Capitalism, Rents and the Transformation of Violence

Published date01 April 2020
Date01 April 2020
Subject MatterResearch Articles
Research Article
Capitalism, Rents and
the Transformation
of Violence
Hannes Warnecke-Berger1
Violence seems on the rise. After centuries of declining homicide rates in the
Global North, violence has been transforming since the 1960s and even increased
in some parts. In the Global South, in contrast, levels of violence have remained
constantly high. The article questions both the liberal peace theory lately highlighted
by Steven Pinker as well as Marxist accounts on the relationship between capitalism
and increasing violence, lately dubbed accumulation by dispossession. This article
elaborates a heterodox Keynesian model of capitalist growth in which growth
ultimately depends on rising real wages. Following this Kaleckian model of
capitalism, money plays a pivotal role regarding the low propensity for violence
in capitalist societies: capitalist credit money tends to alter the matter of dispute
from non-divisible to divisible and thus functions as a general denominator for social
conflicts. Conflicts in capitalism are about ‘more or less’ instead of ‘either/or’. In the
Global South, in contrast, capitalism is too weak to structure the economic sphere
as economic rents predominate. Rents tend to favour social closure and social
verticalization. They are particularly prone to violence. Inasmuch as economic rents
penetrate capitalist societies, violence will be increasing in the Global North as well.
Capitalism, development, Imperialism, International Politics, Peace Studies/
Conflict Resolution, Violent Crime
Violence seems to regain relevance: neo-Nazi terror in Germany, deadly rowdy
beatings in underground stations, burning and looting in French banlieues, rioting
in London and Paris and mass sexual assaults in Cologne, to name only some
1 Senior Researcher, University of Kassel, Kassel, Germany.
Corresponding author:
Hannes Warnecke-Berger, University of Kassel, Nora-Platiel-Str. 1, 43127 Kassel, Germany.
Creative Commons Non Commercial CC BY-NC: This article is distributed under the
terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License (http://www. which permits non-Commercial use, reproduction and
distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specied
on the SAGE and Open Access pages (
International Studies
57(2) 111–131, 2020
2020 Jawaharlal Nehru University
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0020881720912898
112 International Studies 57(2)
path-breaking events in recent times. This violence is not simply an expression of
moral decay. It is a deep frustration that easily turns into blind rage. At the same
time, violence attracts a ‘perverse fascination’ (Avruch, 2001, p. 642) since TV
news and newspapers are full of stories about violence and bloodshed. Violence
seems to reappear in our ‘civilized’ world.
The highest occurrence of violence,1 however, is geographically concentrated
in the Global South and happens outside of inter-state and civil wars (Allansson,
Melander, & Themnér, 2017; Geneva Declaration Secretariat [GDS], 2015;
Pettersson & Eck, 2018; Schlichte, 2002; Soares, 2004). This violence is not part
of the traditional class struggle, eventually following a new and blurred cleavage.
It is a diffuse violence since it follows individual and seemingly arbitrary passions
rather than clear political objectives.
The search for patterns and causalities often leads to capitalism as an
explanatory factor. However, an explanation that links capitalism to violence (as
an explanatory factor for it) needs to take into account the following three aspects.
First, the explanation needs to consider the secular decrease of physical violence
until the mid-20th century in almost all capitalist societies (Eisner, 2014;
Goldstein, 2012, Pinker, 2012). Second, it needs to include the subsequent
transformation of physical violence in the same societies since the 1960s (Mann,
2018; Thome, 2007). Finally, it requires a reasoning why the Global South,
particularly Latin America and some African regions, have been plagued with
exorbitant levels of violence for quite some time now.
This article presents an idea to integrate these issues. The theoretical model
developed here contests two powerful arguments: it argues against the notion of
global capitalism that maintains that capitalism is everywhere and that following this
assertion violence is necessarily linked to capitalism. At the same time, this article
rejects the liberal conception of capitalism that assumes its necessary, pacifying role.
Rooted in a post-Keynesian, heterodox political economy, this article argues that
capitalism today is on the demise and large regions of the world are essentially non-
capitalist, including the Global South. Furthermore, the article argues that capitalist
growth is too weak to function as the mode of integration of the world system.
Consequently, the contemporary world system experiences a dramatic phase of
fragmentation. It is this fragmentation that ultimately provokes the return of violence.
The article will first discuss the empirical global panorama of violence that has
been developing since 1945. It presents a heterodox, post-Keynesian view on
capitalism in order to clarify the different socioeconomic structures in the Global
North and the Global South. Then, it will relate the outbreak of violence to the
particularities of economic rents and analyse how rents create a social environment
in which violence emerges. Finally, the article explains the recent increase of
violence in the Global North, attributing it to saturated capitalism.
Global Historical Distribution of Violence Since 1945
On a global scale, patterns of violence have been changing since the end of World
War II. This change occurred in at least three waves. The first wave was mainly
characterized by the formation of social movements that struggled for national

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