Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 August 2009
Every explanation of large-scale social change contains a theory of economics, a theory of politics, and a theory of social behavior. Sometimes, as in the materialist theory of Marx, the theories are explicit. Often, however, they are implicit, and even more often theories of economics and politics are independent. Despite a great deal of attention and effort, social science has not come to grips with how economic and political development are connected either in history or in the modern world. The absence of a workable integrated theory of economics and politics reflects the lack of systematic thinking about the central problem of violence in human societies. How societies solve the ubiquitous threat of violence shapes and constrains the forms that human interaction can take, including the form of political and economic systems.
This book lays out a set of concepts that show how societies have used the control of political, economic, religious, and educational activities to limit and contain violence over the last ten thousand years. In most societies, political, economic, religious, and military powers are created through institutions that structure human organizations and relationships. These institutions simultaneously give individuals control over resources and social functions and, by doing so, limit the use of violence by shaping the incentives faced by individuals and groups who have access to violence. We call these patterns of social organization social orders. Our aim is to understand how social orders structure social interactions.