The pre-industrial past was, by our standards, incredibly violent. In the middle ages, the murder rate in Oxford occasionally hit the same level as Dodge City at the height of the American gun-slinging wild west. But from 1500, the murder rates decreased rapidly, and not just in Oxford. In fact, across Europe, they more or less halved every 100 years, until they started to increase again in the late 20th century. The cause was better communication, through a massive increase in literacy and writing, allowing governments to act more regularly and with greater certainty of finding the guilty party. People started to think twice before drawing a knife in a brawl. Constables answering to the authorities pursued highwaymen and similar culprits far more rigorously than in previous centuries. As with many changes over past centuries, the development was so gradual that contemporaries did not comment on them; they also quickly took a safer society for granted. But that very thing – a safer society – is something not to be thrown away lightly.The article mentions societal changes, but it is hard to imagine that communications in Europe were much better in 1500 than in 1400, or that there was greater certainty in judicial decisions. Moreover, if that was a cause for declining crime from the 16th Century onward, why would crime increase again in the late 20th Century when communications and crime detection techniques had improved so dramatically?
It made me think of my recent post on the "Warrior Gene." In that post, I noted research indicating that black men had the "warrior gene" at 10 times the rate of "white men." However, instead of wondering why the rate is so high in blacks, perhaps the question we should be asking is why it is so low in whites? Did something happen (or, rather, begin to happen) in the 14th Century and onward that favored those without the warrior gene? Something that happened in Europe but not Africa?
That it may be something genetic would also explain the increase of crime in the late 20th Century, when the United States saw a rapid urbanization of minorities, and Europe began importing large numbers of minority workers.