06 Nov 2009

The Liberals Will Not Blame Islam

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How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy.

–Winston Churchill, The River War, 1899.

As the commentariat sharpens its pencils and waits for further information on the motives of the Army doctor responsible for the Fort Hood massacre to emerge, it seems safe to predict that the liberals will not identify Islam’s propensity to inculcate fanaticism, xenophobia, and murderous violence as the key factor.

Most likely, they will blame guns and, following several leading liberal social scientists, insufficient American domestication and statism. If Americans just bowed to Socialism and accepted the complete universal authority, supervision, and direction of the paternalist state along with Max Weber’s Gewaltmonopol des Staates, and gave up retarditaire habits of owning weapons and relying in extreme situations on self defense, then we would be civilized like Europeans.

Jill Lepore
quotes some leading authorities in the New Yorker:

The United States has the highest homicide rate of any affluent democracy, nearly four times that of France and the United Kingdom, and six times that of Germany. Why? Historians haven’t often asked this question. Even historians who like to try to solve cold cases usually cede to sociologists and other social scientists the study of what makes murder rates rise and fall, or what might account for why one country is more murderous than another. Only in the nineteen-seventies did historians begin studying homicide in any systematic way. In the United States, that effort was led by Eric Monkkonen, who died in 2005, his promising work unfinished. Monkkonen’s research has been taken up by Randolph Roth, whose book “American Homicide” (Harvard; $45) offers a vast investigation of murder, in the aggregate, and over time. Roth’s argument is profoundly unsettling. There is and always has been, he claims, an American way of murder. It is the price of our politics. …

Pieter Spierenburg, a professor of historical criminology at Erasmus University, in Rotterdam, sifts through the evidence in “A History of Murder: Personal Violence in Europe from the Middle Ages to the Present” (Polity; $24.95). In Europe, homicide rates, conventionally represented as the number of murder victims per hundred thousand people in the population per year, have been falling for centuries. Spierenburg attributes this long decline to what the German sociologist Norbert Elias called the “civilizing process” (shorthand for a whole class of behaviors requiring physical restraint and self-control, right down to using a fork instead of eating with your hands or stabbing at your food with a knife), and to the growing power of the centralizing state to disarm civilians, control violence, enforce law and order, and, broadly, to hold a monopoly on the use of force. (Anthropologists sometimes talk about a related process, the replacement of a culture of honor with a culture of dignity.) In feuding medieval Europe, the murder rate hovered around thirty-five. Duels replaced feuds. Duels are more mannered; they also have a lower body count. By 1500, the murder rate in Western Europe had fallen to about twenty. Courts had replaced duels. By 1700, the murder rate had dropped to five. Today, that rate is generally well below two, where it has held steady, with minor fluctuations, for the past century.

The American homicide rate has been higher than Europe’s from the start, and higher at just about every stage since. It has also fluctuated, sometimes wildly. During the Colonial period, the homicide rate fell, but in the nineteenth century, while Europe’s kept sinking, the U.S. rate went up and up. In the twentieth century, the rate in the United States dropped to about five during the years following the Second World War, but then rose, reaching about eleven in 1991. It has since fallen once again, to just above five, a rate that is, nevertheless, twice that of any other affluent democracy.

What accounts for this remarkable difference? Guns leap to mind: in 2008, firearms were involved in two-thirds of all murders in the United States. Yet Roth, who supports gun control, insists that the prevalence of guns in America, and our lax gun laws, can’t account for the whole spread, and a few scholars have argued that laws allowing concealed weapons actually lower the murder rate, by deterring assaults. Some Europeans suspect that Americans haven’t undergone the same “civilizing process,” as if, unmoored from Europe, Colonial Americans went murderously adrift. Spierenburg speculates that democracy came too soon to the United States. By the time European states became democracies, the populace had accepted the authority of the state. But the American Revolution happened before Americans had got used to the idea of a state monopoly on force. Americans therefore preserved for themselves not only the right to bear arms—rather than yielding that right to a strong central government—but also medieval manners: impulsiveness, crudeness, and fidelity to a culture of honor. We’re backward, in other words, because we became free before we learned how to control ourselves.

Myself, I agree with Fred Boynton in Barcelona (1994):

0:25 into the 1:50 trailer

It’s not that Americans are more violent than Europeans. It’s just that we’re better shots.

7 Feedbacks on "The Liberals Will Not Blame Islam"

Lazarus Long

Yeah, we’re so backward that we have not yet learned how to heard people into gas chambers.

Lazarus Long

Note to self: proof read before pressing Send.


I fixed the typo. NP

j. Stryker

If one is using a prediliction for a particular political structure as difference between murder rates between continents, why wouldn’t causalties from continent wide wars be included in the European homicide rates? They are wars between states and those states are a result of that predeliction for that political structure.
I would take from the comparison that Europeans are relatively peacefull until they start massacring each other by the tens of millions. I think I prefer our system.

Maggie's Farm

Euroland vs. America…

Quoted in a piece at NYM on homicide:

By the time European states became democracies, the populace had
accepted the authority of the state. But the American Revolution
happened before Americans had got used to the idea of a state monopoly
on fo…


My immediate reaction, which seems to be common amongst the previous commenters was something along the lines of…

Europe? “civilizing process”???

After regaining consciousness from laughing so hard that I ran out of oxygen…

I mean…c’mon…there’s no denying that we Amercans can be violent…and when we want to be, we’re pretty damned good at being violent; but Europe – being more civilized than the US? The whole continent was a disease riddled meat grinder up until the last 60 years or so.

Some serious “historian” needs to add up all those war dead over the centuries and come up with an honest rate for slaughter. I don’t expect the US to come out all shiny from such a comparison either, but 2 per 100K per year seems…either wishful thinking or downright fiction.

Michael Zeleny

You mischaracterized Weber’s Gewaltmonopol des Staates, which identifies state not as the sole possessor of the right to use violence, but as its the sole source. I have commented on the article by Jill Lepore and her immeasurably more interesting sources here:



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