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Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History 1st Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521761734
ISBN-10: 0521761735
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Editorial Reviews


"This much-anticipated, pioneering, sweeping millennial history explains how the evolution of impersonal and standardized treatment, a rule of law for elites, perpetual forms of organization, and consolidated political control of the military combined to produce the 'open access' logic of rent erosion and economic growth often observed in the modern world. Emphatically multi-causal in approach, the book will persuade all those who want to analyze the complex interactions of beliefs, institutions, and organizations that they have to deal with its arguments." - James Alt, Harvard University

"Why do we obey laws, adhere to rules, and conform to norms? Doug North, John Wallis, and Barry Weingast offer a simple, powerful, and compelling answer - disorder and the violence it entails. This book is must-reading for anyone serious about the origins of social order and the reasons for its disintegration." - Stephen Ansolabehere, Harvard University

"A masterful and revealing interpretation of how 'nasty, brutish, and short' became healthy, wealthy, and peaceful and why the transformation occurred in some nations but not in others." - Claudia Goldin, Harvard University

"Violence and Social Orders is a thought-provoking, pioneering, and ambitious study. It should be read by anyone interested in the institutional underpinning of development." - Avner Greif, Stanford University

"This book presents a powerful new theory of the interaction between law, politics, and the structure of power. It is sure to be influential for decades to come." - Daniel Klerman, University of Southern California

"Why are poor countries poor and rich countries rich? North, Wallis, and Weingast explain why - it's the politics stupid! A compelling book for anyone who wants to understand the world." - James A. Robinson, Harvard University

"A major work of great ambition, this book will become a standard reference in any informed discussion on how societies make the transition from anarchy to democracy, and from poverty to wealth." - Dani Rodrik, Harvard University

"Violence and Social Orders expands institutional economics into new realms, presenting an innovative perspective on the organization of pre-modern societies. Anthropologists and other social scientists will find much to think about in this important book." - Michael E. Smith, Arizona State University

"If anyone is iconic in the economic history world Doug North certainly qualifies.... This time, North is joined by two prominent and strong-minded co-authors, John Wallis and Barry Weingast. Their collaboration has been fruitful.... Above all, the notion that one cannot simply 'get rid' of the superficial exterior of natural states and thereby uncover the beating heart of an open access order yearning to be free is the book's most important idea, and profound." - EH.Net

"...an immodestly titled and immoderately stimulating book..." - Jonathan Rauch, The National Journal

"While there is still much more work to be done in understanding how to get from here to there, the authors' insights regarding the control of violence in natural, limited access societies versus modern, open-access societies are nonetheless major contributions.... North, Wallis, and Weingast's analysis of violence and its suppression provides a simple, straightforward path to understanding both authoritarianism and transitional violence." - D. Roderick Kiewiet, California Institute of Technology, Journal of Economic History

"A demanding but rewarding work, with intriguing echoes of Marx.... Highly recommended." - Choice

"With bravado, abandon, and great learning, North, Wallis, and Weingast have produced an excellent read-a book that is intriguing, entertaining, irritating, and provocative. Violence and Social Orders is an important book that deserves a wide readership. Its concepts will shape academic discourse and its arguments in the fields of economic history and development studies." - Robert Bates, Harvard University, Journal of Economic Literature

"... strong, persuasive ... Anyone interested in development, economic history, the analysis of institutions or the idea of a generalized social science would do well to read this book. ... what is new in the book is the way its authors have connected, systematized and synthesized these previously disparate ideas to produce the limited-/open-access framework with which they propose to interpret human history. Their framework proves strikingly effective at this task. ... the new social science paradigm it presents is compelling and worthy of wide attention." - Mark Holden, International Affairs

Book Description

This book integrates the problem of violence into a larger social science and historical framework, showing how economic and political behavior are closely linked. In most societies, which we call natural states, the polity limits violence by manipulating the economy, creating privileges. In contrast, modern societies create open access to economic and political organizations, fostering political and economic competition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 346 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (February 26, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521761735
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521761734
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #680,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a work of historical interpretation. Every age must have its favorite broad-brush, evocative, wide-ranging historical leitmotiv, most of which in retrospect are but political spins on well-known events, and wish-lists for political activity in the present. Think of the Decline and Fall of the..., or Takeoff into Self-Sustained..., or even the Communist Manifesto. Think of the Road to Serfdom and think of Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. Most such endeavors, when successful, are cultural markers of their epochs, but rarely are more prescient that your average Hollywood blockbuster.

North, Wallis and Weingast (hereafter NWW) offer a story that is indeed a major morality tale of our age: the centrality of the nation state in promoting or hindering economic development. So many countries have made the transition from backwardness to development, more or less in the same way over the past few decades that it has become clear that "politics," not "economics" is the main sticking point in improving the welfare of the poor around the world. NWW claim that the predatory states that feed corrupt elites by exploiting a powerless citizenry are the source of the problem of underdevelopment, and in my opinion, they are correct. They also claim that such predatory states ("natural states" in their vocabulary) are self-reproducing, and make the transition to modernity ("open-access orders") only under highly specific conditions.

The authors of Violence and Social Orders are eminent intellectuals all, one having received a Nobel prize in economics. The book claims novelty in many places, but their general argument, while mostly true, is not at all new, and is not the whole story.
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Format: Hardcover
Institutional analysis in Economics has long been waiting for a study that is more substantive than formal and more prognosis-driven than diagnosis-driven. Two landmarks of the more formal and diagnosis-driven study are Douglass North's Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance (1990) and Avner Greif's Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy (2006). Now we have a new landmark of the more substantive and prognosis-driven study--Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History (2009) by Douglass North, John Wallis, and Barry Weingast (NWW).

In North's Understanding the Process of Economic Change (2005), we learned that "there is no set formula for achieving economic development. No economic model can capture the intricacies of economic growth in a particular society. While the sources of productivity growth are well known, the process of economic growth is going to vary with every society, reflecting the diverse cultural heritages and the equally diverse geographic, physical, and economic settings" (North 2005: 165). In Violence and Social Orders, the "set formula for achieving economic development" appears to be eventually found.

The message from this book is: Natural state (fragile, basic, and mature) and open access society are two basic forms of social orders in which violence control is the central problem; the degree of open access to political-economic organizations (impersonality and perpetuality) defines various social orders and their level of social development.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Violence and Social Orders discusses the stages of political economy and the process of evolution of the stages. The authors outline 3 stages, foraging stage, the natural stage and the open access stage. Foraging orders (not discussed in any detail) pertain to human society in the hunter gatherer stage in which relationships were kin based and constrained to small groups. Natural orders, which have many stages, are defined by the balance of power of elites. And open access orders are societies whose social contracts are defined by impersonal rights. Violence and Social Orders discusses human history by analyzing the transition and periodicity of these social orders. It discusses many case examples amd examines what the stresses and strains are that each face. Perhaps not as original as the authors describe, the account is nonetheless well argued and very readable.

Written history has mainly been recorded in a period that the authors describe as a natural state. The natural state they argue formed through the cooperation of elites to reduce violence in exchange for power sharing. One can easily imagine the example of powerful small group leaders agreeing to allow each other to focus on productivity in exchange for cease fires. In such situations, the authors contend that the absense of violence does not imply its lack of precence in the indirect but just as important manifestation- the threat of violence. The authors generally use specific case examples to highlight their points. Within natural states the authors spend much time discussing the difference between the elites as individuals vs elites as being within a social group of entitled power.
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