the brink of apocalypse.


Solomon Kleinsmith
Rise of the Center

Mac said...

"As of May 15, 1984, the major powers of the world had remained at peace with one another for the longest stretch of time since the Roman Empire. Not since the second century BCE, when Teutonic tribes challenged the Romans, has a comparable interval passed without an army crossing the Rhine."

Thanks, in large part, to the expenditure of American treasure in creating and maintaining a professional military and posting large portions of it in areas that deterred potential Rhine-crossers. If anyone seriously believes that peace would have been maintained in another manner, they are hallucinating.

gruntled said...

Yes, a large part of Pinker's argument is that effective states prevent violence internally, and effective international agreements, such as our alliances, prevent interstate violence. Not completely, of course, but reducing it to much, much less than the historical norm.

Neil D. Cowling said...

Yes, I am glad that the major powers have not broken out in warfare with each other since the end of World War II. But to call that an era of a "Long Peace" is to ignore the obvious. Warfare has continued apace as long as I can remember and I am to the point where I can remember at least 6 decades. Korea, Vietnam, the continued conflicts in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan readily come to mind, not to mention genocide in Africa. Does that make me part of the curmudgeonly intellectual elite? I think not. In light of all the blood that has been shed throughout the world “crossing the Rhine” seems like a grossly Eurocentric view if not an altogether silly measure of an era of peacefulness. But I suppose we should thank God for relatively small favors.

gruntled said...

Peace in Europe is no small blessing, given their role in making most of the warfare of the preceding several centuries. Nonetheless, crossing the Rhine is just a metaphor. The number and magnitude of all wars, around the globe, has declined in the past half century compared to any half century in (at least) the modern era.