Professor Lal is a former President of the Mont Pelerin Society and a Professor of International Development Studies at UCLA. He is the author of many books on international economic development and globalization, including In Praise of Empires (2004).
Lecturing on "War and Peace," Lal argued that empires can maintain global order and thus maintain peace. They do this by securing life against violence and by enforcing promises and rules of property. The British Empire did this in the nineteenth century, and the American Empire has done this since the end of World War II.
Lal presented this argument as a refutation of Steven Pinker's argument about the history of declining violence in his Better Angels of Our Nature. Pinker is wrong, Lal claimed, about the "Long Peace" since 1945 and the "New Peace" since 1989, because he does not recognize that this peace (the absence of war between the Great Powers) has been enforced by the global imperial power of the United States, just as the British Empire had done in the previous century. The bloody warfare of the first half of the twentieth century shows the consequences of the British withdrawal from its imperial role. Lal illustrated his argument (p. 4) with Pinker's Figure 5-12 (on p. 224 of Better Angels), which shows the "percentage of years in which the great powers fought one another, 1500-2000." Lal pointed out that this pattern could be interpreted as showing that peace between the great powers coincides with an imperial Pax.
Although Lal seemed to think he had totally refuted Pinker's argument, I was not persuaded. Except for the one reference to Figure 5-12, Lal did not refer to any passages in Pinker's book. Lal said nothing about Pinker's larger argument about declining violence as more than just declining war--including declines in homicide generally, capital punishment, legal torture, moralistic violence, spousal abuse, rape, and so on. I don't see how Lal's imperial Pax explains all of this.
Lal made a good case for the conclusion that Pinker should have added the imperial Pax as one factor explaining declining violence, but this would only be a modification of Pinker's general argument.
Moreover, it seems that Lal actually accepts most of Pinker's arguments. He certainly accepts Pinker's argument for the importance of the "Hobbesian pacification." Indeed, Lal's imperial Pax could be understood as an extension of the Hobbesian pacification to the international arena.
Consider the following from Lal's paper:
"True, these ancient empires did not seek to end various barbarous violent practices which were very much part of their cosmological beliefs, as I have characterized them in my Olin lectures, Unintended Consequences, and Pinker is right in the importance of what he calls the Civilizing and Humanitarian Processes, whose evolution I also traced in my book. But nevertheless, given these common failures to tame the instincts of the wolf in all civilizations till recently, the role of empires in maintaining peace and prosperity in their domains cannot be gainsaid" (3).If Lal concedes that Pinker is right about the Hobbesian Pacification, the Civilizing Process, and the Humanitarian Revolution, then Lal is going a long way towards conceding Pinker's major arguments.
Moreover, Lal was silent about the evidence cited by Pinker (283-84) for the Democratic Peace theory: "The Democratic Peace held not only over the entire 115 years [1886-2001] spanned by the dataset but also in the subspans from 1900 to 1939 and from 1989 to 2001. That shows that the Democratic Peace is not a by-product of a Pax Americana during the Civil War. In fact, there were never any signs of a Pax Americana or a Pax Britannica: the years when one of these countries was the world's dominant military power were no more peaceful than the years in which it was just one power among many." Here Pinker is citing Bruce Russett and John Oneal, Triangulating Peace: Demcracy, Interdependence, and International Organizations (Norton, 2001), 188-89: "Great hegemonic power does not dampen conflict in the system during these more normal periods of international relations, when there are no big wars among the major powers. Rather, the level of dyadic conflict rises. There is no evidence in these results of a Pax Britannica or Pax Americana, contrary to both hegemonic stability and power transition theories."