Is Everything Getting Worse?

Premillenialism thrives on the idea that things are going to hell in a handbasket and getting worse all the time. This article from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal has a lot of flawed theology (e.g. spanking is bad) and is coming from a very different place, but it points out the decline in violence over the years. For example:

Believe it or not, the world of the past was much worse. 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.

For centuries, social theorists like Hobbes and Rousseau speculated from their armchairs about what life was like in a “state of nature.” Nowadays we can do better. Forensic archeology—a kind of “CSI: Paleolithic”—can estimate rates of violence from the proportion of skeletons in ancient sites with bashed-in skulls, decapitations or arrowheads embedded in bones. And ethnographers can tally the causes of death in tribal peoples that have recently lived outside of state control.

Investigations show that, on average, about 15% of people in prestate eras died violently, compared to about 3% of the citizens of the earliest states. Tribal violence commonly subsides when a state or empire imposes control over a territory, leading to the various “paxes” (Romana, Islamica, Brittanica and so on) that are familiar to readers of history.

The second decline of violence was a civilizing process that is best documented in Europe. Historical records show that between the late Middle Ages and the 20th century, European countries saw a 10- to 50-fold decline in their rates of homicide.
The numbers are consistent with narrative histories of the brutality of life in the Middle Ages, when highwaymen made travel a risk to life and limb and dinners were commonly enlivened by dagger attacks. So many people had their noses cut off that medieval medical textbooks speculated about techniques for growing them back.

Historians attribute this decline to the consolidation of a patchwork of feudal territories into large kingdoms with centralized authority and an infrastructure of commerce. Criminal justice was nationalized, and zero-sum plunder gave way to positive-sum trade. People increasingly controlled their impulses and sought to cooperate with their neighbors.

It’s not that the first kings had a benevolent interest in the welfare of their citizens. Just as a farmer tries to prevent his livestock from killing one another, so a ruler will try to keep his subjects from cycles of raiding and feuding. From his point of view, such squabbling is a dead loss—forgone opportunities to extract taxes, tributes, soldiers and slaves.

Note this chart as well:

7 thoughts on “Is Everything Getting Worse?”

  1. I am just too old and have lived enough life to believe this! Indeed the Historic Pre-Mill position was at least held and believed by Irenaeus, etc. That the Judeo-Christian culture has diminished is all too obvious, also. No I have seen both so-called modernism and postmodernism in my 61 years (62 late next month). Btw, I am an old RMC, Royal Marine Commando, I was what they call a mustang.. enlisted to officer (over 10 years), and saw combat many times! So no charts can really speak to me here. The world has no idea to what the weapons of today can do! But sadly, they will!

  2. Well, I am not going to argue the entire position in a comment box, but I would note:

    1. Athanasius wrote: “Since the Savior’s Advent in our midst, not only does idolatry no longer increase, but it is getting less and gradually ceasing to be…while idolatry and everything else that opposes the faith of Christ is daily dwindling and weakening and falling, see, the Savior’s teaching is increasing everywhere!
    So also, now that the Divine epiphany of the Word of God has taken place, the darkness of idols prevails no more, and all parts of the world in every direction are enlightened by His teaching.”

    2. The collapse of Christendom and of the “Judeo-Christian” culture in the West is only one part of the story. There will be a 2nd Christendom in the future, and a 3rd, etc. if necessary. We already see vast numbers of Christians in Africa and Asia where previously there were but a handful. Read Jenkins “The Next Christendom.” We walk by faith, not by sight.

    3. “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.”

    4. The weapons of today may have produced this decline in violence! No longer do we have to fear massive army on army conflicts or foolish wars due to the threat of nuclear retaliation. This is not to say that it can’t happen, but those numbers don’t lie. Since WW II and Korea, the numbers go markedly down. You can also think of things like life-spans, vaccines, modern dentistry, and the progress of technology as ways in which things are getting better.

      1. Our advance will always be cross-centered. As Peter Leithart says: “The church will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, *ever* transcend the cross. Whatever we say about “latter day glory,” we can’t forget that we follow a *crucified* and risen Savior to the end.”


        I used to be premil, until I started taking 70 AD into account and the massive amount of prophecy in the NT that was fulfilled in 70 AD. Additionally, Jesus is ruling and reigning *now*, not just in the future and he has made many promises, such as “I will make the nations of the earth your heritage and the ends of the earth your posession” that I believe will be fulfilled, perhaps in 100,000 years. We may be in “the early church” right now. Of course these things have all been said elsewhere, and in a much better fashion.

      2. I was also a Theonomist for several years back in the 90’s myself, but A-Mill, and I like Leithart (I share some of his Federal Vision btw, note “some”) and have him on my blogroll. But Peter too has moved from Theonomy, and maybe in time, he will move to see and better understand the Salvation History, the Covenant, and the place of National Israel?

        Also, ya might want to read a bit of the American George Elton Ladd, and his classic stuff on the tension of the ‘Already but Not Yet’, theologically. Simply great stuff, and no one has equaled him here!

        I am now leaning toward the Progressive Dispensationalism, or PD. See Blaising & Bock’s classic book here (PD). And also Robert Saucy’s now classic book: The Case For Progressive Dispensationalism. Both books were written in the 90’s.

    1. Btw, ‘never say never’ when you are dealing and living in the realm of theology! We must all be changing, even if that change just means tweeking our so-called theology somewhat. I have changed my views at times on several things, and will again before my time comes, I am certain! The Doctrine of God is never a mere static thing, but hopefully something of GOD Himself! But as Paul says, “we know in part”.

      And we are all perhaps “chastened” theologically somewhere? I have found, like Geerhardus Vos said, that “eschatologically” we must begin here first!

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