Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Curtis Yarvin's Argument for Filmerian Monarchy and Against Lockean Liberalism Ignores the Empirical Evidence: The Historical Decline in Violence

Curtis Yarvin praises Sir Robert Filmer as "the baddest-ass reactionary who ever lived," and he identifies Filmer's Patriarcha as the best defense of absolutism and divine-right monarchy.  Although Filmer died in 1653, Patriarcha was not published until 1680, when it was recognized as a defense of the Stuart restored monarchy against its Whig critics.  John Locke's Two Treatises of Government were published in 1689 as a theoretical justification of the overthrow of King James II and the Stuart monarchy in the Revolution of 1688.  Locke's First Treatise was a fervent critique of Filmer's Patriarcha.  His Second Treatise laid out the political thought of Whig liberalism.

Yarvin sees 1688 as the critical turning point in history--the turn from feudal monarchy to modern liberalism.  If you want to be a true reactionary, Yarvin insists, you need to be a Jacobite arguing for the restoration of the Stuart monarchy.  

That's exactly what Yarvin proposes.  Today, the legitimate heir to the Stuart throne of England is the 27-year-old Prince Joseph Wenzel of the Royal House of Liechtenstein.  The solution to England's problems would be to put King Joseph I on the throne and allow him to rule with the absolute power once held by the Stuart monarchs.  There are two ways to do this.  Either persuade a majority of the English people that this is what needs to be done.  Or persuade the British Army to stage a military coup to bring this about.

Yarvin indicates that the persuasive argument for doing this is simple.  It's a choice between order and disorder: absolutist monarchy promotes order, while liberal democracy promotes disorder.  In Great Britain, the only way to restore order is to restore the Stuart monarchy.

But to make this persuasive, wouldn't we have to offer some empirical evidence to back it up--evidence that while absolutist monarchies have generally secured social order, liberal democracies have generally inclined to social disorder?  Yarvin almost never considers the empirical evidence.

The one possible exception is that at least twice in his writings, Yarvin refers briefly to some data about the crime rate in Great Britain.  Obviously, one measure of order or disorder in society is the rate of crime, particularly violent crime.  If Yarvin is correct, we would predict that feudal illiberal societies have low rates of violent crime, while modern liberal societies have high rates.

Here's the one short passage where Yarvin claims the empirical evidence is on his side:

"According to official statistics, between 1900 and 1992 the crime rate in Great Britain, indictable offenses per capita known to the police, increased by a favor of 46.  That's not 46%.  Oh, no.  That's 4,600%.  Many of the offenders having been imported specially, to make England brighter and more colorful.  This isn't a government.  It's a crime syndicate."

Unfortunately, Yarvin's internet link to his source is broken, so I can't see exactly what he's citing, but it's some kind of British government website with crime statistics.

His selection of data is a bit odd.  Why does he start in 1900 and stop in 1992?  It is widely known that crime rates in Western Europe and North America rose dramatically from the 1960s to the early 1990s.  But then, in the mid-1990s, crime rates dropped dramatically and reached historically low levels around 2010.

Did Yarvin stop in 1992 so that he could ignore the drop in crime rates over the past three decades?

And if he wants to find data for low crime rates under the rule of premodern absolutist monarchies, shouldn't he be looking at the historical data long before 1900?

I suspect that Yarvin doesn't do this because he doesn't want his readers to see the quantitative evidence presented by many scholars (Eisner 2003, 2014; Muchembled 2012; Pinker 2011; Sharpe 2016) that from high rates of violence and homicide in the Middle Ages, there has been a long decline in modern liberal societies, which shows that liberalism promotes moral self-command, and that people in pre-modern illiberal societies suffered from a lack of self-control. 

Some of this historical evidence is neatly presented in a graph by Max Rosser.  As you can see, the homicide rate was about 23 per 100,000 population in 1300 (King Edward I), 4.0 in 1675 (the restored Stuart monarchy), 2.0 in 1725 (the Hanoverian monarchy with Parliamentary supremacy), and 0.5 in 2015.  So the homicide rate under the Stuarts was 8 times as great as the rate today.  Does this mean that the Stuart monarchy was not a government but a crime syndicate? 

I have written about this evidence herehere, and here.

Manuel Eisner (2003, 2014) is a criminologist who has assembled the History of Homicide Database, which is the most comprehensive collection of quantitative estimates of homicidal levels from 1200 to the present.  His data show that the average estimates of homicide rates across Europe from 1200 to about 1450 converge at a rate of about 27 per 100,000 inhabitants.  This average rate then begins to decline:  20.1 (1500-1549), 12.0 (1600-1649), 5.5 (1700-1749), 3.5 (1800-1825), 2.0 (1900-1924), and 1.0 (2000-2012).  Over a period of 500 years, the peacetime criminal homicide rate in Europe fell by half every century.

Eisner's data also show that most of this decline in homicide rates was due to a fall in lethal male-to-male fighting of about 99%!

Eisner provides evidence that the best explanation for this dramatic drop in homicidal violence in Europe over the past 500 years is that there was what Norbert Elias called a "civilizing process" (Elias 2000; Linklater and Mennell 2010).  European societies went through a change by which average levels of self-control, standards of decency, and disgust for open displays of cruelty tended to increase, which arose from the move away from the incivility of the Middle Ages to the civility of European modernity.  Locke spoke about his in his book on the education of children when he advised parents to use the "law of reputation" to teach the virtues of "civility."

So why is Yarvin silent about all of this empirical evidence that premodern illiberal societies tended to promote violent disorder?  Is it because this kind of evidence would work against persuading the British people or the British Army to restore the Stuart monarchy?


Eisner, Manuel. 2003. "Long-Term Historical Trends in Violent Crime." Crime and Justice 30:83-142.

Eisner, Manuel. 2014. "From Swords to Words: Does Macro-Level Change in Self-Control Predict Long-Term Variation in Levels of Homicide?" Crime and Justice 43:65-134.

Elias, Norbert. 2000. The Civilizing Process. Revised ed. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Linklater, Andrew, and Stephen Mennell. 2010. "Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations--An Overview and Assessment." History and Theory 49 (October): 384-411.

Muchembled, Robert. 2012. A History of Violence: From the End of the Middle Ages to the Present. Cambridge, MA: Polity.

Pinker, Steven. 2011. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. New York: Viking.

Sharpe, James. 2016. A Fiery and Furious People: A History of Violence in England. London: Random House Books.

1 comment:

georgesdelatour said...

A few random thoughts...

It’s possible premodern western societies were doing all the right things to reduce violence and domesticate their populations, but over a long time-frame - maybe 500 years or more.

It probably took a long time to persuade people not to settle scores through blood-feuds and vendettas, but through lawfare in the courts. Christianity gradually reduced clannishness through its restrictions on cousin marriage. It also enforced public monogamy, which stopped Alpha males depriving lower ranking males of the chance of finding a mate (single men are probably the most violent sector of society). And Maybe draconian medieval punishments wound up deleting many of the most violent genes from the gene pool.

It could be that modernity is undoing all these earlier positive developments, rather like the “reverse Flynn Effect” researchers are starting to notice with IQ. UK homicide rates have fallen since 2003, but the trend from 1960 to 2003 was pretty much straight upwards, and we’re nowhere close to returning to pre-1960 levels.

Are people in 2022 less violent than in 2002, or is emergency medicine doing a better job of keeping the severely wounded alive?

As a rough analogy to what I’m getting at: in the early stages of capitalist transformation, societies sometimes achieved remarkably high GDP growth rates (e.g. Japan from 1945 to 1990, China from the 1980s to today). But once they became “mature” capitalist societies, their growth rates all dropped significantly. Maybe that’s because, when takeoff happened, the societies were still running on pre-capitalist human software, accrued across centuries. But eventually, corporate capitalism rewrote the human software with crappy consumerist values.