Whatever its causes, the implications of the historical decline of violence are profound. So much depends on whether we see our era as a nightmare of crime, terrorism, genocide and war or as a period that, in the light of the historical and statistical facts, is blessed by unprecedented levels of peaceful coexistence.
From an interesting op-ed in which, as in Henry James’ ideal, the writer manages to describe the lamp by describing everything in the room except for the lamp.
Pinker speculates that the decline in war deaths can be attributed to a model of the state, to commerce, and to cosmopolitanism, and he pays special attention to communications technology. He doesn’t speculate at all about the peculiar role of the American military-industrial-cultural complex in this great world pacification – what others have called Pax Americana.
I don’t intend this observation as flag-waving, but as a beginning point for investigation. It seems an open question to me whether and, if so, to what extent the completion of America’s world-historical project must entail the inversion of Americanism, the world turned upside down all over again, with the New World eventually becoming the home and center of reactionary culture – militaristic, anti-scientific, schizophrenically anti-statist, xenophobic, all that typifies the ideology of my former friends and colleagues in the self-consciously American exceptionalist political movement.
They never consider what taking American exceptionalism to an extreme logically implies: A world gone to Hell, so that we may preserve our American Heaven, or an American Hell isolated from world progress. The only other alternative that preserves any remnant of the notion would be an “American exceptionalism” that treated its own extinction as a primary goal, and by historically “exceptional” means – by democratization, commerce, cosmopolitanism, and so on. That would require thinking of ourselves in somewhat the same way that Jefferson, Adams, and the rest thought of themselves on their best days: As equal citizens of the world in becoming, not as its conquerors or masters.