Here’s something I came across in a recent article in the British Journal of Criminology: a graph showing murder rates in Germany from the medieval times to the present:
It’s contained in an article on European murder rates by Manuel Eisner in the British Journal of Criminology.
Obviously, the graph shows only ordinary civilian murder rates. Wars and mass extermination programs are excluded. The developments in Germany mirror those in other European states. The medieval era, in addition to being smelly, was extremely violent and dangerous; in most places, the murder rate was between 20 and 100 per 100,000. Now, in all European societies, it’s declined to around 1. Hooray for modernity!
But why has Europe become so much safer? Eisner discusses Norbert Elias’ idea of the civilizing process, of course, but there are other approaches. Eisner suggests a multi-factor approach which takes into account the declining importance of concepts of honor, the emergence of an "inward" and "disengaged" conception of human identity that fosters self-reflexion and rational discourse, and moral individualism and the decline of religiously-based "sacred obligations" that need defending by lethal means. It’s all very interesting, at least to me.