Associate Professor Chris Waters will present his paper, ‘A provocation based on the thesis contained in Walter Scheidel’s The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century’, at this week’s History Seminar (Wednesday, 11am).
This paper is a ‘provocation’ based on the thesis contained in the important recent work of economic history by Walter Scheidel entitled The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century. Scheidel argues that serious economic inequality has been the default setting for societies over the last 3,000 years except when four exceptional circumstances have hit the humankind. The four exceptional circumstances have been firstly, mass mobilization warfare, such as the world wars of the twentieth century, secondly, lethal pandemics causing massive decline in population, such as the Black Death, thirdly, transformative revolution which completely up-turned the state, the economy and those owning it, such as the Bolshevik revolution, and fourthly, total state failure, such as the end of the Roman Empire. Therefore he argues the return to extreme income and wealth inequality over the last 40 years around the world is not an aberration, but a return to ‘historical normality’. Scheidel’s work challenges us on a number of fronts, including the place of economic history in the work of contemporary historians and the idea of ‘progress in history’. This paper is designed to stimulate a lively discussion on these and other issues about researching and writing history in the early twenty-first century.