In fact in Germany during the Nazi years the declining trend for one-on-one homicides continued… Eisner pointed out another complication for the theory of the Civilizing Process: the decline of violence in Europe and the rise of centralized states did not always proceed in lockstep. Belgium and the Netherlands were at the forefront of the decline, yet they lacked strong centralized governments. When Sweden joined the trend, it wasn’t on the heels of an expansion in state power either. Conversely, the Italian states were in the rearguard of the decline in violence, yet their governments wielded an enormous bureaucracy and police force. Nor did cruel punishments, the enforcement method of choice among early modern monarchs, reduce violence in the areas where they were carried out with the most relish.

Many criminologists believe that the source of the state’s pacifying effect isn’t just its brute coercive power but the trust it commands among the populace. After all, no state can post an informant in every pub and farmhouse to monitor breaches of the law, and those that try are totalitarian dictatorships that rule by fear, not civilized societies where people coexist through self-control and empathy. A Leviathan can civilize a society only when the citizens feel that its laws, law enforcement, and other social arrangements are legitimate, so that they don’t fall back on their worst impulses as soon as Leviathan’s back is turned This doesn’t refute Elias’s theory, but it adds a twist. An imposition of the rule of law may end the bloody mayhem of feuding warlords, but reducing rates of violence further, to the levels enjoyed by modern European societies, involves a more nebulous process in which certain populations accede to the rule of law that has been imposed on them.