The book, The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century by Walter Scheidel, tells us that large concentrations of wealth is the norm of civilized existence, along with “the ultimate foes in libertarian thought, the state and all its attendant extractive parts.”
Yet equality often results from calamities, such as “mass mobilization warfare, transformative revolution, state failure, and lethal pandemics.” The Great Leveler, it turns out, is great violence.
This appears to be a pessimistic outcome for libertarians: in order to flatten state power its conjoined inequality, mass violence seems necessary.
But Comegna disagrees. Social transformation need not be violent, as we here at PTB have set out to illustrate. His concluding paragraph rings like a paean to the idea behind PTB:
Scheidel largely discounts the possibility of peaceful reform, but perhaps what we need is a non-violent systems collapse or an individualist revolution. If we can manage to combine the strongest horsemen with the ideological opposite of coercion, perhaps we can both reduce inequality and do so non-violently. Rather than a true collapse, this might look more like a systems replacement. Instead of absolute leveling through nuclear annihilation, we might achieve it through digital currency reform, the 3-D printed domestic economy, an artificial intelligence explosion, space exploration, or the perfection of genetic manipulation. We might level inequality with any number of technological singularities or moral-cultural revolutions, but we should recognize that violence nearly always begets violence. In a world where our next mass conflict could be our last, no one should be willing to take the risk. As we lurch forward into an uncertain new era fraught with potential catastrophe, we should be mindful that power can never be trusted and its steady – but peaceful – dismantling might make the difference between survival and extinction.