Guest Post: The Great Pacification

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by John Aziz of Azizonomics,

Since the end of the Second World War, the major powers of the world have lived in relative peace. While there have been wars and conflicts  — Vietnam, Afghanistan (twice), Iraq (twice), the Congo, Rwanda, Israel and Palestine, the Iran-Iraq war, the Mexican and Colombian drug wars, the Lebanese civil war — these have been localised and at a much smaller scale than the violence that ripped the world apart during the Second World War.

The recent downward trend is clear:


Many thinkers believe that this trend of pacification is unstoppable. Steven Pinker, for example, claims:

Violence has been in decline for thousands of years, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in the existence of our species.


The decline, to be sure, has not been smooth. It has not brought violence down to zero, and it is not guaranteed to continue. But it is a persistent historical development, visible on scales from millennia to years, from the waging of wars to the spanking of children.

While the relative decline of violence and the growth of global commerce is a cause for celebration, those who want to proclaim that the dawn of the 21st Century is the dawn of a new long-lasting era of global peace may be overly optimistic. It is possible that we are on the edge of a precipice and that this era of relative peace is merely a calm before a new global storm. Militarism and the military-industrial complex never really went away — the military of the United States is deployed in more than 150 countries around the world. Weapons contractors are still gorging on multi-trillion dollar military spending.

Let’s consider another Great Moderation — the moderation of the financial system previous to the bursting of the bubble in 2008.

One of the most striking features of the economic landscape over the past twenty years or so has been a substantial decline in macroeconomic volatility.

Ben Bernanke (2004)

Bernanke attributed this outgrowth of macroeconomic stability to policy — that through macroeconomic engineering, governments had created a new era of financial and economic stability. Of course, Bernanke was wrong — in fact those tools of macroeconomic stabilisation were at that very moment inflating housing and securitisation bubbles, which burst in 2008 ushering in a new 1930s-style depression.

It is more than possible that we are in a similar peace bubble that might soon burst.

Pinker highlights some possible underlying causes for this decline in violent conflict:

The most obvious of these pacifying forces has been the state, with its monopoly on the legitimate use of force. A disinterested judiciary and police can defuse the temptation of exploitative attack, inhibit the impulse for revenge and circumvent the self-serving biases that make all parties to a dispute believe that they are on the side of the angels.


We see evidence of the pacifying effects of government in the way that rates of killing declined following the expansion and consolidation of states in tribal societies and in medieval Europe. And we can watch the movie in reverse when violence erupts in zones of anarchy, such as the Wild West, failed states and neighborhoods controlled by mafias and street gangs, who can’t call 911 or file a lawsuit to resolve their disputes but have to administer their own rough justice.

Really? The state is the pacifying force? This is an astonishing claim. Sixty years ago, states across the world mobilised to engage in mass-killing the like of which the world had never seen — industrial slaughter of astonishing efficiency. The concentration of power in the state has at times led to more violence, not less. World War 2 left sixty million dead. Communist nations slaughtered almost 100 million in the pursuit of communism. Statism has a bloody history, and the power of the state to wage total destruction has only increased in the intervening years.

Pinker continues:

Another pacifying force has been commerce, a game in which everybody can win. As technological progress allows the exchange of goods and ideas over longer distances and among larger groups of trading partners, other people become more valuable alive than dead. They switch from being targets of demonization and dehumanization to potential partners in reciprocal altruism.


For example, though the relationship today between America and China is far from warm, we are unlikely to declare war on them or vice versa. Morality aside, they make too much of our stuff, and we owe them too much money.


A third peacemaker has been cosmopolitanism—the expansion of people’s parochial little worlds through literacy, mobility, education, science, history, journalism and mass media. These forms of virtual reality can prompt people to take the perspective of people unlike themselves and to expand their circle of sympathy to embrace them.

Commerce has been an extremely effective incentive toward peace. But commerce may not be enough. Globalisation and mass commerce became a reality a century ago, just prior to the first global war. The world was linked together by new technologies that made it possible to ship products cheaply from one side of the globe to the other, to communicate virtually instantaneously over huge distances, and a new culture of cosmopolitanism. Yet the world still went to war.

It is complacent to assume that interdependency will necessitate peace. The relationship between China and the United States today is superficially similar to that between Great Britain and Germany in 1914. Germany and China — the rising industrial behemoths, fiercely nationalistic and determined to establish themselves and their currencies on the world stage. Great Britain and the United States  — the overstretched global superpowers intent on retaining their primacy and reserve currency status even in spite of huge and growing debt and military overstretch.

In fact, a high degree of interdependency can breed resentment and hatred. Interconnected debt between nations can lead to war, as creditors seek their pound of flesh, and debtors seek to renege on their debts. Chinese officials have claimed to have felt that the United States is forcing them to support American deficits by buying treasuries; in fact the United States has proven so desperate to keep China buying treasury debt that it upgraded the People’s Bank of China to Primary Dealer status, allowing them to purchase treasuries directly from the Treasury and cutting Wall Street out of the loop.

Who is to say that China might not view the prize of Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines as worthy of transforming their giant manufacturing base into a giant war machine and writing down their treasury bonds? Who is to say that the United States might not risk antagonising Russia and China and disrupting global trade by attacking Iran? There are plenty of other potential flash-points too — Afghanistan, Pakistan, Venezuela, Egypt, South Africa, Georgia, Syria and more.

Commerce and cosmopolitanism may have provided incentives for peace, but the Great Pacification has been built upon a bedrock of nuclear warheads. Mutually assured destruction is by far the largest force that has kept the nuclear-armed nations at peace for the past sixty seven years. Yet can it last? Would the United States really have launched a first-strike had the Soviet Union invaded Western Europe during the Cold War, for example? If so, the global economy and population would have been devastated. If not, mutually assured destruction would have lost credibility. Mutually assured destruction can only act as a check on expansionism if it is credible. So far, no nation has really tested this credibility. 

Nuclear-armed powers have already engaged in proxy wars, such as Vietnam. How far can the limits be pushed? Would the United States launch a first-strike on China if China were to invade and occupy Taiwan and Japan, for example? Would the United States try to launch a counter-invasion? Or would they back down? Similarly, would Russia and China launch a first-strike on the United States if the United States invades and occupies Iran? Launching a first-strike is highly unlikely in all cases — mutually assured destruction will remain an effective deterrent to nuclear war. But perhaps not to conventional war and territorial expansionism.

With the world mired in the greatest economic depression since the 1930s, it becomes increasingly likely that states — especially those with high unemployment, weak growth, incompetent leadership and angry, disaffected youth —  will (just as they did during the last global depression in the 1930s) turn to expansionism, nationalism, trade war and even physical war. Already, the brittle peace between China and Japan is rupturing, and the old war rhetoric is back. These are the kinds of demonstrations that the Communist Party are now sanctioning:


And already, America and Israel are moving to attack Iran, even in spite of warnings by Chinese and Pakistani officials that this could risk global disruption.

Hopefully, the threat of mutually assured destruction and the promise of commerce will continue to be an effective deterrent, and prevent any kind of global war from breaking out. Hopefully, states can work out their differences peacefully. Hopefully nations can keep war profiteers and those who advocate crisis initiation in check. Nothing would be more wonderful than the continuing spread of peace. Yet we must be guarded against complacency. Sixty years of relative peace is not the end of history.

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Mr Lennon Hendrix's picture

War is the health of the State

Whatever that means....

redpill's picture

So from a Keynesian perspective basically there is massive pent up demand for catastrophic civilian loss of life, we just need the animal spirits to take over and deliver the world the thermonuclear product it's asking for, and it will be a roaring economy from then on.

CommunityStandard's picture

The atomic bomb is the pacifying force... until it isn't.

Popo's picture

Let's not forget that historically wars are fought to cull internal populations of angry, unemployed males. Focus the population on an external enemy, and the elites survive. Fail to do so, and well...

Let's also not forget that due to China's one child policy, they have tens of millions of "extra" unmarried, very angry men. China needs a war badly. The situation is beyond volatile.

Overfed's picture

Or, at least an introduction to polyandy and/or line marriage.

The Alarmist's picture

Meh! It was nice while it lasted, but we need to do something with these millions of relatively unskilled youth who are roaming around and causing nothing but trouble.

TooBearish's picture

i'll have some of what John Aziz is smoking....

max2205's picture

It's true. The more capitalistic nations, the less war. But crap, financial blowups happen regardless

overmedicatedundersexed's picture

when we run out of sociopathic leaders we will run out of nation state wars. things are not looking good for that to happen..major wars will be over in hours..the clean up will be much longer. got ron paul?

pazmaker's picture

For while they are saying , "Peace and Safety, Sudden destruction will come upon them like labor pains upon a woman with child and they will not escape. I Thess. 5:3

spastic_colon's picture

".....the decibels of disenchanting discourse...."

Music trivia...anyone.....anyone, internet search doesn't count!

bank guy in Brussels's picture

The music band Live, whose 'White, Discussion' song from Live's 'Throwing Copper' album from 1994, are the source of those words, seems to fit with the image of John Aziz

One ZeroHedge commentator, after watching Aziz in his video, labelled Aziz as a 'British kid in a t-shirt'

Music from his formative childhood years

hedgeless_horseman's picture



Oceania has always been at war with Oceania Eurasia Eastasia Southeastasia Arabia MENA Persia...

RiverRoad's picture

Who knew WW3 would be a financial war?  If you don't think the world is going through a "war" right now, better think again. 

hedgeless_horseman's picture



Agreed.  As I have written several times, Bernanke and Geithner will be considered early American heros of The Great Resource Wars.

CommunityStandard's picture

Every war has always been about wealth/resources.  Always will be.  And the victor gets to write the history.

Popo's picture

Ding ding ding. Someone here understands history.

Amazing how many people actually believe that wars are fought for things like the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Populations need to be "sold" wars, and so the propaganda machine always finds a casus belli.

But the reality is always economics, energy and the continued rule of the ruling class.

Fukushima Sam's picture

We are still in the prologue.  Most wars start as economic wars then escalate to military action.

libertarian_neocon's picture

As someone who has looked at the VIX alot, when things are the calmest are when you should worry the most.


George Orwell's picture

In a post about war, you did not have the words "oil" or "water" anywhere in your article. You really need to think clearly before posting.

There will be more resource wars in the future because oil has peaked. The current conflict between China and Japan is all about what's underneath those uninhabited islands in the ocean, not what's on those rocks.

And the decline in the number of wars fought post WWII is directly related to the rise of oil and oil based agriculture. Increasing crop yields allowed us to feed more people. With more people your deaths per capita number goes down. It's that simple.

And with the decline in oil production, crop production will go down as well. Hungry people means more wars over oil and water. It's that simple. Keep your analysis simple John. You can do better.


George Orwell

hoos bin pharteen's picture

Most wars, to use a broader definition or "massive attack on a people or nation" are about some combination of "control" and "annihilation."  Massacres that occurred in the USSR, China, Cambodia, etc. while not technically "wars" had insane casualty counts and were about control of resources, elimination of resistance, etc. 

With a few exceptions, the West has had enormous success relative to its predecessors in casualties inflicted per unit of control extracted.  At the same time, it has been relentless when the objective is annihilation.

In any case, the West also has had moments when things got out of hand on all sides and the dance of control quickly turned into huge wars of annihilation (WWI).  This scenario is the greatest danger of our times.

dick cheneys ghost's picture

One must view the world thru the 3rd world, not the first world

potlatch's picture

population divided by resources times technology works better.  3rd world has a very dirty lens.

lolmao500's picture

Violence has been going down because of nuclear weapons.

earleflorida's picture

waht's a 'dead zone'? in inches

Argonaught's picture

I think 14 would probably split 'er in two...

GoingLoonie's picture

Interesting how all the superpowers have been "peaceful" except the US.  We have started every war in the last 60 years, and there have been a lot of them.

tom a taxpayer's picture

Will Hillary get the Nobel Peace prize this year?

DeliciousSteak's picture

There are always periods of relative peace. Pax Britannica is a recent example, Pax Romana ancient. Globalized world brings globalized periods of pax and chaos. This one will end, too.

earleflorida's picture

absolutely brilliant post, mr. aziz

man, you're good at giving the flaccid grey-matter a neurotransmission workout...




q99x2's picture

Pinker. Sounds like Hammy Wanger's real name. Fucker's psycho.

midtowng's picture

China isn't going after Japan. They never have and they never will. The only reason they would go to war with Japan is if they felt Japan was encroaching on their turf.

Taiwan is a whole 'nuther story. China views them as a renegade province. They are going to try to take Taiwan back one day. Sooner or later.

NaN's picture

One scenario is that China makes a deal to not dump US Treasuries in exchange for Taiwan, but that offer won't be made until the US is weaker.  

In general, China has a defensive miliary with spending at 2% of GDP which is average.  The US spends 4.7% of GDP (not including externalities due to ongoing wars):

The top 5 spenders by % of GDP are:

20.9% Erirea 

10.1% Saudi Arabia

 9.7% Oman

 6.9% UAE

 6.5% Isreal

(Erirea split off from Ethiopia in 1991.  Iraq comes in at 5.7%, but the US spending there isn't counted in their GDP (do pallets of $100 bills count?).  Afganistan and North Korea are not listed in ref. below.)

While % of GDP indiates affordability/bankruptability or capacity to increase spending, per capita spending on miliary is a way to measure a nation's focus w.r.t. number of lives being protected (or over-protected).  Top spenders in US$/year per capita:

$2653  UAE

$2141  US

$1882  Isreal

$1593  Singapore

$1558  Saudi Arabia

(Greece is at $1230; perhaps they could trim that.)



toros's picture

All we are saying...

tom a taxpayer's picture give war a chance.

QEsceptic's picture

Can it be that war has simply become too expensive?  It is surprising there is no reference to the cost of war in the article.  When one considers that the U.S. spent over a trillion dollars in direct outlays to fight third tier adversaries to a standstill, Iraq and Afghanistan, cost has become a major limitation.  If the world's largest economy struggles to pay for "limited" wars, smaller countries with less means can hardly afford any kind of warfare.  Even the relatively affluent European economies increasingly reject the demands for annual defense spending. War increasingly has become sensible only to the desperate using unconventional (cheaper) means who must also calculate they have limited wealth to lose and much to gain.  Put another way, for any country of average income or better the cost/benefit analysis of war is already poor and deteriorating.

LawsofPhysics's picture

So global theft has gotten a lot safer then?  Fuckers.

css1971's picture

Saudi just got caught with their pants down, weapons bought by the Saudi forces shipped directly to syrian rebels. They left the stickers on. Doh.

Looks like a bigger war on it's way to perk up that chart.

bank guy in Brussels's picture

Saudi Arabia's rulers ... installed and supported in the Middle East by British-US intelligence organisations, to help create the global mess we have today ... The Saudi rulers, propped up to rule Arabia and spread an extremist version of Islam, as part of their 'duties' ... and it seems even to help kill their fellow Muslims.

The ruling family of Saudi Arabia was put in power by the British after the Ottoman Empire collapse in World War I. The British pushed out the Hashemites who had held sway over the Muslim holy cities for centuries (exiling part of the family to become monarchs of what is now Jordan).

Interesting, detail-filled article ... despite the oft-scorned website patron, one of America's odder political figures

The House of Saud:
British-Programmed Killer of Muslims

by Ramtanu Maitra

R_J's picture

Ha Ha, uhm Oh well.....and stuff,
-But Instead of aZiZ blurb on the fantasy on a DECLINE in VIOLENCE: -a better read would be, and IS: THE 39,000-word critique of Steven Pinker’s 2011 book, by  Edward S. Herman and David Peterson  -Reality Denial: Steven Pinker’s Apologetics for Western-Imperial Violence

-or a PDF from ColdType:

  -also on:

*but dont stop there, check out their other excellent wordings @
and of course @


Totentänzerlied's picture

Many thanks for the link, reading it now.

Totentänzerlied's picture

Rather surprised, this critique is a hyper-leftist diatribe which while very effectively pulverizing statist shill Pinker's silly book engages in any number of the same fallacies, manipulations, misrepresentations, and rhetorical techniques designed to obscure, for example generously citing this quote:

"The general collapse [was] so severe that even monstrous Stalin [was] remembered with some appreciation: more than half of Russians ‘believe Stalin’s role in Russian history was positive, while only a third disagreed’, polls indicated in early 2003.”

Wow. They also toss about labels like Marxism, communism, and capitalism with zero care for their relevance or meaning - when it suits their agenda, but then viciously attack similar if not identical uses of such labels by Pinker. Similarly they unquestioningly cite statistics for death tolls in communist states while devoting at least 10 pages to ripping apart the death-tolls cited by Pinker.

The hyperleftist shenanigans and hypocrisy are simply too much to bear by page 62.

"Sen and Drèze [...] do not regard the Mao-era famine in China as a case of deliberate mass killing, and contend that deaths in India under the “endemic undernutrition and deprivation” of its capitalist system greatly exceeded China’s famine deaths."

They jest that: "attributing indirect, non-combat-related deaths to a deliberate plan requires no imaginative leap at all—the communists are maximally guilty for all of them" but then do precisely the same thing for all so-called capitalist regimes repeatedly.

Their best work, though revealing little-to-nothing nothing new for people who are familiar with anti-imperialist and anti-war literature, is simply in chronicling Pinker's misrepresentations and distortions of Western actions throughout the 20th century - work of which Noam Chomsky and others have already done quite a solid job.

morpheus000's picture

well cant you see how the two trends are related?

NaN's picture

The critique is certainly quite emotional.  I saw Steven Pinker talk on this topic last night and he fully acknowledges these basic disagreements with the premise of his thesis:  

  1. Any violence at all is too much and cannot be compared to population size (unmeasurable infinities)
  2. No one knows what the future holds (nuclear war is not impossible, tail risk)

His conclusions hold even if famine caused by a threat of violence is included as violence. Spikes in violence like WWII fit the decreasing trend if the data is smoothed out.  It only makes sense that the granularity must be broad when discrete events are analyzed across history.

There certainly might be other ways to model and analyze violence over time, but using softer measures like incidence of coercion would increase uncertainty and make it hard to draw conclusions.  

A broad historical analysis does not excuse or apologize for violence, but it certainly attracts such claims like a lightning rod.  Pinker has a lot of courage and stamina.


Bicycle Repairman's picture

I wonder what the chart looked like circa July, 1914.

Definite downward trend.

potlatch's picture

everyone knows that the US military is just an oversight.  Serves no purpose.  Has no real function in how things have worked for decades.  All those floating armies and air forces, each the size of any war you would care to throw at it?


An oversight.  Once someone notices this in the budget, theree are gonna be a lot of sheepish faces in general accounting.

brown_hornet's picture


Another pacifying force has been commerce, a game in which everybody can win. As technological progress allows the exchange of goods and ideas over longer distances and among larger groups of trading partners, other people become more valuable alive than dead. They switch from being targets of demonization and dehumanization to potential partners in reciprocal altruism.


Seventy years ago, Japanese men were trying to kill my father. Today, the sons of those men provide the means for very gainful employment for my wife. All we had to do was nuke 'em and then be nice to them.

morpheus000's picture

i think you mean commerce here in a very superficial sense

AurorusBorealus's picture

A inexorable movement toward peace throughout human history?  What a load of complete nonsense.  Steven Pinker should leave thinking about history to people who have actually studied some history.

noname's picture

God damn you kidding me you call that Viet Nam era pretty much peaceful.I dont know how old this author is but was your head up your ass from 1962-1973 peaceful my ass,or relatively peaceful my ass.