The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
By Steven Pinker
My friends sometimes call me a cynic. I understand why. It goes with the territory of being a geopolitics analyst. I don’t hold it against them, though in truth I consider myself a closet optimist. It’s difficult to look at things like the Syrian civil war, or the anarchy in Venezuela, or the genocide in Darfur, and feel like humanity’s on the right track. But as bad as things can seem, my take is that mankind not only has the power to improve its condition, but that it has been doing so for a long time. I owe much of this hidden optimism to “The Better Angels of Our Nature” by Steven Pinker.
“The Better Angels of Our Nature” is a study of the history of violence. Pinker frames the discussion by considering two diametrically opposed conceptions of human nature. The first is of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who posited that, in their natural state, men and women assume the form of a “noble savage