How tractable is changing the course of history?
Jamie Harris
Researcher
March 12, 2019

This blog post series explores methodological questions and challenges in the use of historical research by Sentience Institute, the effective altruism community, and the farmed animal movement. It is broader in scope, more theoretical, and more meta than most of Sentience Institute’s research, but I have tried to regularly bring the discussion back to concrete examples (e.g. WWI and the French Revolution) with concrete implications for advocates. The other posts are on “What can the farmed animal movement learn from history?” and “How is SI research different from existing social movement literature and relevant historical works?”[1]

Edited by Jacy Reese. Many thanks to Kelly Witwicki, J. Mohorčich, Rose Hadshar, Carl Shulman, Gregory Lewis, Tobias Baumann, Zach Groff, and Yannick Mühlhäuser for reviewing and providing feedback.

Introduction

Summary

View updates

Theoretical approaches

Insights from historians

Insights from sociologists

Insights from mathematicians

Historical case studies

The causes of the industrial revolution

World War I, 1914-1918

The French Revolution, 1789-1815

The development of American environmentalism in the 1960s

The tractability of social change through intellectual developments

Social scientific studies

Comparative historical sociology

Empirical data on the success rates of social movements

External constraints on the impact of social movements

The importance of leaders

How tractable are trajectory changes towards moral circle expansion?

To what extent is MCE determined by long-term, indirect factors?

To what extent is continued MCE inevitable?

Other arguments

Ideas for further research

Introduction

Many effective altruists think the far future is an important consideration when working to do the most good.[2] Nick Beckstead has written about changes to humanity’s development trajectory, suggesting that some of these may be based on historical contingency, such as how the specificities of Christian morality have shaped the world,[3] and argued that “what it is best to do is primarily determined by how our actions are expected to change our development trajectory.” Along similar lines, Sentience Institute is “dedicated to the expansion of humanity’s moral circle,” and our research director Jacy Reese has written about why he prioritizes this over another route to affecting the far future, artificial intelligence alignment.

Gregory Lewis has considered some arguments on “How fragile was history? and emphasized that “trivial contingencies” in the conception of a human embryo could affect “whether an individual or a potential sibling exists," and that this could “cascade onwards” to create further unpredictable counterfactual changes. He noted that “the value of efforts to shape the long-run future rely upon fragility being not too extreme either way" and suggested that further investigation would be helpful.

In this post, I consider one important aspect of the tractability of social change:[4] “How tractable is it to change the course of history?” This is distinct from questions about the tractability of social change through specific mechanisms, such as "How efficient are nonprofits?" or "How easy is book publishing?” 

Although any trivial action, like throwing a tennis ball, could have long-term implications, Hilary Greaves has explained that “when you do your expected-value theory the mere possibility that you might make things better in these completely unpredictable ways is just more or less precisely canceled out by the equally plausible mere possibility that you might make things worse in equally unpredictable ways.” This does not apply, however, “where there are some highly-structured, systematic reasons for thinking there might be a general tendency of my action to make things better, but there might also for some other reasons be a general tendency to make things worse.” Given that the impact of any action will presumably be dominated by difficult to measure long-term impacts, the behavior of those seeking to maximize their positive impact “should be almost entirely driven by what your best guess is” about the long-term implications. By this logic, the important question for those seeking to maximize their impact is not just, “How tractable is changing the course of history?” but “How tractable is it for thoughtful actors to change the course of history in their intended direction?”

This post is primarily focused on assessing the extent to which a small group of thoughtful actors, such as a single animal advocacy nonprofit, can deliberately change the course of history, such as to encourage moral circle expansion (MCE); increasing the number of sentient beings whose interests are considered in our legal systems and social norms. This deliberate influence, shortened as “historical tractability,” is contrasted with three other sources of change: (1) long-term trends, (2) luck, and (3) deliberate yet hard-to-influence efforts.

Social change would be less tractable if its causes were slow-moving and long-term, or only had an indirect relationship to change. For example, the more one thinks indirect effects of economic growth and prosperity have driven MCE, the less role there is for direct MCE advocacy.

I use the term “luck” to refer to non-deliberate factors. For example, a trajectory change could depend on whether or not it rained on a particular day in a particular place or whether traffic made someone miss an important meeting.

Some deliberate efforts could be hard to influence directly, such as discussion between a powerful politician and a single advisor.

I use the term “contingency” to refer collectively to the influence of luck and hard-to-influence decisions.

Fig. 1. Sub-questions of “How tractable is social change?” Note that the subquestion, "How tractable is changing the course of history?" is the subject of this blog post.

Due to the availability of evidence and focus of the existing literature, this post will spend more time on theories and case studies which are not specific to MCE. At the end of the post, I will compare the tractability of MCE to that of other historical social trends.

Summary

The evidence considered in this post suggests that the course of history — including trajectories towards MCE — can be influenced to a significant degree by small groups of thoughtful actors, which suggests MCE should be a high priority for people who endorse longtermism in the effective altruism community, which supports the claim that focusing on MCE is a valuable use of limited resources.[5] While our conclusion was positive, there are mitigating concerns that contingency plays an important role in determining historical outcomes, and that long-term, indirect factors also reduce the tractability of changing the course of history for thoughtful actors.

To a first approximation, we can examine the evidence for historical tractability by tracking scholarly opinion on the causation of important historical events. To date the trend is that historians have moved away from Marxist approaches, as seen in the French Revolution debates, but also away from the Great Man Theory, towards a more compromising position. There have been similar moves towards compromise in sociology between structuralism and its critics. I don’t find any of these theories especially compelling, and given the unresolved academic debates on these issues, it seems more justified to use them as analytical frameworks that can be used with particular case studies rather than to consider them to be consistently accurate generalizations.

Majority opinion among historians of World War I has oscillated between holding the actions of national leaders (especially in Germany) responsible for the outbreak of war, and emphasizing the importance of longer-term factors outside of their direct control. There is now an increased acceptance of the importance of various contingent factors such as the success or failure of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the negotiations in July 1914. Although I have not read the primary evidence myself and so do not hold confident views, it seems plausible that changes in these contingent factors would have prevented war.[6] Historians seem to accept the importance of a variety of causes of the French Revolution. From my understanding of the evidence, it seems that while the occurrence of some sort of radical social change in France in the 18th and 19th centuries wasn’t as dependent on contingency as the outbreak of World War I, the precise path and outcomes of the Revolution were. From an effective altruism perspective, the precise path might not be very important, but it is possible that this could have dramatically altered the outcomes of the Revolution. It seems unlikely that the development of the industrial revolution depended much on contingency given the long-term forces at play, although other forms of trajectory change may still have been tractable. In several of the included historical case studies, notably with the rise of US environmentalism in the 1960s, the apparent influence of certain intellectuals suggests that their ideas might be more important than luck or subsequent decision-making processes in shaping broad developments.

These case case studies also provide evidence of the importance of long-term, indirect factors that might reduce tractability, though this is not so much the case with World War I (depending on how much confidence one places in recent arguments in favor of contingency).

Empirical studies by social movement sociologists show that social movements and individual organizations have succeeded in having an impact but that this is difficult and usually only achieved with the support of public opinion and/or allies in the political system. Comparative historical sociologists note the importance of broad contextual factors in shaping historical outcomes, but accepting their arguments doesn’t limit tractability much. Other social scientists have found evidence of the substantial importance of leaders on some outcomes, which has mixed implications for tractability.

View updates

Given the varying intuitions and existing views of people on the topic of tractability, we can’t easily present conclusions from this work that would apply to all readers, so this section instead specifically details how Jamie Harris (author) and Jacy Reese (editor) changed their views during the course of this project.

Sentience Institute staff had similar initial intuitions that key actors have medium or low influence over the outcomes of history on a scale from “such actors have no control, and everything is entirely a result of wider factors” to “one small group could determine the entire outcome of a major historical change or event.”

Through researching and writing this post, I have updated towards contingency playing a greater role in determining historical outcomes than I initially hypothesized, most notably as a result of the historical case studies considered here. Considering the broad implications of chaos theory also led me to update slightly towards the importance of contingency. Given that chaos theory has been used to improve prediction accuracy for issues such as weather systems, it seems that it has some real-world applicability, the implications of which contrast with my previous intuitions about causation. This importance of contingency limits historical tractability.

I have not significantly updated my views on the extent to which historical outcomes are determined by long-term, indirect factors that are hard for thoughtful actors to control, although my starting intuition was already to attribute relatively high significance to these factors.

Jacy Reese, our Research Director who edited this article, updated slightly towards increased historical tractability because (1) there was slightly less agreement than expected among historians on the inevitability of the case study events (e.g. World War I) due to long-term, indirect forces, and (2) the figures in the quantitative sociology reviews of social change organizations were slightly higher than expected. Jacy didn’t have a discernible change in his view on the role of contingency specifically.

We had a range of views about the tractability of MCE compared to other historical social trends, although the differences partly stemmed from our different understandings of the issues relevant to this question; our views converged slightly through the  writing of this post, although substantial differences remain.

I updated towards viewing MCE as more similar in tractability to other historical social trends after internal SI discussion, especially surrounding the relationship between inevitability and tractability.

Moral circle expansion as a particular type of social change seems to be heavily influenced by indirect, long-term factors, including reason, education, wealth, and the level of value provided by exploitation of other sentient beings—I’d guess even more so than some other types of trajectory change, such as changed military trends, although further comparative research would be needed for me to be confident in a judgement on this. Although I still see a variety of indirect factors as encouraging MCE, I no longer see this as being so important in reducing tractability.

I have not come across any good evidence that the trajectory towards moral circle expansion would be any more or less determined by contingency than other historical social trends, except for the possibility that the breadth of moral circles might end up being significantly determined by the values and decisions of a small number of individuals with influence over the nature of important technologies like  superintelligence (such as AI researchers, policy makers, company executives, or thought leaders), which might actually increase tractability, since MCE within a smaller group of people could be less difficult to achieve than MCE in society as a whole.

Jacy Reese didn’t have a discernible change in his views on the difference in historical tractability between MCE and non-MCE (mainly economic or military) trajectories. Notably, Jacy believes that MCE is relatively more tractable than economic and military events like World War I and the French Revolution, mainly because he believes self-interest (e.g. French revolutionaries who expected price controls on food and greater access to the political system) plays a much larger role in non-MCE trajectories. Thus, those trajectories may tend to be more inevitable and less amenable to thoughtful actors tipping the direction one way or another.

See this spreadsheet for quantitative versions of these views, before and after this research project. Note, however, that some of the quantitative changes reflect modified understanding of the questions and concepts involved in this post, rather than substantial updates from the empirical evidence.

Theoretical approaches

Diverse theories from a variety of academic disciplines have different implications for the tractability of changing the course of history for thoughtful actors. Although these theories hold varying degrees of academic support, it is not easy to find expert consensus on the issue from any discipline, and there is a lack of empirical evidence in the theoretical literature.

Insights from historians

Arthur Marwick noted that “practising historians as a profession are united neither in the acceptance of one body of theory, nor even in the view that theoretical approaches are helpful or desirable,"[7] a view which is widely attested elsewhere.[8]

Thomas Carlyle famously argued that “the History of the world is but the Biography of great men,[9] an attitude referred to as the Great Man Theory. This theory has received widespread criticism,[10] but is still used and defended by some historians, either explicitly or implicitly.[11] Rather than a formal theory which is empirically tested, this idea reflects the preference of historians for different focuses of history; the “Great Man Theory” is associated with more traditional, political history, whereas many prefer to study “history from below," newer forms of history that emphasize social, economic, or cultural topics.[12] So this “theory” is more a framework and does not have much use in itself for assessing the tractability of changing the course of history for thoughtful actors, though the empirical question of how much “great men” influence history remains important.[13]

The Annales school of history placed greater weight on longer-term and underlying factors than had been conventional in political narratives. Marxist conceptions of history emphasize historical materialism, in which social change stems from tensions within an economic system. Despite seeing economic processes as crucial to explaining historical change, Marxism allows a role for thoughtful actors by seeing class conflict as a driver of change, which actors could encourage or discourage. Indeed, Marxist historians have debated the role individual agency plays in social change.[14] But these theories are so “loose” and “teleological” that their overall validity cannot be proven or disproven.[15] Historians have drawn on or developed other theories about the causes of historical change,[16] but given these theories contribute little to an understanding of tractability other than to highlight potentially important drivers of historical change, it seems more useful to consider whether they bring useful insights to specific case studies (which I will discuss in the section “Historical case studies below).

Insights from sociologists

Within sociology there are a variety of broad theories which suggest different extents of influence for historical actors. Broadly, structural functionalism and consensus theory might imply that actors have little influence, since society tends towards stability with widespread agreement about norms and rules. For example, Talcott Parsons, in his “voluntaristic theory of action, emphasizes the importance of “conditions” in defining the possibilities for success of individual actions[17] and considers individual actions within systems of action and as part of an “organic whole.[18] He saw “normative integration” as being secured by various mechanisms in society,[19] although he allowed some room for individual agency.[20] This broad theory has lost support in academia, however; it came to prominence in the specific post-WWII historical context[21] and was subsequently challenged. John Holmwood notes “four main bodies of criticism from the late 1960s onwards. These are (1) conflict theory, (2) Marxist criticisms, (3) rational actor or rational choice approaches, and lastly (4) ‘neo-functionalist’ approaches.”[22]

Other theoretical frameworks place more emphasis on individual agency and the potential for change, including conflict theory,[23] and, more notably, rational actor approaches.[24] A consensus has not yet been reached between functionalism and its critics,[25] although some sociologists have proposed general theories that reach a compromise between theories that emphasize structural factors and those which emphasize individual agency,[26] and sociologists have moved towards the latter.[27]

Similar theoretical disagreement divides the narrower field of social movement studies.[28] Many European sociologists have stressed the importance of ideological control in society and that change can be achieved through the reshaping of ideologies, or through class conflict.[29] Alain Touraine, for example, argued that “men make their own history: social life is produced by cultural achievements and social conflicts, and at the heart of society burns the fire of social movements.”[30] His book is an almost entirely theoretical construction, however, with no empirical application.[31] In contrast, American sociologists have tended to follow rational actor theories, although scholars on both sides of the Atlantic have moved towards a compromise position.[32] Although such theoretical frameworks are relevant to our question, they provide relatively little value for understanding the tractability of social change in practice, unless their implications are demonstrated in historical cases (see “Insights from empirical sociological studies” below).

Insights from mathematicians

In mathematics, chaos theory might have implications for historical tractability by emphasizing the importance of contingency in complex systems,[33] though the connection between mathematical and social principles is arguably tenuous. Human interaction across varying contexts and periods is always complex,[34] and chaos theory suggests that in certain complex systems, a small change in initial conditions can spark a chain of events which leaves the final outcomes almost unpredictable. This is the so-called butterfly effect, named for the idea that, “A butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can produce a tornado in Texas.”[35] Although not applicable to all complex systems or directly applicable to historical contexts,[36] this concept should encourage us to see the outcomes of history as difficult to intentionally shape and control, given that mathematics has demonstrated that small changes can have large (and difficult to predict) consequences.[37] Consider, for example, that if different sperm had reached the egg in the conception of various historical figures (e.g. Adolf Hitler, Abraham Lincoln), different individuals would have been born and one such change could have altered the course of major world events.

Though if one is concerned that there could be too little chaos for sufficient historical tractability, then the consideration of chaos theory could be a positive update.

Historical case studies

The use of wide theories (those that attempt to explain a large number of social events with simplified principles) has been criticized within both sociology[38] and history.[39] Of course, the ambition of such theories alone reduces their explanatory power.

Empirical case studies more similar to the farmed animal movement are more informative, though in this blog post, I will mostly prioritize examples where there has been thorough analysis of causation in the existing literature, on which we can base discussion of the tractability of changing the course of history.[40] Using historical case studies for this purpose is limited by the difficulty of coming to firm conclusions about historical causation; this methodological difficulty will be discussed more thoroughly in the section on “How confident can we be in judgements about historical causation?” in a following post on “What can the farmed animal movement learn from history?”

To reduce the time spent on this research, I have relied on summary works and literature reviews, rather than trying to read all relevant academic contributions or to thoroughly evaluate the strength of the evidence for particular interpretations.[41]

The causes of the industrial revolution

Nick Beckstead questioned historians about the inevitability of the industrial revolution and the “Great Divergence. If the industrial revolution is believed to have been the inevitable result of long-term, indirect factors, then this would suggest that thoughtful actors would have little control over this historical direction; they would likely only be able to speed up or slow down development. Despite a variety of causes being considered, Beckstead found “no consensus about which of these factors played an essential role, or even that all potentially essential factors have been identified, and that expert historians disagreed quite drastically about the extent to which general aspects of the industrial revolution were inevitable.

Given this, Beckstead remained uncertain about the inevitability of the industrial revolution, noting that factors partially outside of human control, such as "a catastrophe of unprecedented severity" might plausibly have disrupted progress. Additionally, Joel Mokyr explained to Beckstead that he sees scientific culture in Europe as an important factor in determining the historical trend towards industrial revolution. The importance of both of these long-term and indirect factors seems likely to have reduced the tractability of ensuring or preventing the occurrence of something resembling an "industrial revolution."[42] Even so, influencing the narratives and discussion of technological change at this time in a way that would alter humanity's long-term trajectory may have been more tractable than ensuring or preventing technological change.

If I had to guess, I’d expect that technological advancement (and to a lesser extent, adoption), such as that which fueled the industrial revolution, is less vulnerable to change via the precise decisions of leaders, or even the precise ideas of researchers and inventors, than social changes and the expansion of humanity’s moral circle. This is because, as noted in our Foundational Questions Summaries, “technology seems to mostly go through monotonic progress, i.e. we mostly have better — or at least not worse — technology as we used to except in extreme cases like societal collapse or government-mandated destruction of research findings.”

World War I, 1914-1918

There are several axes of debate within the historiography of the causes of World War I that have implications for historical tractability:

  1. To what extent were the leaders of any one country or group of countries responsible for the outbreak of World War I, or were longer-term, difficult to control factors responsible?
  2. To what extent did short-term factors like the assassination of Franz Ferdinand or the precise outcome of negotiations in July 1914 play an important role?
  3. To what extent did luck play a role, such as the minor details of train timetables?

At the end of the war, Germany was made to formally accept responsibility by Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Shortly afterwards, however, “revisionist” historians challenged the idea of German responsibility for the war.[43] Most notably, Sidney Fay asserted that the blame on Germany was based on “national prejudice,” “deliberate propagandist misrepresentation,” and selectively chosen government documents.[44] Rejecting the implications of this evidence, he concluded that no one country was to blame.[45] Although Harry Barnes blamed Russia and France[46] and Bernadotte Schmitt challenged Fay in some elements,[47] a consensus emerged that no country desired war, but that collectively, the European powers allowed the crisis to go out of control.[48] This broad consensus lasted mostly into the 1950s, although towards the end of this period, historians like Luigi Albertini, A.J.P. Taylor, Barbara Tuchman, and Gerhard Ritter placed more blame on German miscalculation.[49] 

The long-lasting consensus that blame should not be attributed to any one group relied partly on emphasis on the importance of longer-term, underlying causes of war, rather than the short-term decisions of governments.[50] In 1928, Sidney Fay suggested a range of underlying causes, which he summarized as “(a) the system of secret alliances; (b) militarism; (c) nationalism; (d) economic imperialism; and (e) the newspaper press.”[51] Fay was not alone in arguing that international factors were crucial.[52] A longer-term view of the role of Europe’s ruling elites could hold them accountable for the shaping of these conditions; A.J.P. Taylor emphasizes Otto von Bismarck’s role in the formation of the alliance system in the late 19th century, for example.[53] In the shorter term, however, the importance of such factors would remove agency and fault from either individual governments in the early 20th century or Serbian nationalists. Indeed, emphasizing longer-term factors implies war was somewhat inevitable. This position has been explicitly defended by some historians.[54] This would suggest that diverting Europe away from war would have been difficult for a hypothetical group of historical actors seeking to avoid war, unless they had control over longer-term factors.

The revisionist consensus was shattered by the work of Fritz Fischer, who published an article in 1959 that argued the German civilian and military leadership had pursued expansionist goals.[55] Across this article and his books of 1961 and 1969, Fischer argued for German responsibility for the outbreak of war, even claiming that the German government had intentionally provoked a wider international war, rather than a more limited, local war.[56] This led to heavy debate with historians like Gerhard Ritter, Egmont Zechlin, and Dietrich Erdmann challenging Fischer’s claims.[57]

Some elements of Fischer’s arguments have been widely rejected. Fischer’s claim that Germany had planned from 1912 to intentionally provoke a wider war of aggression has “been abandoned by virtually all historians,” according to Mark Hewitson, since it was based on selective use of evidence and a misunderstanding of a sarcastic remark of the German chancellor about a “War Council” that the Kaiser had called.[58] Other elements have proved more enduring, however. Annika Mombauer claimed that after two decades of debate from the early 1960s to the early 1980s, historians had reached consensus on Germany being significantly to blame, having sought to provoke a war and having been willing to risk its spread into a wider international war.[59]

The assertion of such a consensus is disputed, however,[60] and if such a consensus was ever reached, it has not lasted in its entirety, since there is ongoing debate about the extent of German responsibility. In reviewing a range of books published on the subject in 2012-14, Hew Strachan suggests that they point to a “revival of the old [pre-Fischer] orthodoxy.”[61]

Fischer and his supporters, as well as other historians who have considered the role and culpability of other governments,[62] have emphasized  the importance of specific decisions of national governments in the decades before the war as causes of war, rather than emphasizing the importance of international, underlying factors. Their arguments imply that politicians, generals, and other political influencers had some control over outcomes.

They also emphasize shorter-term factors like the actions of governments during the July Crisis. Emphasizing the importance of the July Crisis allows an important role for thoughtful actors in determining whether war broke out or not by granting a role for conscious decisions and negotiations. But given that the precise reactions of other governments are relatively unpredictable during a crisis, this emphasis also suggests that the outbreak of the World War I was significantly more contingent on short-term decision-making than Fay, Schmitt, and the early revisionists suggested. This emphasis on the importance of the negotiations in July 1914, rather than the preceding assassination of Franz Ferdinand, detracts from the historical importance of the Serbian nationalist assassins.

Even before Fischer, A.J.P. Taylor emphasized the importance of contingency through the role of train timetables and the specific diplomatic decisions made in July 1914.[63][64] In various publications, he expressed his theory about the importance of the train timetables prepared by the military strategists of Europe in locking the governments into aggressive actions in 1914.[65] This argument is partly just provocative phrasing, masking an agreement with previous revisionists that longer-term factors like the alliance system and a growing offensive militarism were crucial in shaping decisions,[66] mixed with a claim that it was the specific nature of Germany’s war plans that compelled them to provoke European war in 1914.[67] But Taylor also argues for the contingency and unpredictability of historical outcomes more broadly, suggesting that “perhaps the war which broke out in 1914 had no profound causes.[68] Part of his argument rests on the importance of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 and how close the attempt came to failing. Taylor describes how, “of the six conspirators” who were placed to assassinate Franz Ferdinand during his visit to Sarajevo, “five failed to do anything," and it was only because of a change of route of the procession that Gavrilo Princip was able to shoot the Archduke.[69]

Taylor’s arguments have been widely criticized, both by those who emphasize the importance of long-term factors and by those who broadly align with Taylor’s emphasis on the importance of contingency.[70] Nevertheless, more recent works have also emphasized the role of historical contingency, be it through the importance of the assassination in June 1914 or the minutiae of the diplomatic proceedings in July.[71][72] William Mulligan and Sean McMeekin both emphasize that medium-term factors were important and only the interaction of these with the assassination (and the subsequent decisions of diplomats) produced war in 1914, and McMeekin suggests that without the assassination itself, war might not have occurred.[73] Their reviewers have partially accepted their arguments but challenged some more specific elements of their claims.[74]

Some subsequent works have returned to a position comparable to Fay’s.[75] Nevertheless, Taylor, Fischer, and many of the more recent works can all be seen to emphasize short-term diplomatic decisions and a greater role for contingency than Fay did.[76]

In aggregate, the writings of Taylor, Fischer, and more recent work on World War I has mixed implications for historical tractability. It suggests that:

Given the cyclical and unresolved debate about the causes of World War I, we should not place too much weight on these conclusions.[77]

If I had to guess, I’d expect that military history, and World War I especially, are more vulnerable to change on the decisions of leaders than social attitude changes and the expansion of humanity’s moral circle.[78]

It’s also important to note that in discussions among historians, they rarely explicitly address the crucial counterfactual question of “Would World War I have happened without this specific person, group, or event?” Most discussions are in vaguer, more general terms about “causes” and “contingency,” which make it hard to extract concrete opinions on the tractability of changing the course of history in this instance.

The French Revolution, 1789-1815

Historical tractability in the French Revolution is a more directly relevant topic for moral circle expansion, primarily since it contributed to increased political representation of the interests of people outside of traditional elites.

A variety of causes of the French Revolution have been highlighted: the financial difficulties of the French state (including the changing balance of power in Europe and the wars that drove France further into debt,[79] the inefficient structure of the taxation and borrowing systems,[80] and the struggling French economy due to feudalism[81]); the rise of the bourgeoisie, who struggled against aristocratic attempts to retain power and privilege;[82] institutional factors which made reform of the state difficult;[83] the development of Enlightenment ideas;[84] and other changing cultural discourses in France.[85]

The “traditional” or “classical” interpretation of the causes of the French Revolution is a broadly Marxist interpretation which emphasizes the importance of the development of the bourgeoisie, who challenged the aristocracy and were pushed onwards (and leftwards) by the proletariat.[86] Other developments, such as Enlightenment thought, were seen as arising from these socio-economic changes.[87] In spite of a few right-wing writers,[88] this view was widely supported.[89] This view implies that the outbreak of a revolution (or at least radical social and political change in this general direction) was inevitable in France, and therefore that there was little that any small group of actors could do to prevent (or cause) it.

The 1950s and onwards saw the emergence of “revisionism” that challenged these class-based arguments.[90] Further criticism was added by historical sociologists.[91] A variety of current political trends have encouraged further dissociation from the Marxist interpretations;[92] support for more literal Marxist interpretations in particular, which emphasize identifiable, bourgeois class consciousness—awareness of their unity as a class—as a driver of change, has been undermined.[93] This has made it harder to pull together a coherent explanation of the causes of the Revolution.[94] Of course, many of the specifics within these revisions have been debated,[95] while others have reached greater acceptance.[96] There are sites of disagreement within the Marxist and revisionist groups, as well as overlap between them.[97] 

Revisionist views have mixed implications for the inevitability of radical social and political change in France and therefore for the tractability of changing the historical trajectory. An emphasis on the importance of court politics suggests that politicians had some control over outcomes in the short term. An emphasis on financial or structural factors in French society suggests, however, that the patterns which encouraged revolution had mostly been set decades previously, which reduces the scope for influence of any particular actors in the late 18th century. The structural and financial problems of the French state suggested radical change was necessary to make the system workable;[98] the debt was large, and increasing, and the royal government was unable to raise further loans by the late 1780s or to cancel its debts.[99] Since France’s financial and institutional problems began before Louis XVI’s reign, it seems unlikely that better political management could have done anything more than delay radical change.[100] Likewise, an emphasis on the importance of Enlightenment ideas suggests that the specific actions of the Enlightenment philosophes earlier in the century were more important than the decisions of specific actors chronologically closer to the outbreak of revolution itself.

In aggregate, the development of radical social and political change in France in the late 18th to early 19th centuries seems to have been shaped more by long-term, indirect, and difficult-to-alter factors than the outbreak of European war in 1914. Historians seem to accept that a multiplicity of causes were important, even if they continue to disagree about which was the most important, and many of the factors identified imply that France’s trajectory was set towards radical social and political change quite early in the 18th century. Nevertheless, some of the influential factors were more recent, and it is at least plausible that a consistent program of determined and gradual reform by the monarchs of France and their governments, from an earlier starting point in the 18th century, could have averted any sudden crisis or revolution.[101] This actually was attempted by ministers such as Turgot and Necker but failed due to the resistance of many within the royal court and wider nobility, which suggests significant delays to reform were unlikely.

The Revolution could have taken many different paths. Louis XVI alternated between complete refusal of revolutionary demands and concessions; he seemed to be inconsistent in his willingness to yield to pressure. Had Louis XVI and his government been more consistently conciliatory, or more determined in using military repression, it seems plausible that the revolution would have taken a dramatically different course at a large number of critical points.[102] There were also times when contingency played a (more or less significant) role in shaping the course of the Revolution such as the decision to swear the Tennis Court Oath, which was based partly on the National Assembly finding their usual meeting room locked,[103] or the minor events that shaped the royal escape.[104]

The development of American environmentalism in the 1960s

A national poll in 1990 found 63% of Americans supported the annual environmental protection event Earth Day, and only 3% opposed.[105] An Environmental Opinion Study in 1991 found that 90% of Americans identified at least weakly as environmentalists.[106] Although support rose, fell, and rose again between 1970 and 2000, many scholars see the emergence of a broadened, popular environmentalism movement in the 1960s in the US and internationally.[107]  Adam Rome notes two indicators that a US emergence occurred in the 1960s: first, that the Sierra Club’s membership “doubled in the 1950s, doubled again from 1960 to 1965, and then tripled from 1965 to 1970; second, that the number of magazine articles covering environmental issues rose 300% from the late 1950s to the late 1960s.[108] Such widespread support is unusual for social movements.[109]

Riley E. Dunlap and Angela G. Mertig note that “the emergence of the environmental movement in the 1960s and early 1970s was accompanied by creation of new federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Council on Environmental Quality, and by legislation aimed at combating air and water pollution and requiring ‘environmental impact statements.’”[110]

Scholars have suggested several causes of the development of this movement in the 1960s. Dunlap and Mertig summarize the various factors identified:

  1. The 1960s had given rise to an activist culture that encouraged people, especially youths, to take direct action to solve society’s ills.
  2. Scientific knowledge about environmental problems such as smog began to grow, as did media coverage of such problems and major accidents such as the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill.
  3. A rapid increase in outdoor recreation brought many people into direct contact with environmental degradation and heightened their commitment to preservation.
  4. Perhaps most fundamentally, tremendous post-World War II economic growth created widespread affluence, eventually lowering concern with materialism and generating concern over the quality of life.
  5. Many of the existing conservation organizations broadened their focus to encompass a wide range of environmental issues and attracted substantial support from foundations, enabling them to mobilize increased support for environmental causes. In the process they transformed themselves into environmental organizations (Mitchell, 1989).[111]

Adam Rome also summarizes previous efforts to explain “why a powerful environmental movement nonetheless did not emerge until the decades after World War II”; two of the three factors mentioned overlap with Dunlap and Mertig’s characterization, but Rome adds the explanation that “the development of atomic energy, the chemical revolution in agriculture, the proliferation of synthetic materials, and the increased scale of power generation and resource extraction technology created new environmental hazards.”[112] In the rest of the article he argues that “the revitalization of liberalism, the growing discontent of middle-class women, and the explosion of student radicalism and countercultural protest” help explain the rise.[113]

Historians disagree about the importance of these factors. After noting that many historians assume a link between environmentalism and economic affluence,[114] Ramachandra Guha highlights five examples of “poor people’s environmentalism” from outside the US to challenge the importance of this factor.[115]

Apart from the fifth cause listed by Dunlap and Mertig, these causes all suggest a variety of medium-term trends which only indirectly encouraged the development of the new environmentalism. This reduces the importance and scope for influence of thoughtful actors who might have sought to steer the nascent environmental movement.

On the other hand, many scholars emphasize the intellectual developments that broadened the scope of environmentalism and attracted public attention in this period. Although some historians draw attention to writers such as Murray Bookchin, Paul Goodman, and Herbert Marcuse,[116] there is unusual agreement between historians about the great significance of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring.[117] These claims are supported by both the popularity of the book and by evidence of changed public attitudes and new legislation relatively shortly after the book’s publication.[118] Such interpretations imply that Carson’s book either caused or significantly sped up the growth of environmentalism in the USA. Animal Charity Evaluators’ environmentalism case study hypothesizes various impacts of Silent Spring, including that it helped to “launch environmentalism into mainstream discourse” and that it led to “major national legislation implemented years earlier than it would have been otherwise.” It raises counterfactual questions of historical inevitability of “whether, if Carson had not raised the alarm, another author might have had the same effect — or whether the same policy changes would have been made without any single person calling for them.” The author recognizes that other developments were raising support for environmentalism, but concludes that “the evidence suggests Carson was plausibly responsible for advancing pesticide regulation and the birth of the modern American environmental movement by about one to ten years.”

Given the close chronological relationship between Silent Spring’s publication, public interest in the issue (and in the book specifically), and related environmental legislation, it is intuitively likely that the book had a substantial counterfactual impact, assuming it didn’t merely displace other similar books. Even if there were potential competitors, there are many factors which may help to explain why Carson was so successful as a writer, such as her ability to systematically summarize and synthesize existing scientific research,[119] her engaging writing style,[120] the alliances that she forged with influential public figures,[121] her convincing defences against criticism of the book,[122] and perhaps even her intentionally adversarial writing.[123] Rhetorician Craig Waddell identifies two key hypotheses to “explain the immense impact” of Silent Spring: its apocalyptic message and appeal to contemporary concerns.[124] All such hypotheses about the causes of Carson’s widespread success and influence are difficult to test and do not disprove the possibilities that her book became popular primarily because other factors predisposed America to accept its message[125] or that Carson was replaceable as an author in the sense that other authors would have had similar success had Carson not published her book.[126]

Carson’s book, though influential in various fields, is often cited by scholars as only one example of several factors influencing the rise of environmentalism.[127] In aggregate, scholars’ explanations are consistent with Animal Charity Evaluators’ view that Silent Spring catalyzed the development of the environmentalism movement, but the upper bound estimate given that Silent Spring advanced the movement by ten years seem unlikely to me.[128]

The tractability of social change through intellectual developments

Some intellectual contributions become widely influential.[129] William MacAskill has claimed that:

If you look at the long-run history of thought in ethics and political philosophy, the influence is absolutely huge. Even just take Aristotle, Locke, Hobbes, Mill, and Marx. The influence of political philosophy and moral philosophy there, it shaped thousands of years of human history. Certainly not always for the better, sometimes for the worse, as well. So, ensuring that we get some of these ideas correct is just absolutely crucial.

While we have treated long-term, indirect factors as historically intractable, this isn’t entirely obvious. Plausibly, the spread of certain intellectual ideas matters as much as or more than particular legislative, military, or other concrete outcomes. For example, it was probably the spread of Enlightenment ideas, rather than, for instance, the outbreak of the French Revolution or other specific political developments with apparent roots in those Enlightenment ideas, which mattered most for the development of modern Western values, including an expanded moral circle.

It also seems plausible that some of history’s trajectory changes were dependent upon the existence and precise ideas of individual thinkers. We should, however, reduce our confidence in this based on the important role of other factors in the influence of important ideas.

That is, intellectual contributions only influence the public if they spread to decision-makers, which depends on a variety of social and institutional factors. For example, academic ideas might be more immediately impactful now compared to 18th century France when they were less accessible because literacy was lower. And they might be less immediately impactful now than they will be in the future, if more academic research becomes open access. If the context is favourable, the thinker themselves may be relatively replaceable, in that an alternative thinker could have had a similar impact with only a short time delay, whether their quality was lower or higher. This was considered for Rachel Carson above. As another example, Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation was more immediately impactful than earlier works that promoted similar ideas;[130] this was presumably due partially to the public’s greater receptivity to the message at that time than before.

Other influencers and decision-makers must also play a role, deciding to support or incorporate the ideas of thinkers. The Enlightenment ideas of Rousseau and others were spread through salon culture and in this sense, influential salonnières like Suzan Curchod played a role in determining the extent to which such ideas were spread. It was the revolutionaries, especially from 1789 onwards, who put these ideas into practice in the French state. Comparably, the development of local effective altruism groups affects the extent to which the ideas of philosophers like Peter Singer and William MacAskill are adopted.[131]

Of course, most thinkers do not receive the recognition of the names listed here, and most ideas do not become mainstream. For those that do, it's not usually clear why, even after careful analysis.

Social scientific studies

Comparative historical sociology

Works of comparative historical sociology note the importance of broad contextual factors in shaping historical outcomes. The importance of such factors would limit the tractability of changing the course of history for thoughtful actors, though these sociologists only make the case against extreme tractability, so accepting their arguments probably won't change one's views much.

Norbert Elias’ The Civilizing Process looked at evidence from the Middle Ages to the early twentieth century; he argued for human agency within the context of complex “figurations[132] and that humans have increasingly developed self-control.[133] He uses a wide array of evidence to support his conclusions, although much of the evidence in the “The History of Manners” section of the book describes idealized views and rules for behavior, rather than information on actual behavior,[134] and his work has been criticized for ignoring other factors.[135] The evidence he presents is also used more to directly support the hypothesis of increasing self-control than to support an argument about the accuracy of concepts like “figurations” in explaining the extent of historical tractability or individual agency,[136] so this work doesn’t seem to substantially contribute to the question at hand.

Barrington Moore’s The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (1966), argues for the agency and historical significance of many groups, including peasants in both pre-industrial and modern contexts.[137] Nevertheless, in arguing that modern political systems were shaped by the actions of pre-industrial peasants and aristocrats, he implies that societal trajectories were heavily influenced by pre-industrial actors and that more recent actors did not have full control over the developments in their own period.[138] He steers away from all-encompassing theory to explain change, instead privileging comparisons of detailed case studies,[139] although many of his conclusions have been subsequently discredited.[140]

Theda Skocpol also places the decisions of modern actors within a wider context, emphasising socio-economic conditions, international interactions, and the structure of the state.[141] She intentionally opts for a “nonvoluntarist, structural perspective,”[142] which she justifies with reference to her understanding of the causes of revolutions.[143] She develops her theory through analysis of revolutions in France, China, and Russia, though, of course, her arguments and explanations have been challenged in individual cases, as noted in the discussion of the French Revolution above.

Each of these three books has been highly influential and the implications of all have been more widely and thoroughly debated than can be summarized here.[144] Among these three comparative historical sociologists, there seems to be broad agreement that individual decisions can be impactful, although these fit into wider structural contexts and historical processes, which may be more influential, and which are often shaped over long timescales. This emphasizes the difficulty for thoughtful actors of changing the course of history.

Empirical data on the success rates of social movements

Sociologists and political scientists focusing on social movements have provided both theoretical guidance and empirical studies on questions of the tractability of organizations causing wider social change. Although scholars vary in their assessments of how difficult this is, there seems to be widespread agreement that social movement organizations (SMOs), interest groups, and smaller political parties can cause change.[145] Some writers have appealed to intuition and case studies to suggest that groups challenging the status quo can be impactful,[146] but comparative and quantitative analyses provide stronger evidence.

William Gamson’s Strategy of Social Protest studied a “representative collection of [53] American voluntary groups that, between 1800 and 1945, have challenged some aspect of the status quo."[147] In his methodology, Gamson defines success for such organizations in terms of either “acceptance” by their antagonists[148] or “new advantages” accrued for their intended beneficiaries.[149] By his own criteria, Gamson found that 20 challenging groups (CGs), 38% of those studied, resulted in a “full response” of both new advantages and acceptance, 6 CGs (11%) resulted in “pre-emption” (new advantages but no acceptance), 5 CGs (9%) resulted in “co-optation” (acceptance but no new advantages) and 22 CGs (42%) suffered “collapse” (neither new advantages, nor acceptance).[150] This suggests that challenging groups can generate social change with 49% of the CGs studied winning “new advantages.

Other social movement impact analyses are consistent with the broad implication of Gamson’s work that successful legislative and social change can be caused by groups and organizations, but that this only happens in a fraction of cases. For example, by qualitatively examining several case studies, Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward argue that while some change can be achieved by activists, building well-resourced and disciplined organizations prevents wider, more radical successes, at least for the “lower classes.”[151]

Some studies provide less optimistic results.[152] In their examination and meta-analysis of 53 articles on policy change in sociology and political science journals, Paul Burstein and April Linton do not find much support for their “core hypothesis” that “political parties, interest groups, and social movement organizations… have substantial impacts on policy;”[153] of those examined, 15% of political parties achieved “statistically significant, substantial policy importance," compared to 31% of non-party interest groups and SMOs.[154] A further 32% of party groups and 13% of non-party groups made some sort of “statistically significant” impact, but in these cases, the authors did not discuss the significance of the policy change itself.[155] A subsequent meta-analysis, partially replicating Burstein and Linton’s meta-analysis,[156] challenges their low figures for the proportion of SMOs which are able to impact policy. The author, Katrin Uba, concluded that 51.6% of the 244 SMOs or political parties considered in the articles she examined achieved some sort of direct effect and a further 20.9% had a “joint effect” where “the impact of SMOs or interest groups is dependent on the value of some other variable.” If those with a joint effect are excluded, then 63.6% had a direct effect.[157] Similarly, Edwin Amenta, Neal Caren, Elizabeth Chiarello, and Yang Su found that in the 45 articles published 2001-2009 on social movement impacts that they analyzed, “all but 4 of the 54 [movements or organizations studied within the 45 articles] found at least one positive relationship between these outcomes and a movement measure;”[158] note that there is significant (but not complete) overlap between the articles studied by Uba and Amenta et al.

There are a variety of caveats to these quantitative conclusions, which should reduce the weight we place on their findings for understanding the tractability of changing the course of history for thoughtful actors. Much research has focused on a narrow part of the legislative process,[159] and Gamson’s metrics for success are not fully representative of the forms of success that such groups can achieve, which would suggest that he and others who follow his example underplay the tractability of positive social change,[160] although some scholars have considered non-legislative impacts.[161] On the other hand, Gamson’s study only included organizations that reached a level that made studying them appropriate, so the study could make it seem as though the chances of any organization winning acceptance or new advantages is higher than it is in practice given an abundance of organizations of minimal notability.[162] The decision to include or exclude certain social movements or CGs will have a large effect on the percentage of the total number that are seen to have had an impact by any individual study; if a larger number of small CGs are included, it seems likely that the study will return lower percentages of CGs having had substantial impacts.[163] More generally, the methodologies used often involve many judgement calls,[164] and most of this research has focused exclusively or predominantly on the US.[165] Of course, not all legislative outcomes will have significant impacts on humanity’s trajectory.

Some social science research has implications for the ability of social movements to cause social change through less direct mechanisms than securing specific legislative outcomes. For example, an exogenous variable (rainfall) study of tea party protests suggested that a 0.1 percentage-point increase in the share of the population protesting corresponds to a 1.9 percentage-point increase in the share of Republican votes.” Higher participation in the protests was also a significant predictor of the conservativeness of elected Congressmen.[166] Another study used similar methods to suggest that “violent protests caused a significant negative shift in the county-level vote share of about -12.4 percentage points (p <0.001)” away from Democratic candidates.[167]

External constraints on the impact of social movements

Scholars of social movements have analyzed the effects of internal and external factors on the success rates of social movements, SMOs, and other CGs. Insights into the comparative importance of these factors has implications for historical tractability; while groups are mostly able to control factors internal to their organizations, it is much harder to control (though certainly not impossible to influence) external factors like public opinion and the number of political allies in legislative bodies.

Sociologists have proposed theories to explain how particular external factors affect the success rates of social movements and CGs. Many of these theories have been tested across a variety of contexts with empirical case studies or quantitative models, though others have not been tested empirically.[168] The theories used are so broad that they are mostly unfalsifiable, however,[169] and mostly just serve to identify potential causes of change, rather than evidence of which factors are more influential across movement contexts.

One such theory is political mediation theory (PMT), which holds that political contexts, such as the sympathy (or lack thereof) of particular elites, play an important role in accounting for the impact of SMOs and pressure groups.[170] There are many elements of the political environment which have been considered as predictors of legislative impacts in PMT and related theories.[171] Thoughtful actors could plausibly influence political contexts if they prioritized it strongly enough, such as by seeking careers and advancement within the political system themselves. Such methods are, however, less direct and immediate than seeking to directly and immediately influence present political actors, so if political mediation and the “political opportunity structure” were important in determining the outcomes of social movements, then thoughtful actors would find it harder to implement social change.

Edwin Amenta, Neal Caren, and Sheera Joy Olasky, in their article, “Impact of the Pension Movement on U.S. Old-Age Policy," try to expand and test PMT by examining the “generosity” and extent of “coverage” of the state-level Old Age Assistance (OAA) programs.[172] Their model uses three independent variables to “capture different facets of the political institutional aspects of the mediation theory,"[173] two independent variables to “address medium-term political and administrative conditions”[174] and several “control” conditions to account for factors outside of PMT, such as public opinion.[175] This enables the authors to claim that some hypothesized factors had a significant effect on the generosity of OAA programs, such as “Townsend club activity and propositions”[176] and administrative conditions,[177] but it is notable that “All the control measures, except for the war period, are significant”[178] and that although their results confirmed their hypotheses about the role of “structural and short-term political contextual factors… each measure was not significant in all models.”[179] This leads to some conclusions that may be useful for the particular movement and historical and national context being studied; they argue that “in the first half of the twentieth century, only about half of the state-level U.S. polities were structurally open to influence."[180]

But as a result of studies like this, Felix Kolb notes in his literature review that “we only know for sure that some political opportunities matter sometimes.”[181] Although she doesn’t consider PMT or political opportunity structure as it has been developed by scholars like Amenta, Katrin Uba’s meta-analysis tentatively suggests that social movement impact is possible in “democracies," “semi-democracies,” “non-democracies,” and “mixed regimes” alike.[182] This is potentially at odds with the suggestions of many of the authors of the individual studies included in the meta-analysis, however, who believed that the regime type was an important predictor of social movement success.[183]

Another factor that has been tested in a variety of individual contexts is public opinion. Again, building favourable public opinion can be prioritized by thoughtful actors, but this is a less direct route to social movement success than simply demanding change from legislators. If favourable public opinion was more important for social movement success, then thoughtful actors would find it harder to implement social change. Sarah A. Soule and Susan Olsak created six models to test the effect of several predictors on the rate of ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) by different US states, 1972-82. They found evidence of a substantial association with public opinion. Public support for equal rights for women had a positive and significant relationship with ERA ratification across all their models: “the coefficient of 7.69 indicates that as public opinion favoring the ERA rises by one standard deviation over its mean, ratification chances nearly triple.”[184] However, they also emphasize the importance of interaction effects between different contextual factors: “at high levels of favorable public opinion on the ERA, this positive effect is dampened considerably by increases in levels of electoral competitiveness in the state… the rate of ratification is seventeen times higher when public opinion is most favorable and electoral competition is low, compared to the case when both electoral competition and public opinion are both at average levels.”[185]

Burstein and Linton’s meta-analysis found that public opinion was not well-considered in the articles they analyzed, but that “in those equations that include a measure of public opinion, it has a significant impact on policy in everyone.[186] Unfortunately they did not create a quantitative estimate of the importance of this variable compared to other variables. Updating on this, Katrin Uba’s meta-analysis found evidence against her hypothesis that taking public opinion into account “‘washes out’ the direct impact of [SMOs] on policy.”[187] Nevertheless, public opinion can be either positive or negative, and so this variable may still be important in determining the success or failure of SMOs; when SMOs were analyzed in models or case studies which considered the role of public opinion, this variable was found to be significant by the authors in 48.2% of cases.[188]

Several studies have compared the importance of various internal and external factors across different countries and movements. The following distinction is useful in conceptualizing this:

Giugni (2004; see also Giugni 2001, 2007) distinguishes between three main explanations of the policy impact of social movements: the direct-effect, indirect-effect, and joint-effect models. The direct-effect model maintains that movements can have a positive impact on policy with their own forces and in the absence of external support. The indirect-effect model sees movements as having an impact following a two-stage process, first by influencing certain aspects of their external environment—specifically, political alliances and public opinion—and then by allowing the latter to influence policy. The joint-effect model states that movement impact is forthcoming when political allies or a favorable public opinion (or both) combine with movement mobilization. Furthermore, he distinguishes between three variants of the joint-effect model, depending on the specific combination of these factors.[189]

Giugni’s time series analysis comparison of the ecology, anti-nuclear, and peace movements in the US, Italy, and Switzerland found that “the indirect-effect model, in particular, was found not to be very powerful. In contrast, some limited direct impact can be observed.” Unsurprisingly, “All three types of joint effect [protest combined with political alliances, favourable public opinion, or both] are stronger than either the direct or indirect effect.”[190] A later reanalysis, using different comparative methods, concluded that “based on the results of the QCA, social movements seem to impact policy only when assisted by other factors. In none of the three policy domains and in none of the three countries does mobilization alone trigger policy change,” and “that environmental policy is the only policy domain for which social movement mobilization is part of the necessary conditions for explaining change.”[191]

This conclusion is supported by Felix Kolb, who suggests in his literature review that some of the conflicting implications of empirical studies focusing on the size of organizations might stem from insufficiently complex research designs and notes that those that are sufficiently complex suggest that “as long as political opportunities are not available, movements are doomed to fail no matter how strong they are.”[192] This suggests that external factors are more influential than internal factors, and Kolb’s own comparative analysis of the European anti-nuclear movement supports this.[193]

Similarly, Amenta et al. found that from the 45 articles published 2001-2009 on social movement impacts that they analyzed, in “47 of the 50 instances in which there was a significantly positive movement effect, the influence was mediated.”[194]

Kolb and Giugni present the most rigorous analyses of the interaction between social movement mobilization and external constraints across different movements and contexts that I have seen, and alongside Amenta et al.’s meta-analysis, both authors suggest that social movement impact is very rare or impossible without at least either public support or favourable political opportunities. This therefore suggests that social change is dependent upon the successful manipulation of indirect factors, and therefore less tractable than we might otherwise assume. Kolb argues that “not all types of political opportunity can be created by social movements for their own benefit. However, even the political institutional structure of a country, which by definition pretends to be stable and durable, can be altered by protest.”[195] This allows for influence from thoughtful actors, even if change is slow.

The importance of leaders

Social scientists — notably economists — have used data to understand the importance of various types of leaders in influencing social change. If leaders are highly influential, this could be taken as evidence that changing the course of history is tractable, since thoughtful actors can aim to become leaders themselves or focus their advocacy efforts on those leaders. However, if the leaders are hard to influence, then this may also reduce tractability.

Benjamin F. Jones and Benjamina A. Olken found substantial effects on growth from the deaths of leaders, “the variance of the coefficients… is 31 percent higher around leader transitions than it would be normally.” However, they found that growth “does not appear to systematically increase or decrease; in fact, the average value of the coefficients… is -0.10 percentage points – i.e., almost exactly 0.”[196] In a subsequent paper, Jones and Olken compared 239 failed assassination attempts to 59 successful ones and found evidence that the success of political assassinations can have substantial effects. This suggests that contingency reduces the tractability of changing the course of history since, as they note, “although attempts on leaders’ lives may be driven by historical circumstances, conditional on trying to kill a leader, the success or failure of the attempt can be treated as plausibly exogenous.”[197]

Sarah J. Hummel argues that, “The death of a dictator is not systematically related to political liberalization.” Comparing a measure of liberalization one year before a leader’s death to the same measure one year after their death, she finds little effect of leader death.[198] Her findings also suggest that “leader death only correlates positively with political liberalization in economically developed countries with older dictators.”[199] She also summarizes a previous analysis as finding “remarkably few differences” to “GDP growth, unemployment, inflation, inequality, frequency of strikes and deaths from interstate war following the death of a leader.”[200] Another paper found that changes in leadership only affect government spending priorities in limited circumstances.[201]

A review of research on “Leadership and individual differences” summarizes that some theorists suggest “that leaders, particularly transformational leaders have some sort of alchemic ability to transform individuals' values; however, we are short on empirical studies showing that transformational leaders are actually able of performing such feats, whether on individuals or organizations.”[202] The review does, however, include numerous studies on how other aspects of a leader’s personality or attributes might affect important outcomes.[203] 

One paper finds very tentative evidence that “individual leaders can have an impact on institutional change” and the political direction of changes to constitutions.[204] Unsurprisingly, some research also suggests that the leadership of companies strongly affects their success.[205] A range of social scientific analyses on other the causes of changes at either the national and local level may have implications for the tractability of changing the course of history.[206] 

How tractable are trajectory changes towards moral circle expansion?

So far this post has considered how tractable it is for thoughtful actors to alter the overall trajectory of history. This section highlights factors which affect the tractability of MCE more specifically, including several that reduce the overall tractability of MCE, such as  long-term, indirect factors that seem important as predictors of MCE.

Note that the lists in the following sections are by no means comprehensive and this is overall a particularly speculation- and intuition-driven topic.

To what extent is MCE determined by long-term, indirect factors?

Much of the evidence examined so far has suggested that long-term, indirect factors are important in determining historical outcomes, which makes it harder for thoughtful actors to achieve change. Such factors also seem likely to play an important role in determining the extent of MCE.

Arguments that MCE is determined mostly by long-term, indirect factors:

Arguments that MCE is not mostly determined by long-term, indirect factors:

Arguments with unclear direction or mixed implications:

To what extent is continued MCE inevitable?

The prospect of inevitability is of unclear importance to tractability. If we think MCE is more inevitable, e.g. 90% likely instead of 50% likely, then thoughtful actors can still increase its likelihood, e.g. 90% to 95% instead of 50% to 55%. Increases in the upper percentiles could be more difficult, however. My current impression is that MCE is likely to continue but that it won’t necessarily succeed in fully including all sentient beings, and I suspect that this continued MCE is not so overdetermined that increasing its likelihood is intractable for thoughtful actors.

Arguments that continued MCE is inevitable:

Arguments that continued MCE is not inevitable:

Arguments with unclear direction or mixed implications:

Other arguments

Other arguments that trajectory changes towards MCE are tractable for thoughtful actors:

Other arguments that trajectory changes towards MCE are not tractable for thoughtful actors:

Arguments with unclear direction or mixed implications:

Ideas for further research


[1] Of course, each of these three questions is large in scope, and one could devote entire books — or even careers — to answering the first two. This post is intended to provide useful insights from a variety of disciplines and examples. In some instances (most notably the historical case studies), I have therefore sometimes relied on summary works, literature reviews, and meta-analyses, only occasionally consulting the original individual articles and books. In other cases, where the work is only partially relevant (such as the philosophical contributions to discussion on causation), my coverage will only be based on a few examples. To avoid overcomplicating the main text, I have put most of the detail from these works in the footnotes.

[2] On the cause area itself, see

https://www.effectivealtruism.org/articles/cause-profile-long-run-future/

On the increasing interest in the EA community, see http://effective-altruism.com/ea/1fi/have_ea_priorities_changed_over_time/

[3] “The concept of a trajectory change is also closely related to the concept of a historical contingency… Some important examples of historical contingencies: the rise of Christianity, the creation of the US Constitution, and the writings of Karl Marx. Various aspects of Christian morality influence the world today in significant ways, but the fact that those aspects of morality, in exactly those ways, were part of a dominant world religion was historically contingent. And therefore events like Jesus's death and Paul writing his epistles are examples of trajectory changes.”

[4] Here I am including previous human-affecting events and trends like wars, elections, policies, social movements, etc., but not counting economic or technological outcomes except insofar as they affect or are affected by social trends.

[5] This conclusion also applies to other long-term efforts and other forms of values spreading.

[6] See footnote 77.

[7] Arthur Marwick, The Nature of History (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989; first printed 1970), 142

[8] Ernst Breisach, On the Future of History: The Postmodernist Challenge and its Aftermath (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2003), 6, for example, notes that “Historians, for plausible reasons, have rarely responded with alacrity to opportunities to engage in theoretical debates. First, they have felt confident about their own complex and sturdy body of epistemological principles and practices (often simply referred to as methodology).”

John Lewis Gaddis, The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 62, offers a slightly different perspective, arguing that “It’s quite wrong to claim that historians reject the use of theory, for theory is ultimately generalization, and without generalization historians would have nothing whatever to say. The very words we use generalize complex realities… We do, however, normally embed our generalizations within our narratives. In seeking to show how past processes have produced present structures, we draw upon whatever theories we can find that will help us accomplish that task… Social scientists, in contrast, tend to embed narratives within generalizations. Their principal objective is to confirm or refute a hypothesis, and they subordinate narration to that task.”

[9] Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (Ebook: Project Gutenberg, 2008; first published 1840), accessed August 03, 2018, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1091/1091-h/1091-h.htm

[10] One contemporary critic, Herbert Spencer, The Study of Sociology (New York: Appleton, 1896), 30-31, wrote: “You must admit that the genesis of a great man depends on the long series of complex influences which has produced the race in which he appears, and the social state into which that race has slowly grown. ... Before he can remake his society, his society must make him.”

[11] As one example, Williamson Murray, “What a Taxi Driver Wrought," in Robert Cowley (ed.) What If? The World’s Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been (London: Macmillan, 2000; first published 1999), 306-7, tells a short story about if Churchill had been killed accidentally by a taxi driver before WWII, and uses this to mock the flight from Great Man Theory and to assert the importance of luck in history: “American historians in a beleaguered democracy at the end of the twentieth century never put the blame for the great Nazi victory in the war of 1939 to 1947 on this by now obscure event. How could one assign the troubles of a nation to a taxi accident? After all, everyone agreed that history is entirely the result of great social movements and the actions of the millions who make up humanity - certainly not the product of the actions of a few great men.”

[12] There are many potential causes of this shift in preference beyond those associated with empirical criticism of the Great Man Theory, such as left-wing trends in universities or the rise of social movements in wider society.

[13] Note that social scientists have provided some insight into this question; see the section on “The importance of leaders.”

[14] As an example, see T. H. Aston and C. H. E. Philpin (eds.),The Brenner debate: agrarian class structure and economic development in pre-industrial Europe (Cambridge: The Cambridge University Press, 1985), 8, for a summary of the debate, where R. H. Hilton notes that while Robert Brenner emphasized the importance of class struggle and the “relations of production," others have emphasized economic factors and the “forces of production."

[15] Aviezer Tucker, “Historiographical Counterfactuals and Historical Contingency," History and Theory 32, no. 2 (May 1999), 267, notes that “any historical development can be incorporated into a loose teleological plan of history. For example… orthodox Marxists are able to integrate the fall of the Soviet Empire into their teleological scheme, claiming that we are witnessing only the early stages of global capitalism, and the revolution is yet to come.”

Note that many academics use elements of Marxist theory as tools of analysis to supplement other social scientific theories, which may avoid some of the pitfalls of orthodox Marxism. This includes the diverse scholars who identify or have been labelled as "Marxian," as well as more specific groups of scholars such as the analytical Marxists.

[16] For example, historians have drawn variously on theories by economists such as Thomas Robert Malthus, David Ricardo, and Adam Smith to highlight the importance of demographic factors, marketization, and economic specialization in debates around the consequences of the Black Death and development of capitalism.

[17] John Holmwood, “Functionalism and its Critics” in Austin Harrington (ed.) Modern Social Theory: an Introduction (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 93, summarizes Parsons’ views: “Parsons defines action as intentional behaviour oriented to the realization of an end. Action occurs in conditional circumstances that must be calculated and utilized by actors in pursuit of their ends. Actors must accommodate and calculate upon conditions if their actions are to be successful. Ends and conditions (including means) are here analytically distinct categories. In addition, action involves effort or agency to transform circumstances in conformity to norms, which govern ends and the selection of their means of realization.”

[18] John Holmwood, “Functionalism and its Critics” in Austin Harrington (ed.) Modern Social Theory: an Introduction (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 94, summarizes Parsons’ views: “The logical relations established in the theoretical system… underlies Parsons’ use of the analogy of an organism: ‘the very definition of an organic whole is one within which the relations determine the properties of its parts. The properties of the whole are not simply a resultant of the latter’ (1937: 32). It can be seen here that Parsons was very much preoccupied with the idea of systems of action in his early work, no less than in his later work in which he comes to use the word ‘system’ more and more frequently.”

[19] John Holmwood, “Functionalism and its Critics” in Austin Harrington (ed.) Modern Social Theory: an Introduction (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 94, summarizes Parsons’ views: “he wanted first to set out a few basic sociological principles within an all-embracing theory that could account adequately for the everyday routine phenomenon of social order, through what he called ‘normative integration’... Parson’s way of solving this problem was to point to various mechanisms capable of securing the coordination of action. Action occurs in systems and these systems have an orderly character. There are two aspects of order, identified by Parsons. These are what we can term personal order and interpersonal order. Personal order involves a recognition that any given act is, for the actor, one among a bunch of other chosen and possible actions with a variety of different ends and different requirements for their realization. Interpersonal order involves a recognition that actions occur in contexts that include, as Parsons put it, ‘a plurality of actors’ (1937: 51)”

[20] John Holmwood, “Functionalism and its Critics” in Austin Harrington (ed.) Modern Social Theory: an Introduction (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 107, summarizes this nuance: “Simple oppositions between functionalist and action approaches are inadequate because the most elaborate and extended forms of functionalist argument are themselves based on a highly developed concept of action. In the case of Parsons, they incorporate the very action assumptions that are often taken to express an opposition to functionalism.”

[21] John Holmwood, “Functionalism and its Critics” in Austin Harrington (ed.) Modern Social Theory: an Introduction (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 87, notes that “functionalism came to prominence in North American sociology in the 1950s. This was a period of affluence, consolidation, and growth in Western capitalism. At the time, several commentators - including notably Daniel Bell - believed that the prosperous post-war years marked an ‘end of ideology’ (Bell 1962). By this they meant that the once defining conflict of nineteenth-century capitalism - between a bourgeois ideology of radical ‘individualism’ and a socialist ideology of ‘collectivism’ - had lost its relevance.”

[22] John Holmwood, “Functionalism and its Critics” in Austin Harrington (ed.) Modern Social Theory: an Introduction (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 100

[23] John Holmwood, “Functionalism and its Critics” in Austin Harrington (ed.) Modern Social Theory: an Introduction (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 100, summarizes that “For C. Wright Mills (1956), James Lockwood (1956), Ralf Dahrendorf (1958), John Rex (1961), and Randall Collins (1975), the problem with Parson’s theory was straightforward: it was too one-sided. Parsons’ language of systems gave far too much weight to interdependence and integration, neglecting independence and contradiction. It also seemed to give greater emphasis to values and norms than to power. These ‘conflict theorists’, as they came to be called, drew inspiration from Marx and Weber, to whom Parsons had indeed failed to give proper attention”

[24] John Holmwood, “Functionalism and its Critics” in Austin Harrington (ed.) Modern Social Theory: an Introduction, (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 104-5, summarizes: “For other critics, the problem with functionalism was its concentration on systems at the expense of individual actors. This problem was also seen as linked to functionalism’s concern with elaborating a general conceptual framework, rather than specific testable propositions… Homans maintained that functionalism was unscientific because it deviated from the proper hypothetico-deductive form of scientific explanation… For Homans, functionalists analyse social systems in terms of roles and their normative expectations but nowhere explain why and how norms exist. The answer, he suggested, is to be found only in direct examination of social interaction in terms of the attributes of real individuals, their dispositions, motives and calculations… Homans called his approach ‘social behaviourism’... Other critics of functionalism, including notably Peter Blau (1964), took inspiration from the utilitarian axioms of economics, arguing in a similar fashion to Homans that theory needed to be built from propositions about actors… Social theory, [James] Coleman wrote, ‘continues to be about the functioning of social systems of behaviour, but empirical research is often concerned with explaining individual behavior’ (1991: 1). For this reason, while he accepted that concrete social systems are what sociologists want to explain, Coleman argued that it is rational actor thinking that offers the best building blocks with which to construct an explanatory theory that is directly supported by empirical evidence.”

[25] John Holmwood, “Functionalism and its Critics” in Austin Harrington (ed.) Modern Social Theory: an Introduction, (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 105-6, summarizes: “Over the years, the debate between functionalists and rational choice theory has been continuous (see further Turk and Simpson 1971; Coleman and Fararo 1991). Although there are strong advocates of rational actor approaches, many sociologists find these approaches compromised by reductionism and by an excessively behaviouristic form of objectivism… Several contemporary theorists have proposed general theories as alternatives to Parsons, arguing that their schemes avoid his problems because they incorporate action from the start. However, it can be argued that what they propose is very similar in conceptual structure and intention to Parsons.” On 107, he adds that because of the nuance in Parsons’ writing, which incorporates “action assumptions… Parsons’ writings have retained lasting significance.”

[26] Anthony King, “Structure and Agency” in Austin Harrington (ed) Modern Social Theory: an Introduction, (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 218, summarizes Anthony Giddens’ theory of “structuration”: “In part, structuration theory is a response to the shortcomings of Talcott Parsons’s conception of structural functionalism… According to Giddens, the social system could only operate through the knowledgeable activity of individuals," but “Giddens was conscious that there are dimensions of society which cannot be reduced to the individual… He asserted that institutions are not reducible to individual subjects and that ‘society is not the creation of individual subjects’ (Giddens 1984: p. xxi). In this sense, structuration theory is ultimately a synthesis of interactionist and interpretive thinking on the one hand, with its emphasis on agency, understanding and subjective meanings, and functionalist and structuralist thinking on the other, with its focus on the operation of social systems and the resilience of objective structures.” On 221-2, King summarizes Pierre Bourdieu, noting that “like Giddens’s synthesis of functionalism and interactionism, Bourdieu wanted to rescue the positive aspects of the work of both Lévi-Strauss and Sartre, to find a critical middle way between structuralism and phenomenology… In Bourdieu’s use of the term, the habitus overcomes subject-object dualism by endowing subjective bodily actions with objective social force, so that the most apparently subjective individual acts necessarily assume broader social significance. Individuals have agency, but the kind of agency they have is prescribed by the culture of which they are members.” On 228-9, King notes that both of these thinkers have been criticized for both excessive determinism, and excessive individualism.

Additionally, Donatella della Porta and Mario Diani, Social Movements: An Introduction (Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1999), 13, notes that the approach of the “theoreticians of new social movements” “has several merits. First, it draws attention to the structural determinants of protest, re-evaluating the importance of conflict. Compared with Marxism, the theoreticians of new social movements have two specific advantages: they place importance once again on the actor; and they have the ability to capture the innovative characteristics of movements which no longer define themselves principally in relation to the system of production.”

[27] Charles Kurzman, “The Poststructuralist Consensus in Social Movement Theory," in Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper (eds.), Rethinking Social Movements (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004), 111-20, argues that “the disagreements hide a near-consensus: structuralism is on the outs in social movement theory.” On 117, he terms this new consensus “constructionism," which “announces the view that people construct their own history - not under circumstances chosen by themselves, certainly, but under circumstances they have the power to change.”

[28] Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper, “Introduction," in Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper (eds.), Rethinking Social Movements (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004), vii, notes that “There is currently a good deal of theoretical turmoil among analysts of social movements. For some time the field has been roughly divided between a dominant, structural approach that emphasizes economic resources, political structures, formal organizations, and social networks and a cultural or constructionist tradition, drawn partly from symbolic interactionism, which focuses on frames, identities, meanings, and emotions. The gaps and misunderstandings between the two sides - as well as the efforts to bridge these perspectives - closely parallel those in the discipline of sociology at large, with such approaches as Marxism or systems theory on the one hand and micro-sociological, constructionist approaches such as interactionism, pragmatism, and ethnomethodology on the other.” They do, however, see “the more structural school” as “dominant now for thirty years," while “the constructionist school, on the other hand, has been more content to develop useful concepts that anyone could use than with self-conscious comparisons or syntheses of different traditions… cultural approaches have often been subsumed under the supposed political process consensus, especially in the form of “frames” and “identities” vii-viii.

Note that Charles Kurzman disagrees with this characterisation and suggests that there is a “constructionist consensus;” see footnote 23.

[29] For a summary, see Edward L. Rubin, “Passing through the Door: Social Movement Literature and Legal Scholarship," University of Pennsylvania Law Review 150, No. 1 (Nov., 2001), 13-14: “The Continental approach, which dates from the 1960s, but reached its apogee in the following two decades, emerged from the neo-Marxist analysis of critical theory. Society, according to this view, is divided into economically based classes and dominated by an elite that uses its leading role within the economic sphere to control the political one. The political sphere, in turn, controls society; crucially, however, the primary means of this control is ideological… Social reform or transformation can be achieved and, indeed, can only be achieved, through counter-ideologies that arise from the social sphere, the one sector not dominated by the economically based elites. The crucial aspect of social movements, therefore, is that they enable people to generate new ideologies and re-define their own identities."

[30] Alain Touraine, The Voice and the Eye: An Analysis of Social Movements, trans. by Alan Duff (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981; first published 1978), 1. On 2, he adds that “it is only now that the social history of society is really beginning, a history that is no longer anything other than the entire accumulation of relations and conflicts, the stakes involved being the social control of a new culture, of society’s increased ability to act upon itself.” He sets forwards a broadly Marxist conception of social change, as on 7, where he notes that when “those who are defending their professional and cultural autonomy… win the struggle [against “those who dominate the social order], in dependent or autocratic countries for instance, society undergoes change through crises and upheavals, while when the relations of production predominate they are revealed through class struggles and political negotiations, in which the sociology of action is primarily interested.” On 66, he emphasizes that “historical actors are determined as much by a cultural field as by a social conflict.”

[31] William A. Gamson, “The Voice and the Eye: An Analysis of Social Movements (review)," American Journal of Sociology 88, No. 4 (January 1983), 812, notes that “The Voice and the Eye is an attempt at theoretical context and justification for a research program. It promises books on five different movements: the trade union movement, the student movement, the women's movement, the Occitanist movement, and the antinuclear movement. But you will find no concrete analysis of any of these movements in this book, although occasionally they are referred to in examples.” He adds that the book focuses on “an analysis of the self-analysis of a group of social movement participants. The groups themselves are formed by Touraine and his colleagues. We are given very limited information on how they are formed.”

Andrew Jamison, Ron Eyerman, and Jacqueline Cramer, with Jeppe Læssøe, The Making of the New Environmental Consciousness: A Comparative Study of the Environmental Movements in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1990), 1, add that Alain Touraine and Jürgen Habermas “conceptualise social movements in abstract terms and judge empirical conflicts as potential sources of new collective identity and as forces for fundamental social change in late modern societies.” The emphasis is therefore on using ideological conflict to inform theoretical understanding, rather than an empirical observation that ideological conflict is necessary for impact.

[32] Edward L. Rubin, “Passing through the Door: Social Movement Literature and Legal Scholarship," University of Pennsylvania Law Review 150, No. 1 (Nov., 2001), 12-13, notes that “The American approach, often described as resource mobilization, developed during the 1970s and 1980s… Proponents of this approach treat the members of social movements as instrumentally rational actors, and the leaders as policy entrepreneurs who follow coherent organizational and political strategies.” Nevertheless, on 15, he adds that “while the two approaches may seem distinct when one compares their most determined members, such as McCarthy and Zald on the American side, and Alain Touraine on the Continent, many other scholars incorporated concepts from the opposite school quite early in the field's development, and soon began to undertake conscious, theoretical efforts to combine the two approaches.”

[33] Niall Ferguson (ed.), Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals (New York: Basic Books, 1999), 79, “the philosophical significance of chaos theory is that it reconciles the notions of causation and contingency. It rescues us not only from the nonsensical world of the idealists like Oakeshott, where there is no such thing as a cause or an effect and the equally nonsensical world of the determinists, in which there is only a chain of preordained causation based on laws. Chaos - stochastic behaviour in deterministic systems - means unpredictable outcomes even when successive events are causally linked.”

[34] Geoff Boeing, “Visual Analysis of Nonlinear Dynamical Systems: Chaos, Fractals, Self-Similarity and the Limits of Prediction,” Systems 4, no. 4 (2016), 1, “Nearly all nontrivial real-world systems are nonlinear dynamical systems.”

Note, however, that some elements are more predictable than others; John Lewis Gaddis, The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 76, reflects on chaos theory to argue that “The micro-level phenomena within our system are, for the most part, linear in character, in that there’s a predictable relationship between input and output… But the macro-level behaviour of our system as a whole… is non-linear… Poincaré’s great insight was to show that linear and non-linear relationships could coexist: that the same system can be simple and complex at the same time.”

[35] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect

[36] Aviezer Tucker, Our Knowledge of the Past: A Philosophy of Historiography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 222, notes that “If “‘Chaos’... is essentially a mathematical concept, and ‘chaos theory’ is a mathematical theory” (Smith, 1998, p. vii), then it makes little sense to discuss “chaos,” “criticality,” or “linearity” in history.” 223-5 then summarizes the views of historians who have variously suggested that chaos theory does or doesn’t translate well to history. He notes that those who have argued that it does have not demonstrated their case convincingly: “Reisch [1991, p. 9] provided no empirical evidence for which historical processes are obviously chaotic. McCloskey (1991) acknowledged as well that it is impossible to know whether many systems are linear or not. Still, McCloskey opined that history may well be chaotic and suggested a few anecdotical qualitative examples from the historiography of the Civil War in the United States. But though it seems likely that the exact course of some of the events of the US Civil War may have been sensitive to initial conditions, McCloskey did not prove that something similar would not have been brought about by different initial conditions and certainly neither McCloskey nor Reisch introduced the kind of mathematical modeling that scientists associate with chaos.”

Aviezer Tucker, “Historiographical Counterfactuals and Historical Contingency," History and Theory 32, no. 2 (May 1999), 269, cites Yemima Ben-Menahem, “Historical Contingency,” Ratio 10 (1997), 102, as not committing herself to the application of chaos theory to history: “the sensitivity of historical events to initial conditions may or may not be as radical as that of chaotic phenomena, but it can certainly be very significant.”

[37] Chaos theory has been used to improve predictions in real life settings, such as in weather forecasting. For other examples, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaos_theory#Applications

[38] John Holmwood, “Functionalism and its Critics” in Austin Harrington (ed.) Modern Social Theory: an Introduction, (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 107, notes that “While the project of general theory remains attractive to some sociologists, there can be no doubt that it has been increasingly singled out for criticism. For some postmodernist commentators, it is an example of inappropriate ‘grand narrative’... For some feminist writers, it is an expression of a masculine taste for abstraction… In all of the approaches that have followed in the wake of functionalism, what seems to be missing is some evidence of direct integration between theory and empirical research.”

[39] See footnote 8.

[40] The selected case studies are not intended to be comprehensive or even expected to be widely representative of other potential case studies. Further research could lead to stronger conclusions.

[41] On the limitations of using this type of evidence, see the first paragraph in the section on “Historical case studies” in the upcoming post on “What can the farmed animal movement learn from history?”

[42] It is plausible that something resembling the industrial revolution was likely to happen anyway since, as Charles I. Jones and Paul M. Romer, "The New Kaldor Facts: Ideas, Institutions, Population, and Human Capital," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics 2, No. 1 (2010), 233 note, “For thousands of years, growth in both population and per capita GDP has accelerated, rising from virtually zero to the relatively rapid rates observed in the last century.” However, this does not mean that changing the course of history was entirely intractable, since actors might have been able to increase or decrease the probability of rapid technological growth even in a context where the probability of rapid technological growth was high.

[43] For a summary of the early debates, see William Mulligan, The origins of the First World War, (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017; first published 2010), 4-11

[44] Sidney Bradshaw Fay, The Origins of the World War vol. 1 (New York: Macmillan Company, 1928), 4-9, “The Discussion of “Responsibility,” 1914-1919," notes this discussion, and the reasons for it, summarizing that “During the War and the Versailles Peace Conference, the discussion concerning responsibility for the immediate outbreak of the War, so far as it rested on anything more than national prejudice, war hatred, and deliberate propagandist misrepresentation, was based on the public statements of leading officials, and on the collections of diplomatic documents published by each government soon after July, 1914.”

Annika Mombauer, The Origins of the First World War: Controversies and Consensus (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2002), 85 summarizes Fay’s overall view: “In summary, Fay’s volumes asserted that ‘Austria was more responsible for the immediate origins of the war than any other Power,’ although it acted, from its point of view, in self-defence; Germany did not plot a European war and ‘made genuine, though too belated efforts, to avert one;’ France’s part was ‘less clear,’ as it had not yet published any official documents, Italy and Belgium played no decisive part and, in Britain, Sir Edward Grey had made genuine mediation proposals.”

[45] Sidney Bradshaw Fay, The Origins of the World War vol. 1 (New York: Macmillan Company, 1928), Vi, he notes that when war broke out, “His historical sense told him that in this present case, as in the past, no one country or no one man was solely, or probably even mainly, to blame.” This argument is pursued through the book: 3, he argues that “no person in authority was guilty of deliberately working to bring about a general European war.”

[46] Harry Elmer Barnes, The Genesis of the World War: An Introduction to the Problem of War Guilt (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1927, cited in Keir A. Lieber “The New History of World War I and What It Means for International Relations Theory," International Security 32, No. 2 (Fall, 2007), 157.

Annika Mombauer, The Origins of the First World War: Controversies and Consensus (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2002), 88, quotes Barnes summarizing his argument on 661-2 of Genesis: “In estimating the order of guilt of the various countries we may safely say that the only direct and immediate responsibility for the World War falls upon Serbia, France and Russia, with the guilt about equally distributed. Next in order - far below France and Russia - would come Austria, though she never desired a general European war. Finally, we should place Germany and England as tied for last place, both being opposed to war in the 1914 crisis. Probably the German public was somewhat more favourable to military activity than the English people, but [...] the Kaiser made much more strenuous efforts to preserve the peace of Europe in 1914 than did Sir Edward Grey.”

[47] Bernadotte E. Schmitt, The Coming of the War, 2 vols. (New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1930).

Annika Mombauer, The Origins of the First World War: Controversies and Consensus (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2002), 103, quotes Schmitt summarizing his criticism of Harry Barnes, which shows that Schmitt shared with Fay an emphasis on longer-term factors, but argues that in the short-term, Germany was most responsible: “It must be said that Mr. Barnes’ book falls short of being [the] objective and scientific analysis of the great problem which is so urgently needed. As a protest against the old notion of unique German responsibility for the war, it will be welcomed by all honest men, but as an attempt to set up a new doctrine of unique French-Russian responsibility, it must be unhesitatingly rejected. The war was the consequence, perhaps inevitable, of the whole system of alliances and armaments, and in the origin, development and working of that system, the Central Powers, more particularly Germany, played a conspicuous part. Indeed, it was Germany who put the system to the test in July, 1914. Because the test failed, she is not entitled to claim that no responsibility attaches to her.” The quote is from Bernadotte E. Schmitt, “July 1914,” Foreign Affairs 1 (1926), 147.

[48] Note that there were both “revisionist” and “anti-revisionist” voices in both America and Europe. Annika Mombauer, The Origins of the First World War: Controversies and Consensus (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2002), 78-118, summarizes the debates in this period. 120, she summarizes that “during the immediate postwar years," i.e. after 1945, “revisionist views were still widely held among American and British academics and the common perception of European nations ‘stumbling into war’ in 1914 was still the accepted interpretation among the West German public and the historical fraternity.”

[49] Consensus and developments cited in Keir A. Lieber “The New History of World War I and What It Means for International Relations Theory," International Security 32, No. 2 (Fall, 2007), 157 and this broad historiography is confirmed in Hew Strachan “The origins of the First World War” International Affairs 90, Issue 2, (March 2014), 438.

The popularity of “the consensus that absolved Germany from her former war guilt accusation," despite such criticisms, is affirmed in Annika Mombauer, The Origins of the First World War: Controversies and Consensus (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2002), 124-7

[50] For a summary of this, see William Mulligan, The origins of the First World War, (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017; first published 2010), 9-10.

Note, additionally, that Bernadotte E. Schmitt agreed with Fay on this. See footnote 47.

[51] Sidney Bradshaw Fay, The Origins of the World War vol. 1 (New York: Macmillan Company, 1928), 34-35

[52] James Joll and Gordon Martel, The Origins of the First World War (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2007; first published 1984), 3, argues that G. Lowes Dickinson, The International Anarchy 1904-1914 (New York: The Century Company, 1926) is a typical example of this view.

[53] A.J.P. Taylor, War by Time-Table: How the First World War Began (London and New York: Macdonald & Co. Ltd, 1969), 7, notes that “Statesmen drew up arrangements with each other which were to last for an indefinite future. These arrangements produced the system of alliances which seemed to shape the politics of the early 20th century… It was of 19th-century invention… Bismarck inaugurated the new system when he made a peacetime alliance with Austria-Hungary in 1879.”

[54] See, for example, Wolfgang Mommsen, “The topos of inevitable war in Germany in the decade before 1914," in Volker Berghahn and Martin Kitchen (eds), Germany in the Age of Total War (London: Croom Helm, 1981), 23-45, notably this passage on page 24: “A tendency emerged, fostered by imperialist enthusiasm, towards the use of violence and war… On the other hand, as a sort of reflex to these ideas, a basically fatalistic attitude developed which began to see a world war as sooner or later inevitable… The widespread assumption that war would come sooner or later, whatever particular policies might be pursued, had, in the final analysis, the effect of a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’”

[55] Fritz Fischer, “Deutsche Kriegsziele Revolutionierung und Separatfrieden im Osten 1914-1918," Historische Zeitschrift 188, no. 2 (October 1959), 249-310, summarized in H.W. Koch, “Introduction," in H.W. Koch (ed.) The Origins of the First World War (Basingstoke and London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1984; first published in 1972), 7

[56] Volker R. Berghahn, “The origins of the First World War (review)," First World War Studies 3, no. 1 (2012), 122, summarizes: after initially arguing that Kaiser Wilhelm II “pushed Europe over the brink," “subsequently, Fischer radicalized his hypotheses by arguing that this conflict was in fact decided upon at an Imperial ‘war council’ on 8 December 1912 and that it was to be launched in the summer of 1914 after preparations for it had been completed. The assassinations at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 were therefore merely the welcome incident for triggering the Great War”

[57] Debate summaries in H.W. Koch, “Introduction," in H.W. Koch (ed.) The Origins of the First World War (Basingstoke and London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1984; first published in 1972), 9-12

[58] Mark Hewitson, “Introduction: Historiography from Fischer to Förster," in Mark Hewitson, Germany and the Causes of the First World War (Bloomsbury: London and New York, 2004), 4, and confirmed in H.W. Koch, “Introduction," in H.W. Koch (ed.) The Origins of the First World War (Basingstoke and London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1984; first published in 1972)

[59] Annika Mombauer (ed.) The Origins of the First World War: Diplomatic and Military Documents. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), 17, cited in Hew Strachan “The origins of the First World War” International Affairs 90, Issue 2, (March 2014), 438.

Mombauer has alleged the existence of a pro-Fischer consensus in numerous summaries. Annika Mombauer, The Origins of the First World War: Controversies and Consensus (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2002), 209-214, she noted that future historians “will find it difficult to argue with the underlying consensus that has developed as a result of Fischer’s once so controversial claims."

Annika Mombauer, “The Fischer Controversy Fifty Years On," German Historical Institute London Bulletin 34, No. 1 (May 2012), 173, concluding on a conference in 2011 which was dedicated specifically to discussing the Fischer controversy, Annika Mombauer wrote that “although in conclusion a consensus emerged that Fischer had got it right in attributing ‘a significant part of the historical responsibility for the outbreak of a general war’ to Germany, the question of why this was so has yet to be answered.”

This analysis is broadly supported by Richard Ned Lebow, “What's so different about a counterfactual?," World Politics 52, issue 4 (July 2000), 570-1, who noted (in 2000) that “Most historians assign primary responsibility for the First World War to Austria-Hungary and Germany. The dominant interpretation holds that Austria-Hungary exploited the assassination of Franz Ferdinand as the pretext for war with Serbia, and that Germany encouraged—even pushed—Austria toward decisive action… Since the publication of Kurt Riezler's diaries, something of a consensus has emerged among German historians that Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg did not seek to provoke a European war but recognized that an Austrian conflict with Serbia would be difficult to contain. He also believed that a continental war was inevitable and that Germany's chance of winning it would only diminish with every passing year. Hence, sooner was preferable to later.”

[60] Gregor Schöllgen, “Kriegsgefahr und Kriesenmanagement vor 1914: zur Aussenpolitik des Kaiserlichen Deutschlands," Historische Zeitschrift, 267 (1998), pp. 399-400 (cited in Mark Hewitson, Germany and the Causes of the First World War (Bloomsbury: London and New York, 2004), 3), wrote in his summary of studies on diplomacy in the period that “the so-called Fischer controversy… is fully defeated."

Indeed, Mark Hewitson, Germany and the Causes of the First World War (Bloomsbury: London and New York, 2004), 4, notes that Fischer’s ideas were challenged by historians of a range of views; by those like Förster and Mombauer who “are scathing about the aggressiveness of the German leaders” and likewise by those like Schöllgen and Ferguson, who “are more apologetic." On 3, Hewitson nevertheless notes that his own book supports Fischer’s broad argument that Germany pursued an offensive war, and chose to enter a wider, international conflict in 1914.

[61] Hew Strachan “The origins of the First World War” International Affairs 90, Issue 2, (March 2014), 438, although he notes that some of the historians who most closely supported Fischer’s claims, such as John Röhl, are still active.

[62] For a summary of these works, see Annika Mombauer, The Origins of the First World War: Controversies and Consensus (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2002), 186-208. Earlier, Harry Barnes had argued that France and Russia were responsible; see footnote 46.

[63] A.J.P. Taylor, War by Time-Table: How the First World War Began (London and New York: Macdonald & Co. Ltd, 1969)

[64] Whether these diplomatic decisions are “contingency” is arguable, as one could believe the thoughtful actors could be or become the diplomats or that the decisions are amenable to outside forces, such as a popular book written in this period that made the case against foreign policy strategy that could lead to war.

[65] Expressed at various points in A.J.P. Taylor, War by Time-Table: How the First World War Began (London and New York: Macdonald & Co. Ltd, 1969) and A.J.P. Taylor, How Wars Begin (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1979)

[66] See, for example, A.J.P. Taylor, War by Time-Table: How the First World War Began (London and New York: Macdonald & Co. Ltd, 1969), 7-10 and 100 on alliances. For example, he discusses how in one instance in 1914, “yet here again a slight change of time-table would have sent events quite a different way.” But then he accepts that “Had the Germans assented quickly enough to Grey’s [the Prime Minister of Britain] proposal, France would have been compelled to appear as the aggressor. Or maybe not”; this suggests that alliances structured short-term diplomatic systems as much as timetables did. See also pages 15 and 121 on offensive strategies and militarism, as for example this passage: “All were trapped by the ingenuity of their military preparations, the Germans most of all. In every country, the peoples imagined that they were being called to a defensive war, and in a sense they were right. Since every general staff believed that attack was the only form of defence, every defensive operation appeared as an attack to someone else.”

[67] “When cut down to essentials, the sole cause for the outbreak of war in 1914 was the Schlieffen plan - the product of the belief in speed and the offensive. Diplomacy functioned until the German demand that France and Russia should not mobilise… All were trapped by the ingenuity of their military preparations, the Germans most of all," in A.J.P. Taylor, War by Time-Table: How the First World War Began (London and New York: Macdonald & Co. Ltd, 1969), 121

[68] A.J.P. Taylor, War by Time-Table: How the First World War Began (London and New York: Macdonald & Co. Ltd, 1969), 45

[69] A.J.P. Taylor, War by Time-Table: How the First World War Began (London and New York: Macdonald & Co. Ltd, 1969), 57-58. This account, and its historical implications, are broadly echoed elsewhere:

“Dan Snow in Sarajevo : The Assassination," at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfO7TduevHA ;

Richard Ned Lebow, “What's so different about a counterfactual?," World Politics 52, issue 4 (July 2000), 565, who describes survival of Franz Ferdinand and his wife as “a plausible counterfactual… because their assassination was such a near thing. Princip's accomplice missed the royals en route to city hall, and Princip was lamenting his failure when the touring car carrying Franz Ferdinand and his wife came to a stop in front of the bar from which Princip had just emerged to allow the cars at the head of the procession to back up because they had made a wrong turn. Princip stepped forward and fired two shots at point-blank range into their touring car. With only a minimal rewrite of history—the procession is halted after the first attempt or subsequently stays on the planned route—the assassination could easily have been averted

[70] See for example:

John W. Langdon, July 1914: The Long Debate, 1918-1990 (Oxford and New York: Berg, 1991), 64, who writes that “He simplifies a very complex situation to the point of monocausation… the serious student should look elsewhere for a balanced, detailed overview,"

William Mulligan, The origins of the First World War, (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017; first published 2010), who, despite significant overlap with Taylor, notes an explicit wish not “to resuscitate the old ‘war by timetable’ thesis."

[71] William Mulligan, The origins of the First World War, (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017; first published 2010), 18, summarizing the arguments of a group of historians typified by Holger Afflerbach (of which he is a part), writes: “Generals, even in the three empires, remained subordinate to civilian decision-makers. Popular opinion throughout Europe was inclined to defensive patriotism and did not push governments into war. Despite the irritations of trade wars, the interdependent European economies served as a structural restraint on war - and in case politicians forgot about this, bankers, merchants and other businessmen regularly reminded them of the economic benefits of peace."

[72] See footnote 64.

[73] William Mulligan, The origins of the First World War, (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017; first published 2010), 211-12, argues that “The previous chapters have emphasised the restraints on war within the international system, though they have indicated some developments that made war a more likely outcome of the July crisis than had a similar assassination taken place in, say, December 1910. That said, a general war was not inevitable after the assassination. A series of decisions taken in the capitals of the great powers interacted with each other, as the crisis escalated from an assassination to a local war to a European war and ultimately to a world war, once Britain entered the lists in August 1914."

More forcefully, Sean McMeekin, July 1914: Countdown to War (London: Icon Books Ltd, 2013), 384-90, argues that “none of this structural background, however, is sufficient to explain what happened in 1914… Absent the Sarajevo incident, a great power war might still have broken out at some point in 1914 or shortly thereafter. But there are good reasons to think otherwise," and lists some of the restraining factors in each country.

The potentially far-reaching implications of assassinations are supported by the work of Benjamin F. Jones and Benjamin A. Olken; see footnote 197.

[74] For example, Volker R. Berghahn’s. "The Origins of the First World War (review)," First World War Studies 3:1 (2012), 122-124, notes in support of Mulligan that “there is indeed now general agreement that the ‘capitalists’ were terribly worried about the arms race and a possible war, because they had a keen appreciation that this would be very destructive of international commerce and the rising prosperity that had been the hallmark of the pre-war period," but that “Mulligan may be underestimating the dangerous dynamic of the pre-1914 arms race and of the Anglo-German naval competition in particular."

Annika Mombauer, "The Origins of the First World War (review)," The English Historical Review 127, Issue 524, (February 2012), 213–214, argues that “Mulligan is too lenient when he concludes that the fact ‘that the July crisis ended in war was the outcome of a series of decisions, none of which individually was motivated by a desire for war, but all of which consciously risked a general war’ (p. 225). This assessment does not take into account the desire in Vienna and Berlin to fight a war while victory still seemed achievable… While it is doubtless true that war was not inevitable, it does not follow that nobody really wanted it. Granted, they did not want, or even really anticipate, a global conflict that would last for more than four years, but they did have a desire for armed conflict in 1914.”

[75] William Mulligan, The origins of the First World War, (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017; first published 2010), 23, summarizing Thomas Otte’s analysis in The July Crisis (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), writes that Otte analyses “how considerations of alliance, détente and relative military power shaped assumptions and led to disastrous miscalculation.”

[76] This is my assessment, but it is broadly supported by Hew Strachan “The origins of the First World War” International Affairs 90, Issue 2, (March 2014), 429-439 and William Mulligan, The origins of the First World War, (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017; first published 2010), 211, which notes that “The most recent works on the origins of the war, however, emphasize the importance of the July crisis, the contingency of the decision-making, and the systemic character of the crisis."

[77] I will offer some very speculative quantitative estimates of counterfactual probabilities to help to clarify my understanding of the likelihood of various outcomes, given the debates among historians. Note that these are not intended to be rigorous counterfactual analyses to test hypotheses about the causes of World War I, but are offered to clarify my current beliefs.

A small number of hypothetical anti-war advocates, perhaps 50 (90% credible interval of 5 to 200), if somehow optimally placed in positions of influence (such as in governments, high-ranking military roles, or as editors of newspapers) and in easy communication with each other, could have prevented a war involving Austria-Hungary, Serbia, and Russia from developing into a wider European or World War. Without those two assumptions, and with an anti-war movement roughly only as influential and diversely positioned as the current effective altruism movement, the numbers would need to be much higher, given the limited role that public opinion appeared to play, perhaps 100,000 (90% credible interval, 1000 to 100,000,000).

Without the presence of such hypothetical anti-war advocates, I would guess it would have been about 60% likely that if Franz Ferdinand and his wife had not been assassinated, there would have been no European-wide war within 10 years, although I didn’t look into the specifics of the discussion around this possibility in as much detail as other aspects of the debate about the causes of World War I, and I am less confident about this estimate.

[78] Robert Cowley (ed.) What If? The World’s Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been (London: Macmillan, 2000; first published 1999), xiii, thinks so, noting that “nothing is more suited to what if speculation than military history, where chance and accident, human failings or strengths, can make all the difference.” On 263, though, he suggests that in 1914 “some kind of outbreak was bound to happen" and in response to the questions “Could it have been confined to a scale that was not worldwide in its events and its influence? Could it have been shorter by years, with the saving of millions of lives? And could our century’s saddest story have had a different ending?” he responds that “the answer has to be yes." 

[79] Gail Bossenga, “Origins of the French Revolution," History Compass 5, no. 4 (July 2007), 1295, for example, summarizes Theda Skocpol: “Rather than looking to the rise of capitalism, Skocpol stressed the importance of international rivalry and war in the state system as a cause of revolution. Using a comparative perspective, she argued that states like France, Russia, and China, whose internal structures could not meet the demands placed on them by war, faced bankruptcy, collapse, and revolution. The most important result of revolution was not the rise of a new class, but the consolidation of a stronger, centralized, and modernized state that could compete effectively once again in world affairs” (citing Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979)).

1296, Bossenga summarizes T. C. W. Blanning: he “explored how war both created conditions for the Revolution and shaped its trajectory down to Napoleon. From the perspective of great power politics, the conclusion seemed to be: ‘No war, no revolution’.Viewed in this way, the collapse of the old regime had less to do with the rise of capitalism than with the need of the state to revamp its institutions and to mobilize the resources of its citizens in order to win, and pay for, war” (T. C. W. Blanning, The French Revolutionary Wars, 1787–1802 (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1996)).

[80] Gail Bossenga, “Origins of the French Revolution," History Compass 5, no. 4 (July 2007), 1306, summarizes “As historians including David Bien,William Doyle, and John F. Bosher, had shown, the French government faced a number of important structural problems that helped to lock it into a long-term cycle of high interest rates and institutional rigidity from which it could not escape. Tax privileges of various sorts, first of all, hindered the government’s ability to increase taxes of many kinds. In particular, any new taxes levied on the privileged elite were bound to provoke political protest by the parlements. Second, lacking adequate tax revenues to service its war loans, the monarchy was forced periodically to default, which confirmed its reputation as an untrustworthy borrower. The result was to confirm the monarchy’s fate of borrowing at high interest rates” (citing William Doyle, Venality: The Sale of Offices in Eighteenth-Century France (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996); David Bien,‘Manufacturing Nobles: The Chancelleries in France to 1789’, Journal of Modern History, 61 (1989): 445–86; 3 other publications by Bien; John R. Bosher, French Finances: From Business to Bureaucracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970)).

1305-14 summarizes developments in “Institutional Economic History and French Finances.”

[81] Gwynne Lewis, The French Revolution: Rethinking the Debate (London: Routledge, 2003; first published 1999), 8-13, summarizes the economic problems of France, and notes that “most economic historians agree, with varying degrees of emphasis, that the potential wealth and productivity of France was being held back by the palsied, but still powerful, grip of feudalism.”

[82] Gail Bossenga, “Origins of the French Revolution," History Compass 5, no. 4 (July 2007), 1294-5, summarizes this view: “According to the Marxist interpretation, the genesis of the Revolution could ultimately be traced to the conflict between social classes, which were defined by a group’s position in the mode of production. In 1789 the dominating class, the nobility, whose power was rooted in a ‘feudal’, agrarian mode of production, was overthrown by a rising bourgeois class, whose fortunes were tied to the development of a new ‘capitalist’ economy based in trade and manufacture. The French Revolution was a bourgeois revolution in the specific sense that it brought a capitalist bourgeoisie to power and created a juridical framework – i.e., free trade and representative democracy – that would protect its interests.”

Notable proponents are Georges Lefebvre, The Coming of the French Revolution, trans. Robert R. Palmer (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1947); Albert Soboul, The French Revolution, 1787–1799, trans. Alan Forrest and Colin Jones (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1975). For more examples, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historiography_of_the_French_Revolution#The_Marxist/Classic_interpretation

[83] Gail Bossenga, “Origins of the French Revolution," History Compass 5, no. 4 (July 2007), 1296, for example, summarizes Bailey Stone: “By 1789, according to Bailey, the French state could only succeed in international competition if it opened up governmental positions, notably the aristocratic army officer corps, to merit and talent: ‘the Revolution’s origins lay above all in the need of France to harness its people’s aspirations and talents to its geopolitical and other statist requirements’” (citing Bailey Stone, The Genesis of the French Revolution: A Global-Historical Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 213). 1298-9, she summarizes Alexis de Tocqueville: “The crown did centralize institutional networks in certain respects, as noted above. But, the crown also unleashed decentralizing impulses. Most notably, it repeatedly sold venal offices in government posts and thereby seriously undercut the process of unification by parceling out government functions to the highest bidder… The government’s oscillation between centralizing tendencies that undermined privilege and decentralizing measures that reinforced other dimensions of privilege gave rise to a ‘group individualism’ in which social groups were seemingly as concerned about their prerogatives as ever, but, in fact had become more homogenous in outlook as a whole. In this way, as Furet observed in his essays on Tocqueville, the French monarchy had surreptitiously created the conditions for a modern, individualistic society in an old regime still obsessed with rank and status.” 1299-1300, she summarizes the work of others who have developed this form of analysis, and 1300-5, summarizes the work of historians on the dynamics of the court.

[84] David A. Bell, “Class, consciousness, and the fall of the bourgeois revolution,” Critical Review 16 nos. 2–3 (2004), 332, summarizes the views of Francois Furet: “If the structures of French society had not notably changed across the caesura of 1789, Furet argued, then the Revolution should be understood less as a social rupture than as a cultural and intellectual one. Furet returned attention to the dynamics of the Revolutionary process itself, the influence of Enlightenment thought, and the heritage of absolute monarchy.”

[85] Gail Bossenga, “Origins of the French Revolution," History Compass 5, no. 4 (July 2007), 1315, summarizes the example that “Keith Baker has been a leading practitioner of discourse analysis of the old regime. For Baker, social practice was not determined by one overarching discourse, but was conditioned by multiple, interacting ones. In a well-known article, he argued that the old regime was characterized by three discourses, of justice, reason, and will, each of which lent different inflections to the meaning of sovereignty. Justice was associated with the parlements’ defense of the rights and duties associated with the traditional social hierarchy, whereas reason was more often espoused by ministerial reformers seeking to rationalize the social order by curbing the role of privilege and diversity of legal practices. During the Revolution, the discourse of will, which was identified with Rousseau’s theory of popular sovereignty, triumphed and pointed the revolutionaries in the direction of the Terror. More recently, Baker has also offered perspectives on discourses of republicanism and ‘society’ that went beyond this original trio” (citing Keith Baker, Inventing the French Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), especially 109-27). 1314-23 summarizes the influence of “Cultural History, the ‘Linguistic Turn’, and the Public Sphere” on the historiography: “historians searching for cultural origins of the Revolution, therefore, have generally not been interested in tracing the diffusion of ideas from the pens of a few prolific philosophes. Rather they hoped to uncover the far more complex formation of authoritative discourses that allowed sections of society to envision alternative forms of social organization and political power.”

[86] See footnote 82.

[87] Gwynne Lewis, The French Revolution: Rethinking the Debate (London: Routledge, 2003; first published 1999), 8, notes that “ Marxist historians such as Albert Soboul certainly posited an indirect relationship between the widely perceived growth of capitalism and the intellectual ‘take-off’ of the Enlightenment… For marxisant scholars, socio-economic change provides the soil in which the seeds of the Enlightenment could germinate.”

[88] Examples include Edmund Burke and Albert Sorel. For more, see:

Soma Marik, French Revolution, historians’ interpretations, Immanuel Ness (ed.) The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, vol. III (Chichester: Blackwell, 2009), 1283-4

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historiography_of_the_French_Revolution#The_Marxist/Classic_interpretation

[89] David A. Bell, "Class, consciousness, and the fall of the bourgeois revolution," Critical Review 16 nos. 2–3 (2004), 324, notes that “the thesis is in essence a Marxist one, yet it preceded the development of Marxism, and was widely accepted by many who did not consider themselves in the least Marxist. It is not exaggerating matters to say that in many parts of the world, it was long taken utterly for granted."

Gwynne Lewis, The French Revolution: Rethinking the Debate (London: Routledge, 2003; first published 1999), ix, agrees that this “Marxisant” approach “ dominated revolutionary studies until the 1960s.”

[90] Gail Bossenga, “Origins of the French Revolution," History Compass 5, no. 4 (July 2007), 1295, summarizes these criticisms: “Revisionist historians soon pointed out a variety of empirical problems with this view. One was the question of leadership. The men of the Third Estate, largely lawyers and lesser officeholders, could described as bourgeois in a general sense, but for the most part, they were not merchants and manufacturers with a vested interest in the growth of capitalism. Most members of the Third Estate, furthermore, put their money in safe, non-capitalist sorts of investments – land, offices, and rentes (annuities and bonds) – rather than in banking, manufacturing, or trade. Meanwhile, a small, but critical, number of wealthy, well-connected nobles could be considered capitalists: they invested heavily in enterprises like metallurgy, glassmaking, military supply, and so forth.”

[91] Gail Bossenga, “Origins of the French Revolution," History Compass 5, no. 4 (July 2007), 1295, summarizes: “historical sociologists were debating another issue related to a Marxist perspective: the degree of autonomy of the state. If political power was an outgrowth of a class’s position in the mode of production, then was the state simply the handmaiden of the dominating class? One important theorist,Theda Skocpol, emphatically stated no, and contended that states had independent interests that might come into conflict with the elite” (citing Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979)).

[92] Peter R. Campbell, “Redefining the French Revolution. New directions, 1989–2009," H-France Salon 1, Issue 1, No. 2 (2009), 8, summarizes that “by the time Lynn Hunt’s book on Politics, Culture and Class came out in 1984 and Cobban was finally made available in French, the revisionist battle had clearly been won, and the question of how to replace the old interpretation was clearly on the agenda.”

[93] David A. Bell, "Class, consciousness, and the fall of the bourgeois revolution," Critical Review 16 nos. 2–3 (2004), 333, “As the revisionists of revolutionary history demonstrated, it is impossible to identify in the France of 1789 a "bourgeois" social group possessing a distinct relationship to the means of production. It is equally impossible to identify a group united by a common assertion of "bourgeois" identity.” 334 adds that “attempts to identify "bourgeois" political languages in the period have singularly failed to link these languages to the fortunes or ambitions of any defined social group.”

Gwynne Lewis, The French Revolution: Rethinking the Debate (London: Routledge, 2003; first published 1999), 110, confirms this as a site of agreement “across the troubled waters of marxisant and revisionist historiography. There was no ‘class struggle’ related to the growth of modern forms of capitalism before, or indeed during, the Revolution; there was, instead, conflict within a ruling elite.”

[94] Gail Bossenga, “Origins of the French Revolution," History Compass 5, no. 4 (July 2007), 1294, notes that “The historiography has been influenced by a wide range of factors: contemporary political changes including the fall of Communism and the rise of feminism; the critique of Marxist categories of historical analysis; the interest generated by cultural modes of inquiry including anthropology and linguistics; and the more mundane, but equally important, disagreements fostered by conflicting interpretations of empirical evidence. Although these trends have contributed stimulating perspectives to the debate, they have also made it difficult to create an overarching narrative that brings together insights from multiple perspectives and prioritizes causal factors.”

Soma Marik, French Revolution, historians’ interpretations, Immanuel Ness (ed.) The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, vol. III (Chichester: Blackwell, 2009), 1285, argues that this means that “for those historians who reject the postmodernist premise and remain committed to the proposition that there is meaning and lawfulness in history, the Lefebvre synthesis has retained its potency," because “with the end of the Cold War, the revisionists; emphasis shifted from anti-communism to postmodernism. Rather than singling out Marxist interpretations of the Revolution, they claimed to reject all grand historical syntheses or “metanarratives,” including Marxism, that offer broad explanations of the course of history. That has put them in a rather ambiguous position. Although most recent books on the French Revolution reflect the revisionists’ outlook, they cannot be said to have triumphed over the Lefebvre synthesis because they have been unwilling to offer a new synthesis of their own to take its place.”

[95] Gail Bossenga, “Origins of the French Revolution," History Compass 5, no. 4 (July 2007), 1312, for example, summarizes one such debate: “How successful the monarchy was in undercutting old tax exemptions is debated. An older article by C. B. A. Behrens opened up the debate by arguing that by the end of the old regime the French nobles bore as heavy, or even heavier, tax burden than the English gentry. Guy Chaussin and Nogaret, by contrast, argued that nobles were still able to use their influence to reduce their level of taxation.”

[96] See, for example, footnote 80.

[97] Gwynne Lewis, The French Revolution: Rethinking the Debate (London: Routledge, 2003; first published 1999), 107, summarizes one example: “One of [the notable revisionist] Professor Cobban’s principal objections to the marxist ‘social’ interpretation of the Revolution was that if ‘1789’ was a ‘bourgeois revolution’, it was certainly not precipitated by an industrial, capitalist bourgeoisie, since capitalism before 1789 was still, in the main, commercial and proprietary. Most revisionist historians have followed this lead” but “it is somewhat ironic that Albert Soboul, a constant target of revisionist historians, condemned out of hand as a ‘marxist-leninist’ ideologue, should have painted a far less rosy picture of industrial growth in France before the Revolution than did [the revisionist] Chaussinand-Nogaret, repeatedly reminding us that ‘Capitalism [before 1789] was still essentially commercial.’” 109-10 notes support for the importance of “an intra-class conflict over basic political relations," rather than an emphasis on class conflict as the main driver of change.

[98] It is not necessary to agree with the Marxist interpretation to see the outbreak of revolution in France as a nearly unavoidable historical outcome, given the role of various underlying causes, including financial difficulties, structural factors and ideological change. However, a Marxist interpretation would imply more forcefully the inevitability of revolution.

Soma Marik, French Revolution, historians’ interpretations, Immanuel Ness (ed.) The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, vol. III (Chichester: Blackwell, 2009), 1285-6, for example, argues that “historical evidence casts grave doubt on the revisionists’ argument that reforms would have sufficed if only the revolutionaries had shown better sense, or had been less suspicious of their real or supposed opponents. The researches of John Markoff and P. M. Jones on the peasantry demonstrate that the kind of reforms the peasants wanted threatened the very existence of the rural nobles… peasant radicalism remained a central aspect of all the party conflicts in the three great assemblies of the Revolution.”

[99] T. Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China (Cambridge, New York and Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 1979), 60-61, notes that “partly because of the lower level of per capita national wealth in France compared to England, and partly because the system of taxation was riddled with the exemptions or deductions of countless privileged elites - including officers, tax farmers, trading and industrial groups, as well as churchmen and the nobility - the French Crown found it difficult to raise revenues sufficient to sustain protracted and repeated general warfare.” 63-4, she argues that by the late 1780s, the Bourbon monarchy “faced a socially consolidated dominant class… economically interested in minimizing royal taxation of its wealth and capable of exerting political leverage against the absolutist monarchy through its institutional footholds within the state apparatus.”

[100] Gail Bossenga, “Origins of the French Revolution," History Compass 5, no. 4 (July 2007), 1307, summarizes that “Eugene White argued that the financial crisis of 1788 was predominantly a short-term problem, and that Louis XVI’s ministers could have defaulted in 1788, just as they had so often in the past, rather than resorting to the drastic measure of convoking the Estates General [citing Eugene N. White,‘Was There a Solution to the Fiscal Crisis of the Ancien Régime?’, Journal of Economic History, 49 (1989): 545–68]. The work of other historians, however, suggests that political conditions and cultural expectations had changed enough since the crown’s last repudiation of debt in 1771 that Louis XVI no longer regarded default as an option.”

[101] This view is supported by Gwynne Lewis, The French Revolution: Rethinking the Debate (London: Routledge, 2003; first published 1999), 3, who notes that “One may hypothesise that if the Bourbon monarchy had successfully modernised its society and government then it might have sustained the cost of being a world power in the late eighteenth century: after all, the Third French Republic was to create an overseas empire second only to that of Britain a century later. But it did not, and this failure in foreign and domestic policy, allied to the accident of poor harvests, helps to explain the timing of the French Revolution in 1789.”

Unlike with the counterfactual exploration of avoiding World War I above, there is no way to suggest a hypothetical group of people dedicated to avoiding revolution in France in the 18th century; this was already the goal of the French monarchs, their governments, and most of the aristocracy and clergy (though not all, given the spread of Enlightenment ideas). Uncommonly shrewd and lucky political, financial, and social decisions by the monarchy and its ministers over the course of the 18th century might have been able to stave off change as far-reaching as that achieved in 1789-1815 by 50 years (90% credible interval 10 to 250 years). Note, however, that this counterfactual is subject to many second-order counterfactual considerations, such as the indirect effect of delayed change in France on reform in Europe more widely and the reciprocal effect that this would have on France, and I have not explored these in depth. It is also implausible in the sense that the ministers did attempt reform and most alternative plans of action would probably also have failed for similar or different reasons.

[102] Here are some points where Louis changing his stance may have had a dramatically different impact: the response to the formation of the National Assembly in July 1789; the response to the growing popular unrest in Paris in July 1789; the response to the new rights he was granted under the new constitution (for example in using his suspensory veto more or less).

[103] Their lack of information on this was probably partially an accident or the result of poor communication. Simon Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (London: Penguin, 2004), paragraph 24.78, describes this problem. “When the Nation found itself locked out of its home without warning by workmen preparing the hall for the séance royale, it assumed that this had been intentional rather than inadvertent. Armed guards, after all, barred the entrance, at which were placards summarily announcing the séance royale. The letter from the master of ceremonies to Bailly had arrived only at the last minute and with no indication of an alternative meeting place. It seemed suspiciously like the first step in the dissolution of the Assembly. Chagrin turned to fury as the deputies stood about in heavy rain. The good Dr. Guillotin… remembered a tennis court owned by a friend of his in the rue du Vieux Versailles. And it was to that address that six hundred wetly exhilarated representatives trooped, followed by a gathering crowd.”

[104] More substantially, Louis XVI’s June 1791 attempt to flee France to seek Austrian support to renegotiate with the Revolutionaries only narrowly failed. Simon Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (London: Penguin, 2004), paragraph 29.98, describes how the royal family narrowly missed their military escort. “Bouillé had instructed the young Duc de Choiseul to provide a military escort when the royal coach reached Pont de Somme-Vesle, the first in a series of escorts that would accompany the royal family until they arrived safely at Montmédy… By four thirty in the afternoon the royal party was two hours late for the rendezvous and Choiseul became gradually convinced that the plan had miscarried… Departing in haste, Choiseul gave Léonard a note for the officers of the other relays indicating that something had gone wrong and that he would rejoin Bouillé.” The royals reached Varennes, which is 50km from their intended destination of Montmédy; they had already travelled 225km from Paris. It seems possible that small variations might have led to success in their flight: had Marie Antoinette not insisted that the family travel together in a slower coach; had their wheel not hit a stone post on the journey, requiring time to fix the carriage; had their military escort waited a few hours longer for the royal family to arrive; had the local postmaster not recognized Marie Antoinette.

[105] Hart/Teeter, NBC News/Wall Street Journal: National Survey No. 6 (Washington, DC: published by the authors, 1990) (cited in Riley E. Dunlap and Angela G. Mertig, “The Evolution of the U.S. Environmental Movement from 1970 to 1990: An Overview," in Riley E. Dunlap and Angela G. Mertig (eds.) American Environmentalism: The U.S. Environmental Movement, 1970-1990 (Washington: Taylor and Francis, 1991; first published 1990), 1)

[106] Cited in Grant Jordan and William A. Maloney, The protest business? Mobilizing campaign groups (Manchester, UK and New York: Manchester University Press, 1997)

[107] Samuel P. Hays with Barbara D. Hays, Beauty, Health, and Permanence: Environmental Politics in the United States, 1955-1985 (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 2-3, note that “Environmental concerns were rooted in the vast social changes that took place in the United States after World War II. Although some beginnings can be identified in earlier years, only after the war did they become widely shared social phenomena.” 13, they add that “environmental differed markedly from conservation affairs. The conservation movement was an effort on the part of leaders in science, technology, and government to bring about more efficient development of physical resources. The environmental movement, on the other hand, was far more widespread and popular, involving public values that stressed the quality of human experience and hence of the human environment. Conservation was an aspect of the history of production that stressed efficiency, whereas environment was a part of the history of consumption that stressed new aspects of the American standard of living.”

Grant Jordan and William A. Maloney, The protest business? Mobilizing campaign groups (Manchester, UK and New York: Manchester University Press, 1997), 9, note that “while opinion poll data is not necessarily an accurate measure of societal attitudes, and the levels reported fluctuate, nevertheless the underlying trend of support for environmentalism has undoubtedly grown compared with the 1950s. The environment is a mainstream political issue like the economy or unemployment.” 11-2, they note that “Dalton identifies the late 1960s as starting a distinct second (new) wave of European environmentalism… The second stage of development has (arguably) led to an increased scale of activity.”

[108] Adam Rome, ““Give Earth a Chance”: The Environmental Movement and the Sixties," Journal of American History 90, No. 2 (September 2003), 527

[109] Riley E. Dunlap and Angela G. Mertig, “The Evolution of the U.S. Environmental Movement from 1970 to 1990: An Overview," in Riley E. Dunlap and Angela G. Mertig (eds.) American Environmentalism: The U.S. Environmental Movement, 1970-1990 (Washington: Taylor and Francis, 1991; first published 1990), 1, note that “few social movements achieve such widespread acceptance, and fewer still are able to celebrate a twentieth anniversary.”

William Gamson, Strategy of Social Protest (Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1990; first published 1975), 33-4, notes that he found that only 28 of the 53 “challenging groups” that he studied achieved “the existence of a minimal acceptance relationship with any antagonist at the end of the challenge period.”

[110] Riley E. Dunlap and Angela G. Mertig, “The Evolution of the U.S. Environmental Movement from 1970 to 1990: An Overview," in Riley E. Dunlap and Angela G. Mertig (eds.) American Environmentalism: The U.S. Environmental Movement, 1970-1990 (Washington: Taylor and Francis, 1991; first published 1990), 3.

For more examples, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_history_of_environmentalism#1960s

[111] Riley E. Dunlap and Angela G. Mertig, “The Evolution of the U.S. Environmental Movement from 1970 to 1990: An Overview,"”, in Riley E. Dunlap and Angela G. Mertig (eds.) American Environmentalism: The U.S. Environmental Movement, 1970-1990 (Washington: Taylor and Francis, 1991; first published 1990), 2-3

[112] Adam Rome, ““Give Earth a Chance”: The Environmental Movement and the Sixties," Journal of American History 90, No. 2 (September 2003), 526

[113] This summary is from Adam Rome, ““Give Earth a Chance”: The Environmental Movement and the Sixties," Journal of American History 90, No. 2 (September 2003), 527

[114] Ramachandra Guha, Environmentalism: A Global History (New York: Longman, 2000), 98 cites Lester Thurow, The Zero-Sum Society (1980) as arguing that “poor countries and poor individuals simply aren’t interested” in environmentalism.

[115] Ramachandra Guha, Environmentalism: A Global History (New York: Longman, 2000), 98-102. The examples include the Penan in Malaysia, the Save the Narmada Movement in India, peasants opposing eucalyptus plantations in Thailand, the resistance of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni people to Royal Shell in Nigeria, and Kenya’s Green Belt Movement.

[116] Robert Gottlieb, Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1993), 86-93, considers these three writers and concludes that “each of these writers became participants in his own right in these upheavals [referring to “the new forms of protest and social action” in the 1960s].”

[117] Ramachandra Guha, Environmentalism: A Global History (New York: Longman, 2000), 69, notes that historians are “notorious for disputation and disagreement” but that “there is a surprising unanimity on what begat modern environmentalism. ‘The landmark book Silent Spring,’ writes Ralph H. Lutts, ‘played a vitally important role in stimulating the contemporary environmental movement.’ Stephen Fox goes further: Silent Spring, he says, ‘became one of the seminal volumes in conservation history: the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of modern environmentalism.’ Kirkpatrick Sale is more categorical still; he quotes a stirring paragraph from the preface of the book in question, and adds: ‘With those angry and uncompromising words, it can be said that the modern environmental movement began.’”

Andrew Jamison, Ron Eyerman, and Jacqueline Cramer, with Jeppe Læssøe, The Making of the New Environmental Consciousness: A Comparative Study of the Environmental Movements in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1990), 185, having compared the impact of the book in 3 European countries, list Silent Spring as one of three “international events” which were “significant features in the development of environmentalism.”

Of the books and articles I have read on the topic which have explicitly commented on the role or importance of Rachel Carson, not a single one has suggested she played an unimportant role. Many quotes could be listed in support of Guha’s point.

[118] Ramachandra Guha, Environmentalism: A Global History (New York: Longman, 2000), 69-70, notes that “the influence of her third book might be judged by numbers: by the fact that Silent Spring sold half-a-million copies in hard cover, the fact that it stayed thirty-one weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, the fact that it was quickly published, in English or in translation, in some two dozen countries. The book’s impact is also measured, in the historians’ accounts, by the controversies it generated in the media, in corporate boardrooms, in scientific journals and within government departments.” 72 adds that “Early admirers of Silent Spring included the secretary of the interior, Stewart Udall, and President John F. Kennedy himself, whose Scientific Advisory Committee put out a report endorsing Carson’s conclusions.”

Hal K. Rothman, The Greening of a Nation? Environmentalism in the United States Since 1945 (Fort Worth, Texas: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1998), Xi-xii, makes clear his overall argument that environmentalism in the US was “a product of prosperity of the post-war moment...environmentalism was predicated upon the increasing affluence of American society and a widespread belief in the idea that “quality of life” was a right.”

[119] Mark Hamilton Lytle, The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 5-6, notes that “she brought together the work of scientists whose writing was often so specialized that it seldom appeared in the same journals and so impermeable that it seldom reached the public.”

167 adds that Silent Spring was “a magisterial synthesis of a vast and disparate literature from government, scientific, and public health investigators. Carson built her case systematically, step by careful step.”

[120] Mark Hamilton Lytle, The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 146 notes that “Her three earlier books already demonstrated her capacity for research, her ability to synthesize complex and sometimes contradictory data, and her talent for turning even tedious information into elegant prose.”

189 adds that “The honor that moved her more than any other was her election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Limited to just 50 members, the academy included the nation’s artistic and literary elite. Carson was one of only four women inducted into that august ody and the only writer of nonfiction among them.”

This is confirmed by Robert Gottlieb, Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1993), 82, which notes the success of her earlier book, The Sea Around Us, which sold 2 million copies. 84 notes that “Carson’s powerful writing style wedded a dispassionate presentation of the research with an evocative description of natural and human environments under siege from a science and a technology that had “armed itself with the most modern and terrible weapons.”

[121] Mark Hamilton Lytle, The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 5-6, notes that “Her respect for ideas and her ability to convey them gained the confidence of scientists and turned many of them into champions of her books. Rachel knew such scientific support would be vital to the acceptance of Man Against the Earth [later renamed Silent Spring], especially given the controversial nature of its subject.”

163-4 adds that “Scientists were not the only allies Carson made in preparing her book. Women in public life also championed her cause and none more ardently than Agnes Meyers, owner of the Washington Post… These women, who shared Carson’s passion for defending wildlife and nature, supported her as she came under fire from what turned out to be mostly male critics.”

[122] Mark Hamilton Lytle, The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 178, notes that ““Carson more than held her own against the onslaught” of critics.” 182-3 adds that after one television appearance, “Carson’s friends and allies applauded her performance, convinced she had persuaded some 10 to 15 million viewers that her work was sound,” because “Carson made her case with reasoned arguments delivered in a dignified manner.”

[123] Mark Hamilton Lytle, The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 133, notes that “To promote her cause, Carson set to to build a case against those who made wanton use of dangerous chemicals… She undertook her research as a partisan, not a neutral observer.”

[124] Craig Waddell, And No Birds Sing: Rhetorical Analyses of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000), 9, refers to “hypothesis A, or the apocalyptic thesis; that is, the success of Silent Spring is attributable to the appeal of Carson’s apocalyptic vision, which is especially prominent in “A Fable for Tomorrow,” the book’s opening chapter… I began my own study of the public response to Silent Spring with what I will call hypothesis B, or the zeitgeist thesis: that is, that it was not Carson’s apocalyptic appeal per se that facilitated public reception of her work, but rather her ability to ally her concerns with the spirit of the times - which happened to be dominated by the apocalyptic fear of nuclear holocaust.”

[125] Mark Hamilton Lytle, The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 143-5, notes that “A series of public health crises prepared Americans for Carson’s message.” Scientists determined “that aboveground nuclear testing subjected the world to an increased risk of radiation contamination… The danger of agricultural chemicals raised controversy as well. Just before Thanksgiving in 1959, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suddenly issued a ban on cranberries containing the herbicide aminotriazole…. In the summer of 1962, an incident involving the flu emedicine thalidomide raised questions about the responsibility of both chemical companies and the government agencies that regulated them.”

189-90 notes an event after the publication of Silent Spring, in November 1963, which also “vindicated Carson in the starkest terms imaginable. Strollers along the Mississippi River levees discovered masses of dead fish floating on the surface… Never before had [Louisiana officials] seen so many dead fish… they identified the culprit as almost undetectable amounts of the chemical pesticide endrin.” Additionally, “The operator of the plant was none other than Velsicol, the very company that had tried to block the publication of Silent Spring… “How does Rachel Carson look now?” a reporter asked public health officials. “She looks pretty good,” one of them answered. The incident led Senator Ribicoff to open a new round of Senate hearings and, partly as a result, introduce a new clean water bill.”

Andrew Jamison, Ron Eyerman, and Jacqueline Cramer, with Jeppe Læssøe, The Making of the New Environmental Consciousness: A Comparative Study of the Environmental Movements in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1990), 19, note that “as in other countries, in Sweden it was Carson’s book that served to usher in the modern era of environmentalism.” 18-19, they do, however, note that “already in 1941 the feminist writer Elin Wägner had written her Väckarklocka (Alarm Clock), combining feminist and environmentalist themes; and the poet Harry Martinson and the agricultural chemist Georg Borgstrӧm both published books and articles in Swedish from what might be termed an environmentalist perspective some ten years before Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring appeared in 1962.” As reasons for the relative unimportance of these books, they note that “they can be seen as having been simply too early in their warnings. Environmental problems had to grow in intensity, and become more visibly apparent, before they could be taken seriously and give rise to a more significant public discussion. They also had to ‘wait in line’, as it were, as other problems had their time in the spotlight,” since the focus in Sweden in the 1950s was on “public debate about a Swedish atomic bomb.” By this perspective, wider growing momentum for environmentalism was more important than the specifics of their writings in determining the success or failure of these authors.

Craig Waddell, And No Birds Sing: Rhetorical Analyses of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000),11, notes, however, that “the modest attention paid to three books addressing the same subject… challenges the hypothesis that the spirit of the times alone explains Silent Spring’s success.

It is still possible, however, that Carson was unusually talented at aligning herself with these concerns; see the comment by Craig Waddell in footnote 124.

[126] Animal Charity Evaluators’ environmentalism case study considers this most fully. It compares Carson to a contemporary who published a similar book five days earlier, Murray Bookchin. It hypothesizes that “even if Carson’s book had never appeared on the national stage, the political radicalism of Bookchin—a self-described anarchist—might have kept his book from having a similar impact.”

Note, that Craig Waddell, And No Birds Sing: Rhetorical Analyses of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000), 10-12, did attempt to test the hypotheses he identified as explanations of Carson’s success by checking for references to specific features or concerns in the reviews. This leads him, however, to conclude only “that no one factor - either within or outside the text - can adequately explain the success of Silent Spring.” He warns that “the lackluster sales of Carson’s first book, Under the Sea Wind, published just six weeks prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, challenge the hypothesis that Carson’s literary grace was a sufficient condition for Silent Spring’s success.”

[127] Several comments by other contributors in Riley E. Dunlap and Angela G. Mertig (eds.) American Environmentalism: The U.S. Environmental Movement, 1970-1990 (Washington: Taylor and Francis, 1991; first published 1990) reflect this:

19 notes that “In the early 1960s, Rachel Carson’s Silent spring (1962) and Barry Commoner’s Science and survival (1963) played substantial roles in defining the second-generation issues.”

28 notes that “Second, public awareness of environmental hazards increased, at least among some sectors of the population.” Silent spring is listed as one of several factors which “contributed to a growing awareness of the relationship between pollution of the environment and human health.” This is one of “several factors [which] help to explain the dramatic expansion of local environmental activity in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s," considered on 27-8.

65 notes that “Rachel Carson’s book Silent spring (1962) became the most widely known of a number of books reporting the adverse effects of indiscriminate uses of technology.”

Hal K. Rothman, The Greening of a Nation? Environmentalism in the United States Since 1945 (Fort Worth, Texas: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1998), 2, notes that “Americans challenged the assumptions by which their forebears lived while remaining dependent on the same economic and cultural mechanisms. A series of events - beginning with the attempt to inundate Dinosaur National Monument behind the proposed multipurpose Echo Park Dam in the 1950s and including the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 - sparked first uneasiness, later suspicion, and finally outright hostility to an unthinking allegiance to progress in many quarters of American society.”

85, Rothman lists Rachel Carson as one of “three individuals” who Jumped to the front of discourse” over concerns that “the human race needed to assess its actions more carefully before continuing along the paths it had chosen,” alongside Garrett Hardin and Paul Ehrlich.

[128] Based on the evidence I have read so far, I would revise this downwards to an estimate of 2 years (90% credible interval of 6 months to 5 years).

[129] Jacob Nebel noted in 2012 that “Most scientific articles get little to no attention (Van Dalen and Klamer 2005). One study found that 47 percent of articles catalogued by the Institute for Scientific Information have never been cited, and more than 80 percent have been cited less than 10 times (Redner 1998). Articles in the median social science journal, on average, get only 0.5 citations within two years of publication (Klamer and Dalen 2002). The mean number of citations per article in mathematics, physics, and environmental science journals is probably less than 1 (Mansilla et al. 2007). By contrast, the top 0.1% of papers in the Institute for Scientific Information have been cited over 1000 times (Redner 1998). Citations per paper are basically distributed by a power law, which means that only a few papers dominate. This trend seems to hold across fields, even when the average number of citations per article varies widely (Radicchi, Fortunato, and Castellano 2008), and a similar distribution holds across individual researchers, not just articles (Petersen et al. 2011a).”

A variety of other evidence is contained in 80,000 Hours’ career review of academic research.

[130] Anthony J. Nocella II, John Sorenson, Kim Socha, and Atsuko Matsuoka (eds.), Defining Critical Animal Studies: An Intersectional Social Justice Approach for Liberation (New York: Peter Lang, 2014), xix, note that “The modern animal advocacy movement is often seen as a development of the 1970s, following publication of utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer’s seminal monograph, Animal Liberation. Singer compared the animal rights movement to Black, gay and women’s liberation movements. As Singer (1975) acknowledged, virtually all of the key arguments in Animal Liberation had been stated almost a century before in Henry Salt’s classic work Animals’ Rights Considered in Relation to Moral Progress (1894).”

[131] The Local Effective Altruism Network’s 2017 Local Group Survey, for example, found that “Most members (102/178) and organisers (45/72) report involvement with their EA group to be ‘large’ or ‘very large’ factor for their engagement with EA, with the majority of the rest being ‘moderate’ responses.”

[132] Dennis Smith, “Historical Social Theory” in Austin Harrington (ed) Modern Social Theory: an Introduction, (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 141, summarizes Elias: “Elias offers a powerful and influential vision of how human beings and societies interconnect and develop. At the centre of this vision are at least seven key ideas," which include “the human capacity to exercise agency, to wield power, and to experience a sense of identity, self, and belonging is the result of being embedded in human social relationships” and that “social life takes pace in complex networks of interdependence amongst people, groups, and institutions. Elias’ term for these networks of interdependence is figurations. Figurations include patterns of kinship, class relationships, or structures of government.”

[133] Dennis Smith, “Historical Social Theory” in Austin Harrington (ed) Modern Social Theory: an Introduction, (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 144, summarizes Elias: “As pacification encouraged trade and industry, and as interdependence increased, the civilized habitus spread from the court to the counting house, and from the upper classes to the people at large

[134] Norbert Elias, trans. by Edmund Jephcott, The Civilizing Process: The History of Manners and State Formation and Civilization (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994; first published 1939), 48, notes, for example that “The Middle Ages have left us an abundance of information on what was considered socially acceptable behavior” and on that page alone cites Hugh of St. Victor, Petrus Alphonsi, Johannes von Garland, Thomasin von Zirklaria. He compares these to Renaissance writers like Erasmus (beginning on 56) and subsequent writings, like The Habits of Good Society (London, 1859, 2nd ed., verbatim, 1889, p. 257), cited on 81.

The themes covered are “Behavior at Table," 68-104, “Changes in Attitude Toward the Natural Functions,” 105-116, “Blowing One’s Nose,” 117-125, “Spitting,” 125-132, “Behavior in the Bedroom,” 132-138, “Changes in Attitude Toward Relations Between the Sexes,” 138-56, “Changes in Aggressiveness,” 156-68.

[135] Dennis Smith, “Historical Social Theory” in Austin Harrington (ed) Modern Social Theory: an Introduction, (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 144, comments that “One weakness of Elias’s work… is the very great, perhaps excessive, attention he pays to the aristocracy and court society acting as social pacemakers, as a vanguard for the civilizing process. Elias tends to downplay other causes of self-restraint in social change. One factor he should have paid more attention to in the emergence of distinctly controlled rationalized social conduct is the factor of religion, which Max Weber had examined in the case of the Protestant ethic.”

[136] Karl Krarup, “Book Reviews: Norbert Elias: The Civilizing Process, Vol. 2, State Formation and Civilization, Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1982. 376 pp,” Acta Sociologica 26, nos. 3-4 (July 1983), 344, notes that “Figurational Sociology… has gained considerable attention in Europe with its most organized locus in The Netherlands around sociologists Johan Goudsblom and Peter Gleichman,” but notes that “The term ’figuration’ has been chosen by Elias in order to delimit his concept of social systems to the type where human and corporate actors are its constitutive units, instead of mindless social functions or levels.” In this sense, analytical tools such as figurations are chosen for their explanatory value, rather than their accuracy in representing the past.

Norbert Elias, trans. by Edmund Jephcott, The Civilizing Process: The History of Manners and State Formation and Civilization (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994; first published 1939), 443, appeals to intuition as much as to evidence to demonstrate his points: “But, obviously, individual people did not at some past time intend this change, this “civilization,” and gradually realize it by conscious, “rational,” purposive measures. Clearly, “civilizations” is not, any more than rationalization, a product of human “ratio” or the result of calculated long-term planning…. In fact, nothing in history indicates that this change was brought about “rationally,” through any purposive education of individual people or groups. It happened by and large unplanned; but it did not happen, nevertheless, without a specific type of order.”

Geoffrey Baraclough has criticized these generalist theories and implications. He argues that Elias’ account of the transformation of society “is both too narrow and too rigid. His “monopoly mechanism,” invoked ad nauseam, is like Toynbee’s “challenge and response,” a truism which explains too much or too little… Psychological musings which discovered “how deeply the stratification, the pressures and tensions of our own time penetrate the structure of the individual personality” (p. 331), and sociological musings which arrive at the conclusion that “the continuous intertwining of human activities again and again acts as a lever which over the centuries produces changes in human conduct” (ibid.), seemed to me to reach a level of banality which it was kinder to pass over in silence.”

[137] Barrington Moore, Jr, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974; first published 1966), 453, notes that “no longer is it possible to take seriously the view that the peasant is an “object of history,” a form of social life over which historical changes pass but which contributes nothing to the impetus of these changes. For those who savor historical irony it is indeed curious that the peasant in the modern era has been as much an agent of revolution as the machine, that he has come into his own as an effective historical actor along with the conquests of the machine. Nevertheless the revolutionary contribution has been very uneven: decisive in China and Russia, quite important in France, very minor in Japan, insignificant in India to date, trivial in Germany and England after initial explosions had been defeated.” p. 452

[138] Dennis Smith, “Historical Social Theory” in Austin Harrington (ed) Modern Social Theory: an Introduction, (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 145, summarizes Moore’s argument: “Moore presents the startling thesis that modern political systems have been fundamentally shaped by peasants and aristocrats in pre-industrial societies (see also Moore 1978). These political systems - democracy, fascism, and communism - differ from each other in the extent to which the central state penetrates the interests of the agents it seeks to serve.”

[139] Barrington Moore, Jr, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974; first published 1966), x, notes that “smaller countries… are not really comparable to those of larger countries” and that “for any given country one is bound to find lines of causation that do not fit easily into more general theories… For these reasons the interpretation of the transformation in several countries takes up the largest part of the book.” He considers England, France, the US, China, Japan and India in most depth, each over long time-frames, and each covered in 26 to 152 pages.

This method supports conclusions such as that on 459-60, that “Turning to the process of modernization itself, we notice once again that the success or failure of the upper class in taking up commercial agriculture has a tremendous influence on the political outcome… The great German peasant war, the Bauernkrieg of 1524-1525, illustrates these relationships in a striking fashion, especially if one compares the areas in which it broke out violently with those parts of Germany where it was not more than a minor episode.”

[140] John T. Sidel, “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy Revisited: Colonial State and Chinese Immigrant in the Making of Modern Southeast Asia,” Comparative Politics 40, No. 2 (January 2008), 127, notes that “many of Moore's arguments have been discredited and discarded, and his magnum opus is more often cited in passing or in footnotes and bibliographies than it is seriously treated by contemporary scholars of dictatorship and democracy,” although his methodology has been longer-lasting and “Moore's work is foundational for scholars rooted in the tradition of comparative historical sociology.”

[141] Dennis Smith, “Historical Social Theory” in Austin Harrington (ed) Modern Social Theory: an Introduction, (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 146, summarizes Skocpol’s argument: “She argues that revolutions are not simply made by conspirators but rather emerge as the unintended outcome of multiple conflicts shaped by complex socio-economic and international conditions. She attaches great importance to the inter-societal and world-historical contexts in which social revolutions occur.”

[142] Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China (Cambridge, New York and Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 1979), 14.

[143] Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China (Cambridge, New York and Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 1979), 17, argues that “the fact is that historically no successful social revolution has ever been ‘made’ by a mass-mobilizing, avowedly revolutionary movement… in no sense did such vanguards [i.e. revolutionary leaders and organizations] - let alone vanguards with large, mobilized, and ideologically imbued mass followings - ever create the revolutionary crises they exploited. Instead, as we shall see in later chapters, revolutionary situations have developed due to the emergence of politico-military crises of state and class domination. And only because of the possibilities thus created have revolutionary leaderships and rebellious masses contributed to the accomplishment of revolutionary transformations.”

[144] Norbert Elias, trans. by Edmund Jephcott, The Civilizing Process: The History of Manners and State Formation and Civilization (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994; first published 1939) has 10137 citations on Google Scholar.

Barrington Moore, Jr, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974; first published 1966) has 9389.

Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China (Cambridge, New York and Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 1979) has 8207.

[145] For a summary of some of works with more optimistic assumptions, see Paul Burstein, Sarah Sausner, “The Incidence and Impact of Policy-Oriented Collective Action: Competing Views," Sociological Forum 20, issue 3 (September 2005), 407

[146] Marco Giugni, Social Protest and Policy Change: Ecology, Antinuclear, and Peace Movements in Comparative Perspective, (Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield, 2004), 2, for example, argues that “it is likely that protest activities carried out by social movements often do have important effects. This, at least, is what one might conclude from observing specific cases.Let us mention two significant examples. First, few of us would deny that the democracy movements that shook Eastern Europe in 1989 played a role in bringing about a new world order… Also having a strong impact, but on a much more specific level, was the boycott called by the environmental organization Greenpeace in the summer of 1995 against plans by Dutch oil company Shell to destroy the Brent Spar offshore oil rig located in the North Sea, after it became unusable… the oil company retracted its decision, to the joy of Greenpeace and environmental activists alike,” p. 2

[147] William Gamson, Strategy of Social Protest (Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1990; first published 1975), p. v

[148] “Acceptance involves a change from histoility or indifference to a more positive relationship. There are four indicators of this more positive relationship: 1. Consultation… 2. Negotiations… 3. Formal recognition… 4. Inclusion," in William Gamson, Strategy of Social Protest (Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1990; first published 1975), 32

[149] William Gamson, Strategy of Social Protest (Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1990; first published 1975), 34-6. He explains that “In assessing the achievement of benefits, the group’s own perspective and aspirations are the starting point… Four perceptions of goal achievement were coded: the perception of degree of achievement (1) by historians, (2) by the challenging group, and (3) by its antagonist, and (4) the challenging group’s level of satisfaction with its achievement at the end of the challenge.”

[150] William Gamson, Strategy of Social Protest (Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1990; first published 1975), 37

[151] Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward, Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977), x-xii summarizes the argument, noting, for example, that movement leaders “do not usually escalate the momentum of the people’s protests. They do not because they are preoccupied with trying to build and sustain embryonic formal organizations in the sure conviction that these organizations will enlarge and become powerful." As a specific historical example, 91-2, considering an alliance of unemployed workers’ movement, notes that “when the alliance abandoned the relief centers to lobby for lofty programs of basic change, those millions on relief were abandoned too: the rolls were cut back and millions who were still unemployed were once again left destitute. The tragedy, in sum, is that the alliance did not win as much as it could, while it could."

Note, however, that this conclusion is at odds with William Gamson, Strategy of Social Protest (Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1990; first published 1975), which argues that in various ways, bureaucratic and centralized organisation is helpful for challenging groups. 92 shows, for example, that of the 24 “bureaucratic” organisations, 71% achieved acceptance and 62% won new advantages, whereas of the “nonbureaucratic” groups, only 28% achieved acceptance, and 38% won new advantages.

[152] Marco Giugni, Social Protest and Policy Change: Ecology, Antinuclear, and Peace Movements in Comparative Perspective, (Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield, 2004), 216, for example, concluding on his analysis of the the ecology, antinuclear, and peace movements across the USA, Italy and Switzerland, notes that “like the previous analyses, these final ones do not yield results that hold consistently across countries and across movements (also due to the lack of data on certain aspects), but they do point in the expected direction. The strongest relationship, in the case of the United States, is the one concerning the joint effect of protest; political alliances, as measured through pro-ecology elite statements; and public opinion on environmental spending at the national level. In contrast, the coefficient concerning the local level is not statistically significant, although it is relatively strong. A significant relationship can also be observed between the interactive terms for the antinuclear movement and nuclear energy production, this time with both the formal and informal indicators. Finally, as in most of the previous analyses, the peace movement does not seem to have had an impact on defense spending, even when supported by political allies and a favourable public opinion.”

[153] Paul Burstein and April Linton, “The Impact of Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Social Movement Organizations on Public Policy: Some Recent Evidence and Theoretical Concerns," Social Forces 81, No. 2 (December, 2002), 381

[154] Paul Burstein and April Linton, “The Impact of Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Social Movement Organizations on Public Policy: Some Recent Evidence and Theoretical Concerns," Social Forces 81, No. 2 (December, 2002), 394-5

[155] Paul Burstein and April Linton, “The Impact of Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Social Movement Organizations on Public Policy: Some Recent Evidence and Theoretical Concerns," Social Forces 81, No. 2 (December, 2002), 395

[156] Katrin Uba, “The Contextual Dependence of Movement Outcomes: A Simplified Meta-Analysis,” Mobilization: An International Quarterly 14, No. 4 (December 2009), 408, notes that “This is a partial replication of the study by Burstein and Linton (2002), but it has been developed further by having a longer observation period, an increased number of examined journals, and a more detailed analysis.” 406 notes that “This analysis is based on a systematic review of 74 articles published in 11 prominent sociology and political science journals from 1990 to 2007” and that since Burstein and Linton’s meta-analysis, “the number of studies focusing on the contextual dependency of social movement outcomes, including the role of public opinion, has almost doubled.”

[157] Katrin Uba, “The Contextual Dependence of Movement Outcomes: A Simplified Meta-Analysis,” Mobilization: An International Quarterly 14, No. 4 (December 2009), 410-11

[158] Edwin Amenta, Neal Caren, Elizabeth Chiarello, and Yang Su, “The Political Consequences of Social Movements,” Annual Review of Sociology 36 (2010), 294. They add that “In 33 instances, these relationships were established through regression analyses controlling for many other potential determinants of the outcomes. In 12 others, comparative and historical analysts selected cases to control for other potential determinants of the outcomes, meaning that about 83% of the movements examined were deemed significantly influential beyond controls… As for the degree of influence, using the scholars’ evaluations plus our own when these are not supplied, we find that 18 of these findings indicate a strong (and positive) movement influence and another 20 indicate moderate influence. Thus, about 70% of the relationships show reasonably high movement influence. However, this means that 30% of the findings show negligible positive influence of movements: 12, or 22%, exhibit weak influence, 3 find no influence, and 1 exhibits negative influence.”

[159] Paul Burstein and April Linton, “The Impact of Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Social Movement Organizations on Public Policy: Some Recent Evidence and Theoretical Concerns," Social Forces 81, No. 2 (December, 2002), 400, note that “few examine what has been called the "pre-policy" part of the policy process, starting with the initial entry of a policy proposal onto the legislative agenda (on this point, see Edwards, Barrett & Peake 1997:547; Smith 2000:80)”

[160] Edwin Amenta, When Movements Matter: The Townsend Plan and the Rise of Social Security (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), 5, notes that Gamson’s “conception of success limits thinking about the possible consequences of challenges. For instance, a challenger may not achieve its demands, and thus be deemed a ‘“failure," but still achieve a great deal. Although Townsend’s pension plan was never adopted, if the Townsendites were responsible for Social Security, the largest item in the federal budget today, the Townsend Plan would have to be counted as one of the most influential challengers in U.S. history. Also, the standard definition cannot deal with the possibility of a challenger doing something worse than failing." Instead, Amenta argues, 7-8, that a more flexible theory is one which understands “potential consequences in terms of collective goods - groupwise advantages or disadvantages from which non-participants in a challenge cannot be easily excluded." They also saw Gamson’s approach as “the currently conventional answer” to definitions of success.

Paul Burstein, Rachel L. Einwohner, and Jocelyn A. Hollander, “The Success of Political Movements: A Bargaining perspective," in J. Craig Jenkins and Bert Klandermans (eds.) The Politics of Social Protest (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995), 275-95 (cited in Marco Giugni, Social Protest and Policy Change: Ecology, Antinuclear, and Peace Movements in Comparative Perspective, (Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield, 2004), 7), “distinguish six types of outcomes [for social movements]: 1. access: the “permeability” of the political system and the state authorities towards social movements and their claims; 2. agenda: the adding of an issue into governmental or public agenda; 3. policy: the adoption of desired legislation; 4. output: the enforcement and implementation of desired legislation; 5. impact: the substantial improvement of the existing situation; and 6. structural outcomes: the transformation of the social or political arrangements.”

[161] Marco Giugni, Social Protest and Policy Change: Ecology, Antinuclear, and Peace Movements in Comparative Perspective, (Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield, 2004), 3, notes some of the relevant work: “participating in protest activities can lead as well to increased repression (della Porta 1999), to changes in personal biographies or life-course patterns (McAdam 1989, 1999), to the spread of models of action by imitation or some other diffusion process (McAdam and Rucht 1993; Strang and Soule 1998), to the expansion of the repertoire of the legitimate forms of political participation (Tarrow 1989, 1993), to increased media attention (Gamson 1998), to alteration social or political institutions (Clemens 1998; Kriesi and Wisler 1999; Moore 1999), and so forth.”

[162] As noted by William Gamson, Strategy of Social Protest (Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1990; first published 1975), 143: “If it costs so much to succeed, how can we be confident that there are not countless would-be challengers who are deterred by the mere prospect?”

[163] Evidence that the selection process can bias the results of such studies comes from Edwin Amenta, Neal Caren, Elizabeth Chiarello, and Yang Su, “The Political Consequences of Social Movements,” Annual Review of Sociology 36 (2010), 293, which notes that “The larger movements have been found to be more influential. Of the three most covered movements (labor, African American civil rights, and feminism) appearing in research, only 3 of 24 analyses, or 12.5%, found the movement to have either weak or no influence; among the rest of the movement categories, 13 of 30 analyses, or 43%, found weak, no, or negative influence.”

[164] For example, on categorizing whether groups received “new advantages” or not, William Gamson, Strategy of Social Protest (Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1990; first published 1975), 36: “Since many groups had multiple goals and since sources sometimes disagreed on how well the goals were achieved, each group had multiple measures of new advantages. To reduce this complexity for analysis, a summary measure was essential. We ended up using the following four categories: 1. Twenty groups (38 percent) received no new advantages. These groups had minuses and zeroes on all clusters. 2. Twenty-six groups (49 percent) received new advantages. These groups had at least one positive field (i.e., pluses, no more than two zeroes, and no minuses) in a majority of their areas of concern. In other words, on most of their goals, these groups received a positive response on at least one major aspect. 3. Four groups (7 percent) received peripheral advantages. These were groups that had some positive fields but did not meet the full definition of a group receiving new advantages. 4. Three groups (6 percent) received equivocal advantages. These were groups with mixed fields (some pluses and some minuses concerning the same goal). Im other words, these were groups on which disagreement existed among different observers on whether goals had been realized or not.”

[165] Even Paul Burstein and April Linton, “The Impact of Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Social Movement Organizations on Public Policy: Some Recent Evidence and Theoretical Concerns," Social Forces 81, No. 2 (December, 2002), 390, note that of the studies they considered, 38 were based on an analysis of the USA, 13 on “6-20 developed countries” and 2 on “21+ developed countries."

[166] 27 notes that “Though the Tea Party umbrella encompasses many policy positions, in practice the vast majority of these positions are to the right of the median voter. We therefore test whether exogenous changes in the size of Tea Party rallies across districts impacted the voting record of representatives as evaluated by a group with similar political preferences, the American Conservative Union. Each year the ACU assigns each congressman a score based on his votes on a select number of House bills. This score, which ranges from 0 to 100, measures the extent to which the votes accord with the preferences of the ACU. In Table VII, we explore the effect of protest attendance on this measure of voting behavior. Columns (1) through (4) indicate that rain on the date of the rally has significant effects on voting records in 2009 and 2010, in spite of the fact that Representatives from rainy and non-rainy rally districts had similar voting records through 2008. The estimates indicate that scores in districts with smaller rallies due to rain were less conservative by 1.9 to 2.8 ACU points in 2009 (significant at the 5% and 1% percent level, respectively), when the sample mean equaled 41.25 For comparison, the difference between the average Democrat and the average Republican is about 85, while the standard deviation within the Republican caucus is about 12.5.26 The effect in 2010 is estimated at 3.2-4.3 points (significant at the 1% and 5% percent level), with slightly lower point estimates when taking the difference between 2010 and 2008 scores.”

[167] Page 27. This supports observational data on 23-4 that “moving from a county that was not exposed to nonviolent protest activity to one that was caused an approximately 0.9 percentage point increase in Democratic vote share (p <0.001). Conversely, the results also suggest that moving from a county that was not exposed to black-led violent protest activity to one that was caused a 1.2 to 1.6 percentage point decrease in Democratic vote share (both, p <0.001).”

[168] As an example of a theory which has not yet been tested empirically very thoroguhly, Felix Kolb, Protest and Opportunities: The Political Outcomes of Social Movements (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 2007), 73-92 theorizes five different potential mechanisms through which social movements can have impacts, 1) “The Disruption Mechanism,” 2) “The Public Preference Mechanism,” 3) “The Political Access Mechanism,” 4) “The Judicial Mechanism,” and 5) “The International Politics Mechanism.” Although derived from the insights of previous theory and research, and partially applied in the rest of Kolb’s book, the comprehensiveness and fidelity of this theory has not been tested by other scholars.

Though I have seen subsequent works cite Kolb’s theory, they have not engaged with it empirically. For example, Lorenzo Bosi, Marco Giugni, and Katrin Uba,. “The Consequences of Social Movements: Taking Stock and Looking Forward”, in Lorenzo Bosi, Marco Giugni, and Katrin Uba (eds.) The Consequences of Social Movements (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 12, comments merely that “A number of scholars have started to identify and unveil the causal mechanisms that allow movements to have an impact on policy (Andrews, 2004, Kolb, 2007),” without commenting of the usefulness of the theory.

[169] Felix Kolb, Protest and Opportunities: The Political Outcomes of Social Movements (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 2007), 2-3, characterizing “most research on the political outcomes of social movements," notes that “Causality is simply established by identifying non-spurious correlations between independent and dependent variables. In most cases the core assumptions of the theory will not be altered when a deduced hypothesis is falsified in empirical research. Thus, such theories only make predictions about the correspondence between explanatory and dependent variables, not “about the character of the process that links the latter to the former” (Hall 2000: 23). It is, at the very least, unsatisfying when correlations are presented to prove that certain variables related to movement activities caused the observed outcomes, but no reasoning is provided to explain these links (e.g. Landman 2000; Skocpol et al. 1993)”

6-11, he writes of “A Literature That Grows but Does Not Accumulate.” “For example, since Herbert Kitschelt (1986) published his article Political Opportunity Structures and Political Protest, we do know in principle that the political environment of a social movement exerts a strong impact on its political outcomes. Two decades later, despite dozens of studies assessing the influence of political opportunity, we only know for sure that some political opportunities matter sometimes. At the same time, we still do not know why certain political opportunities matter and others do not - and, equally important, why they onl matter sometimes (cf. Meyer and Minkoff 2004). Thus, although the literature on social movement outcomes has grown quickly in recent years, it has not contributed to the same extent to the accumulation of a core consensus about the factors shaping the political outcomes.”

[170] For example, Edwin Amenta, Neal Caren, Sheera Joy Olasky, “Age for Leisure? Political Mediation and the Impact of the Pension Movement on U.S. Old-Age Policy," American Sociological Review 70, issue 3 (June 2005), 517: “Our political mediation theory holds that political contexts mediate the influence of challengers’ mobilization and strategies. We argue that in some favorable contexts mobilization may be enough in itself for a challenger to exert influence and that under more difficult political circumstances more assertive strategies are needed. In yet more difficult political contexts (which we specify), a movement may not be able to exert any influence. Moreover, we argue that it takes a combination of favorable political contexts, mobilization, and assertive actions to bring about far-reaching state outcomes.”

[171] Felix Kolb, Protest and Opportunities: The Political Outcomes of Social Movements (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 2007), 54-67, describes 8 variables: 1) “political institutional structure,” 2) “partisanship of government,” 3) “elite conflict,” 4) “instability of political alignments,” 5) “public opinion,” 6) “the mass media,” 7) “strength of counter-mobilization,” 8) “windows for reform.” Note that these different variables have been used in various ways by different authors. Kolb’s “partisanship of government” most closely resembles how political mediation theory is used, in my experience of the literature, while “political institutional structure,” alongside “windows for reform” are often incorporated into wider conceptions of “political opportunity structure.” “Public opinion” is usually considered as an entirely separate variable, and seen as a “control” variable in models which test political mediation theory.

[172] Edwin Amenta, Neal Caren, Sheera Joy Olasky, “Age for Leisure? Political Mediation and the Impact of the Pension Movement on U.S. Old-Age Policy," American Sociological Review 70, issue 3 (June 2005), 517. They also examine “which senators voted for a 1939 measure aiming to transform U.S. old-age policy into generous senior citizens’ pensions for most adults over 60 years."

[173] Edwin Amenta, Neal Caren, Sheera Joy Olasky, “Age for Leisure? Political Mediation and the Impact of the Pension Movement on U.S. Old-Age Policy," American Sociological Review 70, issue 3 (June 2005), 524. “As an indicator of voting rights and polity democratization, we consider the poll tax, a key, though far from the only, means to restrict the franchise… We also include a measure of patronage party organizational strength, with the expectation that such party organizations would discourage categorical public spending… We also include administrative strength, a measure of the strength and structure of the state labor commissions… we would expect them to have a positive influence on OAA outcomes.”

[174] Edwin Amenta, Neal Caren, Sheera Joy Olasky, “Age for Leisure? Political Mediation and the Impact of the Pension Movement on U.S. Old-Age Policy," American Sociological Review 70, issue 3 (June 2005), 524. “We model democratized Democratic control by including a measure for control of the governor’s mansion and both houses of the state legislature by the Democratic party in states without poll taxes. Additionally, we include a measure of OAA county funding. We expect that higher county contributions to OAA would negatively influence OAA outcomes, as counties had fewer and more contentious taxing opportunities, mainly real estate levies.”

[175] Edwin Amenta, Neal Caren, Sheera Joy Olasky, “Age for Leisure? Political Mediation and the Impact of the Pension Movement on U.S. Old-Age Policy," American Sociological Review 70, issue 3 (June 2005), 524. “Per capita income addresses how much social spending states could afford; we expect that higher per capita income would positively influence OAA (Wilensky 1975). We also include percentage black to take into account the potentially dampening impact of race on OAA benefits (Quadagno 1988; Lieberman 1998). Percentage aged in each state is likely to spur demands for old-age benefits (Mitchell 2000). We also include measures of pro-old-age public opinion. Public opinion is sometimes argued to be the only direct influence on public policy (Burstein 1999).”

[176] Edwin Amenta, Neal Caren, Sheera Joy Olasky, “Age for Leisure? Political Mediation and the Impact of the Pension Movement on U.S. Old-Age Policy," American Sociological Review 70, issue 3 (June 2005), 526. “Moving up a level in Townsend club mobilization is worth $1.23 per month, and placing a proposition on the ballot is worth about $1.37 per month. Both are substantial gains since the average payment in 1950 dollars across the entire period was about $37 per month.”

[177] Edwin Amenta, Neal Caren, Sheera Joy Olasky, “Age for Leisure? Political Mediation and the Impact of the Pension Movement on U.S. Old-Age Policy," American Sociological Review 70, issue 3 (June 2005), 526. “In Model 2, moreover, administrative strength and OAA county funding remain significant at the .05 level, and the poll tax measure is significant at the .10 level. States with a poll tax spent approximately $3.90 less per month on OAA, while those with a tradition of domestic administrative development spent about $3.88 more per month, after controlling for other factors.”

[178] Edwin Amenta, Neal Caren, Sheera Joy Olasky, “Age for Leisure? Political Mediation and the Impact of the Pension Movement on U.S. Old-Age Policy," American Sociological Review 70, issue 3 (June 2005), 526.

[179] Edwin Amenta, Neal Caren, Sheera Joy Olasky, “Age for Leisure? Political Mediation and the Impact of the Pension Movement on U.S. Old-Age Policy," American Sociological Review 70, issue 3 (June 2005), 526-7.

[180] Edwin Amenta, Neal Caren, Sheera Joy Olasky, “Age for Leisure? Political Mediation and the Impact of the Pension Movement on U.S. Old-Age Policy," American Sociological Review 70, issue 3 (June 2005), 531-2

[181] Felix Kolb, Protest and Opportunities: The Political Outcomes of Social Movements (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 2007), 6-7. He notes that Herbert Kitschelt published his article Political Opportunity Structures and Political Protest in 1986, and it has taken “dozens of studies assessing the influence of political opportunity” to get us to this conclusion. “At the same time, we still do not know why certain political opportunities matter and others do not - and, equally important, why they only matter sometimes (cf. Meyer and Minkoff 2004). Thus, although the literature on social movement outcomes has grown quickly in recent years, it has not contributed to the same extent to the accumulation of a core consensus about the factors shaping the political outcomes.” He sees the issue as being due to “Theoretical Incoherence” (7-8), “Lack of Comparability across Studies” (8-9) and “Limited Scope of Research” (9-11).

Charles Kurzman, “The Poststructuralist Consensus in Social Movement Theory," in Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper (eds.), Rethinking Social Movements (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004), 113, supports this view, arguing that sociologists now see “political opportunity” less frequently as a constant, determining “structure," and more frequently as one “variable” among many which affects outcomes of social movements and challenging groups. He adds that “Today, statements about state structure are generally hedged and modified, and causal factors accumulate… These laundry-list formulations reduce opportunity, particularly the structure of political opportunity, to one of a number of causal factors that may or may not be operative in any particular case.”

[182] Katrin Uba, “The Contextual Dependence of Movement Outcomes: A Simplified Meta-Analysis,” Mobilization: An International Quarterly 14, No. 4 (December 2009), 412, notes that “The second hypothesis aimed to test the argument that a democratic regime is not necessary if SMOs and interest groups are to influence policy. This is done by comparing findings on the direct and joint impact of interest organizations across political regimes with the expectation that there should be some impact of mobilization outside democracies. Results are presented in Table 4, and it is clear that the second hypothesis holds. A democratic regime is not a prerequisite for finding any significant impact of SMOs or interest groups. Seventysix percent of the estimations in semi-democracies and two out of three estimations in nondemocracies find mobilization to have a direct impact. As the number of studies outside democracies is very small, the results should not be over-emphasized.”

[183] Katrin Uba, “The Contextual Dependence of Movement Outcomes: A Simplified Meta-Analysis,” Mobilization: An International Quarterly 14, No. 4 (December 2009), 411, notes that of the 244 different SMOs considered by the 74 articles included in the meta-analysis, “only a few estimations (16 percent) have actually included a variable of political regime, although almost 70 percent of these show that the regime makes the difference for policy change.” On 413, Uba notes that “Nine out of the 27 estimations that included the regime type found a significant joint effect of a democratic regime and SMOs and interest groups on policy (Fording 2001; Amenta et al. 1992). Hence, democracy facilitates the impact of mobilization but is not a precondition for it.”

[184] Soule, Sarah A., and Susan Olzak. "When do movements matter? The politics of contingency and the equal rights amendment," American Sociological Review 69, issue 4 (August, 2004), 489

[185] Soule, Sarah A., and Susan Olzak. "When do movements matter? The politics of contingency and the equal rights amendment," American Sociological Review 69, issue 4 (August, 2004), 491.

[186] Paul Burstein and April Linton, “The Impact of Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Social Movement Organizations on Public Policy: Some Recent Evidence and Theoretical Concerns," Social Forces 81, No. 2 (December, 2002), 395-6

[187] Katrin Uba, “The Contextual Dependence of Movement Outcomes: A Simplified Meta-Analysis,” Mobilization: An International Quarterly 14, No. 4 (December 2009), 411. She summarizes that “Table 3 shows evidence against this hypothesis, as the inclusion of public opinion in the analysis does not seem to lead any changes in the impact of SMOs and interest groups on policy. Moreover, the proportion of estimations that included public opinion and also found that interest organizations had a direct effect is slightly larger than the proportion of estimations finding the direct effect without taking public opinion into account (68 percent versus 63 percent). The difference is too small to justify saying that public opinion enhances the effect of SMOs and interest groups, although some studies under review suggest that the effect of mobilization is amplified by public support for challengers‟ demands (Agnone 2007; Soule and King 2006).”

[188] Katrin Uba, “The Contextual Dependence of Movement Outcomes: A Simplified Meta-Analysis,” Mobilization: An International Quarterly 14, No. 4 (December 2009), 410

[189] Marco Giugni and Sakura Yamasaki, “The Policy Impact of Social movements: A Replication Through Qualitative Comparative Analysis,” Mobilization: An International Journal 14, no. 4 (2009), 468

[190] Marco Giugni, Social Protest and Policy Change: Ecology, Antinuclear, and Peace Movements in Comparative Perspective (Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield, 2004), 220.

The first joint effect, protest and political alliances was “strong” on the ecology movement, “intermediate” on the antinuclear movement, and “weak” on the peace movement. For the second variant of protest and public opinion, the joint effects were intermediate, intermediate and weak respectively. For the third variant of protest, political alliances, and public opinion, the joint effects were strong, intermediate and weak respectively. There is a lack of data for the effect of public opinion on the ecology and antinuclear movements in Italy and the peace movement in Switzerland, however, which partially explains the reduced strength of the evidence of the second and third variants. There is also a lack of data for the indirect of political alliances (when the direct effect of the movements are excluded) for both Italy and Switzerland, which partially explains why the evidence for direct effects is stronger than indirect effects.

On 222, he warns that “When comparing across countries, one finds it difficult to draw reliable conclusions. However, we do observe a difference consisting in a strong joint effect of the movements in the United States; an intermediate one in Switzerland; and a weak one in Italy, especially if we look at the third variant of the joint-effect model. In this case, the two federal countries with more open political opportunity structures seem to be more conducive to a policy impact of social movements than the more centralized country. However, this might simply be a result of the lack of data on public opinion available for the Italian case concerning the ecology and antinuclear movements.”

[191] Marco Giugni and Sakura Yamasaki, “The Policy Impact of Social movements: A Replication Through Qualitative Comparative Analysis,” Mobilization: An International Journal 14, no. 4 (2009), 479. On 480, they note the weaknesses of this methodology: “(see De Meur, Rihoux, and Yamasaki 2009 for a recent review). One of the major problems with the crisp-set approach to QCA (as opposed, for example, to the fuzzy-set approach) lies in the loss of information in the dichotomization process. This implies that one can get different results with only slight changes in measurement. We explained why we prefer to stick to crisp-set QCA in this analysis and have justified our measurement choices. However, this is a general problem with QCA which one can hardly avoid. Other limitations of QCA include the issue of case sensitivity, the inclusion of logical remainders, the issue of time frame, and the issue of condition sensitivity. Again, we think we have addressed these issues, at least the most important ones, in order to be as transparent as possible in our analysis.“

[192] Felix Kolb, Protest and Opportunities: The Political Outcomes of Social Movements (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 2007), 43, citing MacDougall, Minicucci, and Myers (1995) and Soule and King (2006). He adds that ““Another reason for the inconsistency in findings on the impact of movement strength is directly linked to the fact that social movements can achieve political change cia different causal processes.”

[193] Felix Kolb, Protest and Opportunities: The Political Outcomes of Social Movements (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 2007). He showed that some form of favourable political opportunity or mediation was needed for success, although the precise form that this took varied. On 285, he summarizes that “Using qualitative comparative analysis, I discovered that during the period before 1986 nuclear change was obtained by two different configurations of political opportunities. Sustained anti-nuclear mobilization achieved significant nuclear change, supported by anti-nuclear public attitudes and strong elite conflicts. In other countries, a combination of sustained mobilization and open political institutional structures were sufficient to obtain nuclear change.”

[194] Edwin Amenta, Neal Caren, Elizabeth Chiarello, and Yang Su, “The Political Consequences of Social Movements,” Annual Review of Sociology 36 (2010), 294

[195] Felix Kolb, Protest and Opportunities: The Political Outcomes of Social Movements (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 2007), 284. On 285, he summarizes how his case studies support this conclusion: “My research shows that (at least) the opportunities provided by elite conflict, political crisis, unstable electoral alignments, high issue salience, and public attitudes that helped movements to succeed can be outcomes of previous mobiliation. Using various forms of direct action, the civil rights movement increased the salience of the civil rights issue up to the point where it became the most important problem facing the nation - a problem that could no longer be ignored (see chapter six). The evidence is also strong that civil rights protest contributed to the emergence of racially liberal public attitudes (see chapter seven). In a similar vein, the anti-nuclear energy movement contributed to increasing public opposition to nuclear energy and was responsible for the emerging elite conflict over the issue (see chapter thirteen). In Austria, Germany, and Sweden, anti-nuclear protest even undermined the stable electoral alignments that threatened and displaced the ruling political parties. If a social movement can create opportunities, it should be equally able to (unintentionally) contribute to the creation of political constraints. For example, the process that aligned white Southerners and northern white working-class voters with the Republican Party was set off by the political success of the civil rights movement, and by the spreading urban riots (see chapter six).”

[196] Benjamin F. Jones and Benjamina A. Olken, “Do Leaders Matter? National Leadership and Growth since World War II,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 120, No. 3 (2005), 852. The dataset that they use for this analysis is 57 politicians who died in office since 1945. On page 853, they add that, “In results not reported here, however, we find that neither the leader’s age nor tenure in office predicts the change in growth following the leader’s death, either directly or when interacted with the autocracy measure discussed below.” Additional analyses suggest that “the effects of individual leaders are strongest in autocratic settings where there are fewer constraints on a leader’s power.”

They note that, “We use deaths of leaders while in office as a source of exogenous variation in leadership, and ask whether these plausibly exogenous leadership transitions are associated with shifts in country growth rates.” However, this is criticized by Sarah J. Hummel, “Leader Age, Death, and Political Reform in Dictatorships” (December 2017), available at http://publish.illinois.edu/shummel/files/2017/12/LeaderDeath171106.pdf, last accessed, 02/21/19, 27, who notes that, “As my findings imply, this approach overstates the exogeneity of death in nondemocratic contexts. While the death of a young and healthy dictator is exogenous to factors like economic performance, this may not be the case for the expected death of an aging dictator.”

[197] Benjamin F. Jones and Benjamin A. Olken, “Hit or Miss? The Effect of Assassinations on Institutions and War,” American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics 1, No. 2 (2009), 55-87. The quote is from 56, and they provide the example, “Hitler’s early departure from the beer hall in 1939, which may have saved his life, happened only because bad weather prevented him from flying back to Berlin, forcing him to leave early for a train.”

They “find that assassinations of autocrats produce substantial changes in the country’s institutions, while assassinations of democrats do not. In particular, transitions to democracy, as measured using the Polity IV dataset (Monty G. Marshall and Keith Jaggers 2004), are 13 percentage points more likely following the assassination of an autocrat than following a failed attempt on an autocrat. Similarly, using data on leadership transitions from the Archigos dataset (H. E. Goemans, Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, and Giacomo Chiozza 2006), we find the probability that subsequent leadership transitions occur through institutional means is 19 percentage points higher following the assassination of an autocrat than following the failed assassination of an autocrat. The effects on institutions extend over significant periods, with evidence that the impacts are sustained at least 10 years later.”

On page 57, they note that they also found “that successful assassinations lead to an intensification of small-scale conflicts relative to failed assassination attempts. For high-intensity conflicts, we find somewhat weaker evidence that successful assassinations may have the opposite effect, hastening the end of large-scale conflicts already in progress. These results suggest heterogeneous effects of assassinations that depend on conflict status.”

[198] Sarah J. Hummel, “Leader Age, Death, and Political Reform in Dictatorships” (December 2017), available at http://publish.illinois.edu/shummel/files/2017/12/LeaderDeath171106.pdf, last accessed, 02/21/19, 13. From 238 instances of leader death, she notes that, “The vast majority of cases of leader death fall on the diagonal, meaning the Polity score was the same the year after death as it was the year before death. There are very few countries that experience liberalization in the aftermath of death (i.e. observations above the diagonal), and the number experiencing movement away from democracy is roughly equal (i.e. observations below the diagonal).” Additionally, eight models compare “the Polity score before death with the Polity score after death, using both 1-year and 5-year average variables… The first four models are simple logit models, while the last four also incorporate country and year fixed effects. Death fails to reach statistical significance in any specification. In addition the sign is inconsistent across specifications.” However, she does note that “age is very likely to be correlated with death and plausibly has an independent effect on Polity.”

[199] Sarah J. Hummel, “Leader Age, Death, and Political Reform in Dictatorships” (December 2017), available at http://publish.illinois.edu/shummel/files/2017/12/LeaderDeath171106.pdf, last accessed, 02/21/19, 1. 16, she notes that “The predicted change in Polity following the death of an 85-year old dictator close to zero in economically undeveloped countries, but positive in economically developed ones” but that “ political liberalization is less likely following death of a relatively young dictator in more economically developed dictatorships than it is following the death of a relatively young dictator in less economically developed dictatorships.” These findings are consistent with the theoretical propositions laid out in the paper. She adds that “neither the interaction between death and development nor the interaction between death and age is significant in the absence of the triple interaction term. This suggests that neither having an old dictator nor being economically development alone is enough for death to result in political reform. Rather, it is the satisfaction of both these conditions that make death an opportunity for liberalization.”

She concludes from additional models, split between “personalist and non-personalist regimes,” that “personalist dictatorships are unlikely to liberalize after the death of a dictator, regardless of age.”

[200] Sarah J. Hummel, “Leader Age, Death, and Political Reform in Dictatorships” (December 2017), available at http://publish.illinois.edu/shummel/files/2017/12/LeaderDeath171106.pdf, last accessed, 02/21/19, 5. The original paper, Nicholas Carnes and Noam Lupu, “What Good Is a College Degree? Education and Leader Quality Reconsidered,” The Journal of Politics 78, No. 1 (September 2015) includes both illness and death as “random leadership transitions.” Of the six included dependent variables, only “Top 1% income share” is significantly correlated with random leadership transitions in linear regression (p < 0.01).

[201] Adi Brender and Allan Drazen, “Do Leaders Affect Government Spending Priorities?” National Bureau of Economic Research (September 2009) summarize that “We find that the replacement of a leader tends to have no significant effect on expenditure composition in the short-run. This remains true after controlling for a host of political and economic variables. However, over the medium-term leadership changes are associated with larger changes in expenditure composition, mostly in developed countries.”

[202] John Antonakis, David V. Day, and Birgit Schyns, “Leadership and individual differences: At the cusp of a renaissance,” The Leadership Quarterly 23, No. 4 (2012), 643-50

[203] For example, D. Scott Derue, Jennifer D. Nahrgang, Ned Wellman, and Stephen E. Humphrey, “Trait and behavioral theories of leadership: an integration and meta-analytic test of their relative validity,” Personnel Psychology 64, No. 1 (2011), 7-52 evaluated correlations between particular traits or behaviors and “leader effectiveness.” It is not clear how this outcome is measured (on page 11, they note that “Individual leader effectiveness provides an individual-level, leader-focused assessment of overall effectiveness”), but on 29 they list their findings, including that extraversion and conscientiousness have 35% and 27% R2 respectively in predicting leader effectiveness. If “leader effectiveness” represents significant outcomes (this is not clear), then this would provide evidence that the personality traits of individuals could significantly affect important historical outcomes.

[204] Bernd Hayo and Stefan Voigt, “Endogenous constitutions: Politics and politicians matter, economic

outcomes don’t,” Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 88 (2013), 47-61 summarize on page 53, “If a leader died of natural causes while in power, retired due to ill health, or was exiled within one year after leaving office, countries are more likely to adopt more presidential systems, with an increase in probability of almost 1 percentage point. The corresponding drop in the likelihood of moving toward parliamentarian systems is about 1.5 percentage points.” They examine 61 coefficients, however, and only 2 of 15 “Political leader indicators” are found to have “significance at a 5 percent level,” so the risk of false positives seems high.

[205] One paper, “Using a unique dataset from Denmark,” found “that CEOs’ (but not board members’) deaths and deaths in CEOs’ families are strongly correlated with declines in firm operating profitability, investment, and sales growth. Our CEO shock-outcome analysis allows us to identify the personal shocks that are the most (least) meaningful for CEOs. We show that CEO, firm, and industry characteristics affect the impact of these shocks.”

Another paper found that “that CEOs are an important determinant of shareholder value for many firms. The value effects of CEO deaths are heterogeneous. Most sudden deaths, and especially sudden deaths of young and short-tenured CEOs, cause large value losses. Other CEO deaths – non-sudden deaths, and sudden deaths of old and long-tenured CEOs – are on average associated with large value gains.”

Another paper, “Using tax data linking 11 million firms to their owners,” found “that entrepreneurs who actively manage their firms are key for top income inequality… Private business profit falls by three-quarters after owner retirement or premature death.”

There are limitations to the extent of change, however. One paper summarizes, “In a large panel of Compustat firms, we find that firm policy changes after exogenous CEO departures do not display abnormally high levels of variability, casting doubt on the presence of idiosyncratic-style effects in policy choices. After endogenous CEO departures, we do detect abnormally large policy changes. These changes are larger when the firm is likely to draw from a deeper pool of replacement CEO candidates, suggesting the presence of causal-style effects that are anticipated by the board.”

The success of other institutions may also have their outcomes affected by leadership. Amanda H. Goodall, “Highly cited leaders and the performance of research universities,” Research Policy 38 (2009), 1079-92 summarizes, “By constructing a new longitudinal dataset, I find that on average the research quality of a university improves some years after it appoints a president (vice chancellor) who is an accomplished scholar.”

[206] For example, searching through the citations of Benjamin F. Jones and Benjamina A. Olken, “Do Leaders Matter? National Leadership and Growth since World War II,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 120, No. 3 (2005), 835–864 on Google Scholar returns analyses of the determinants of institutional change (see this paper as an example). A thorough review of this literature would be a time-consuming endeavour.

[207] Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity (London: Penguin, 2011), xxiv. The four motives that he lists are: Empathy (particularly in the sense of sympathetic concern) prompts us to feel the pain of others and to align their interests with our own. Self-control allows us to anticipate the consequences of acting on our impulses and to inhibit them accordingly. The moral sense sanctifies a set of norms and taboos that govern the interactions among people in a culture, sometimes in ways that decrease violence, though often (when the norms are tribal, authoritarian, or puritanical) in ways that increase it. And the faculty of reason allows us to extricate ourselves from our parochial vantage points, to reflect on the ways in which we live our lives, to deduce ways in which we could be better off, and to guide the application of the other better angels of our nature.”

[208] Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity (London: Penguin, 2011), xxiv-xxv. The five exogenous forces are: “The Leviathan, a state and judiciary with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, can defuse the temptation of exploitative attack, inhibit the impulse for revenge, and circumvent the self-serving biases that make all parties believe they are on the side of the angels. Commerce is a positive-sum game in which everybody can win; as technological progress allows the exchange of goods and ideas over longer distances and among larger groups of trading partners, other people become more valuable alive than dead, and they are less likely to become targets of demonization and dehumanization. Feminization is the process in which cultures have increasingly respected the interests and values of women. Since violence is largely a male pastime, cultures that empower women tend to move away from the glorification of violence and are less likely to breed dangerous subcultures of rootless young men. The forces of cosmopolitanism such as literacy, mobility, and mass media can prompt people to take the perspective of people unlike themselves and to expand their circle of sympathy to embrace them. Finally, an intensifying application of knowledge and rationality to human affairs — the escalator of reason — can force people to recognize the futility of cycles of violence, to ramp down the privileging of their own interests over others', and to reframe violence as a problem to be solved rather than a contest to be won.” ”

[209] Jacy Reese, The End of Animal Farming: How Scientists, Entrepreneurs, and Activists are Building an Animal-Free Food System (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2018), 8-16. On 8 he notes that there is an increasing “scientific consensus” which has overcome “the Cartesian notion of animals as unfeeling machines.” On 12 he notes that urbanization has led to increasingly treating animals as companions and individuals, rather than “just as laborers or useful tools.” On 13 he notes that “As our society globalizes, we connect with people very different from us through social media, news, traveling, and other mediums. This connection, and the increased compassion as a result of feminization, sets precedent for a general expansion of our moral circle.” On 14 he notes that “As Western societies feel more of a pull” from Eastern religions such as Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, “this could bring them closer to adopting ideologies of nonviolence.” On 15-16, he adds that “Outside the popularity of specific religions, the movement away from religion, or at least certain forms of it, could be a contributing factor” and cites several examples of religious practices, beliefs, or symbolism that may have slowed MCE.

[210] Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity (London: Penguin, 2011), xxii, notes: “Too many kinds of violence, I hope to convince you, have moved in the same direction for it all to be a coincidence… Nor can we understand the decline of violence as an unstoppable force for progress that is carrying us toward an omega point of perfect peace… The way to explain the decline of violence is to identify the changes in our cultural and material milieu that have given our peaceable motives the upper hand.”

[211] Daniel Oesch, “The Changing Shape of Class Voting,” European Societies 10, no. 3 (August 2008), 329-355, argues for the continued influence of class voting. 344, he argues for a “cultural cleavage” on “ the communitarian dimension set between a libertarian and authoritarian pole. It divides high-skilled individuals in communicative work settings who hold a libertarian view of community (for instance with respect to cultural diversity and international integration) from low-skilled individuals primarily occupied in object-related work who take an authoritarian stance to question of community (expressed in a preference for cultural homogeneity and national demarcation).” The results of his analysis of the UK, Germany and Switzerland suggest “that in all three countries sociocultural specialists are by far the strongest followers of the libertarian left [i.e supporters of political parties associated with these ideals]. This applies to support for Britain’s Liberal Democrats (8 percentage points above average [i.e. 10% overrepresented relative to the country mean in party support]), for Germany’s Green Party (10 points) and most clearly so for Switzerland’s Social Democratic and Green Party combined (27 points).”

[212] Seymour Martin Lipset, Political Man (London: Mercury Books, 1963), 56, notes that “Data gathered by public opinion research agencies which have questioned people in different countries about their beliefs on tolerance for the opposition, their attitudes toward ethnic or racial minorities, and their feelings for multi-party as against one-party systems have showed that the most important single factor differentiating those giving democratic responses from the others has been education. The higher one’s education, the more likely one is to believe in democratic values and support democratic practices. All the relevant studies indicate that education is more significant than either income or occupation.”

As an example of some of the research that Lipset cites, Martin A. Trow, Right-Wing Radicalism and Political Intolerance: A Study of Support for McCarthy in a New England Town (New York: Arno Press, 1980), 85, notes that “The difference in McCarthy support between the salaried and self-employed men decreases with increasing education - the difference falling from 27% among men who had less than four years of high school, to 22% among high school graduates, and to only 10% among men who had been to college.”

102-5, Lipset summarizes a variety of evidence from the studies of others that shows increased “tolerance” from more educated groups, although this focuses on political systems and support for rights and liberties, rather than testing moral circles per se. For example, “In the most systematic o these, based on a national sample of nearly 5,000 Americans, Samuel A. Stouffer divided his respondents into three categories, “less tolerant, in-between, and more tolerant,” by using a scale based on responses to questions about such civil liberties as the right of free speech for Communists, critics of religion, or advocates of nationalization of industry, and the like… tolerance increases with moves up the social ladder. Only 30 per cent of those in manual occupations are in the “most tolerant” category, as contrasted with 66 per cent of the professionals, and 51 per cent of the proprietors, managers, and officials,” and 49% of clerical and sales workers.

More recently, Rune Stubager, “The Changing Basis of Party Competition: Education, Authoritarian–Libertarian Values and Voting,” Government and Opposition 48, No. 3 (July 2013), 374, although noting that there is debate over the importance of class in determining voting, notes that “Research in a multitude of countries has repeatedly shown that education is the strongest single predictor of individuals’ positions on authoritarian–libertarian values, with higher levels of education leading to more libertarian positions and vice versa (Bovens and Wille 2010; Houtman et al. 2008; Stephens and Long 1970; Stubager 2008; van der Waal et al. 2007; Weakliem 2002; van de Werfhorst and de Graaf 2004).”

[213] Jayson Lusk, “Who are the vegetarians?” (September 2014), available at http://jaysonlusk.com/blog/2014/9/30/who-are-the-vegetarians, last accessed 11/30/18, a US survey, shows these associations. For example, 24% of surveyed vegetarians earned more than $100,000, and 54% had a college degree, compared to 18% and 45% respectively of surveyed non-vegetarians. Additionally, 50% of surveyed vegetarians identified as Democrats and the average score was 2.427 on a scale where 5 represents “very conservative” and 1 represents “very liberal.” This compared to 39% of surveyed non-vegetarians, and an average score of 3.035.

[214] James R. Tilley, “Libertarian-Authoritarian Value Change in Britain, 1974–2001,” Political Studies 53, no. 2 (June 2005), 442-53, looking at data for the UK, 1974-1997, utilized surveys which asked about the following values, which he sees as measures of libertarian views: “i. Equal opportunities for women. ii. Equal opportunities for ethnic minorities. iii. Availability of abortion on the NHS. iiv. Right to show nudity and sex in films and magazines.” Of these, i and ii (and possibly iii) can be seen as results of having a broad moral circle.

[215] This point was made by John Maxwell, https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/BY8gXSpGijypbGitT/why-i-prioritize-moral-circle-expansion-over-artificial#M8W7CkKMSovrcYNKu, who noted that “according to this story, the expanding circle is a side effect of the world growing wealthier. As lower levels of Maslow's hierarchy are met, people care more about humanitarian issues.”

Although not discussing MCE specifically, Luke Muehlhauser, http://lukemuehlhauser.com/three-wild-speculations-from-amateur-quantitative-macrohistory/, speculates that, “Human well-being was pretty awful by modern standards until the industrial revolution, after which most things we care about got vastly better in the span of a century or two," and that, “If we had all the data, and we did a factor analysis of ‘what mattered for human well-being in recorded history,’ I suspect most of the variance in human well-being would be explained by a primary factor for productivity, and a secondary factor for political freedom.”

Benjamin M. Friedman, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth (New York: Vintage, 2006; first published 2005), 15 argues that, “Economic growth—meaning a rising standard of living for the clear majority of citizens—more often than not fosters greater opportunity, tolerance of diversity, social mobility, commitment to fairness, and dedication to democracy. Ever since the Enlightenment, Western thinking has regarded each of these tendencies positively, and in explicitly moral terms.”

[216] Alexander Holst and Pim Martens, “Determinants of Animal Protection Policy,” Politics and Animals 2, No. 1 (2016). The measure of democracy was the "Polity Score from the Polity IV Project (Marshall & Jaggers, 2014). It ranges from -10 (full autocracy) to +10 (full democracy)." The measure of animal protection was the Animal Protection Index - “API is a composite index aiming to reflect to what extent a country’s policies and legislation offer protection for animals and improve their welfare.”

[217] Daniel Crimston, Paul G. Bain, Matthew J. Hornsey, and Brock Bastian, “Moral expansiveness: Examining variability in the extension of the moral world,”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (January 2016), 11, summarize that, “There were no significant relationships between the MES [moral expansiveness scale] and demographic variables: age (r = -.09, p = .35), conservatism – economic (r = -.18, p = .06), conservatism – social (r = -.04, p = .29), or religiosity (r = .09, p = .34). There were also no differences in MES scores between males (M = 44.00, SD = 12.77) and females (M = 44.44, SD = 11.85), t(115) = -.19, p = .85, 95% CI [-4.97, 4.09].”

10-11, the authors explain that the moral expansiveness scale was “calculated based on the placement of the target entities within the graded boundaries of concern (inner circle = 3, outer circle = 2, fringes = 1, outside = 0).” The “target entities” included “family and friends,” “the ingroup,” “revered individuals,” “stigmatized individuals,” “the outgroup,” “high-sentience animals,” “low sentience animals,” “environmental targets,” “plants,” and “villains.” Note, however, that no data is given on participant characteristics and the participants were presumably not a representative sample, since this is not explicitly stated anywhere.

[218] https://foundational-research.org/differential-intellectual-progress-as-a-positive-sum-project/#economic-growth

[219] Peter Singer, The Expanding Circle: Ethics, Evolution, and Moral Progress (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 11, summarizes the rest of the argument of the chapter: “sociobiologists have, however, developed Darwin's suggestion of the importance of the principle of reciprocity. They have suggested that two forms of altruism can be explained in terms of natural selection: kin altruism and reciprocal altruism. Some also allow a minor role for group altruism, but this is more controversial.”

[220] As noted in our Foundational Questions Summaries, “Moral circles may trend towards a setpoint, and if so it seems like that’s most likely a point that includes the most powerful beings and excludes those whose inclusion would not increase the society’s power, or in other words excludes those who are more of a burden and cost more resources to care for than they contribute to the selfish interests of the powerful. At present that most powerful group is humans, or at least many humans, and though we’ve historically expanded the circle to include more humans, further expansion to beings like chickens, fish, and grasshoppers doesn’t reap the same benefits to powerful humans like the economic progress seen with women’s empowerment and the decreased violent conflict seen with increased cooperation between ethnic groups. Therefore, expanding humanity’s moral circle beyond humanity may be very challenging and as such technological solutions to nonhuman suffering may be more tractable.”

[221] Brock Bastian, “Don’t mind meat? The denial of mind to animals used for human consumption," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, no. 2 (2012), 247-56, further argues that cognitive dissonance created by eating meat “motivates people to deny minds to animals. Study 1 demonstrates that animals considered appropriate for human consumption are ascribed diminished mental capacities. Study 2 shows that meat eaters are motivated to deny minds to food animals when they are reminded of the link between meat and animal suffering. Finally, Study 3 provides direct support for our dissonance hypothesis, showing that expectations regarding the immediate consumption of meat increase mind denial. Moreover, this mind denial in turn reduces negative affect associated with dissonance.”

[222] Steve Loughnan, Nick Haslam, Brock Bastian, “The role of meat consumption in the denial of moral status and mind to meat animals," Appetite 55, no. 1 (August 2010), 156-9, “asked participants to eat dried beef or dried nuts and then indicate their moral concern for animals and judge the moral status and mental states of a cow. Eating meat reduced the perceived obligation to show moral concern for animals in general and the perceived moral status of the cow. It also indirectly reduced the ascription of mental states necessary to experience suffering.”

[223] http://www.gwern.net/The-Narrowing-Circle notes that “The ontology question is a very serious one. C.S. Lewis remarked, if many people are against burning witches, then it’s probably because they don’t believe witches exist - but if the witches existed and acted as described, they would howl for the witches’ blood.”

[224] Brian Tomasik discusses this in, “Values Spreading is Often More Important than Extinction Risk,” arguing that, “Very likely our values will be lost to entropy or Darwinian forces beyond our control.” Tobias Baumann has also noted, “A plausible mechanism for this is that values spreading provokes opposing forces that push the overall distribution of values back to an equilibrium. For example, the anti-LGBT advocacy of the Westboro Baptist church may lead to more LGBT activists or cause a public backlash.” See also footnote 220.

[225] Anders Sandberg and Nick Bostrom, “Global Catastrophic Risks Survey," Technical Report #2008-1, Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University (2008), 1-5 suggested a 19% chance of human extinction before 2100. Note that the results of this survey likely excludes the predictions of many relevant experts; its respondents were the attendees at the Global Catastrophic Risk Conference in Oxford. Sandberg and Bostrom also note that, “There are likely to be many cognitive biases that affect the result, such as unpacking bias and the availability heuristic‒‐well as old‐fashioned optimism and pessimism.”

[226] Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017; first published 2014), 258, explains that “The obvious reason for building a superintelligence is so that we can offload to it the instrumental reasoning required to find effective ways of realizing a given value. Indirect normativity would enable us also to offload to the superintelligence some of the reasoning needed to select the value that is to be realized. Indirect normativity is a way to answer the challenge presented by the fact that we may not know what we truly want, what is in our interest, or what is morally right or ideal. Instead of making a guess based on our own current understanding (which is probably deeply flawed), we would delegate some of the cognitive work required for value selection to the superintelligence. Since the superintelligence is better at cognitive work than we are, it may see past the errors and confusions that cloud our thinking.”

[227] Eliezer Yudkowsky, Coherent Extrapolated Volition (Berkeley, CA: Machine Intelligence Research Institute, May 2004) (cited in Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017; first published 2014), 259), defines Coherent Extrapolated Volition as “our wish if we knew more, thought faster, were more the people we wished we were, had grown up farther together; where the extrapolation converges rather than diverges, where our wishes cohere rather than interfere; extrapolated as we wish that extrapolated, interpreted as we wish that interpreted.”

[228] Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017; first published 2014), 262, explains that “If we were to stipulate a specific and unalterable moral code for the AI to follow, we would in effect be locking in our present moral convictions, including their errors, destroying any hope of moral growth. The CEV approach, by contrast, allows for the possibility of such growth because it has the AI try to do that which we would have wished it to do if we had developed further under favourable conditions, and it is possible that if we had thus developed our moral beliefs and sensibilities would have been purged of their current defects and limitations.”

[229] For one, optimism about CEV rests on a tenuous assumption that more intelligence, knowledge, and reflection results in superior morality. Brian Tomasik has also argued that CEV is unlikely to be achieved at all; that it is unlikely to arrive at a moral code which we would be content with; and that it’s not even particularly fair as it is unlikely to include among its starting points, for instance, the moralities of animals, deceased beings, hypothetical beings, or future beings, and even within humans the weighting of moralities is affected by circumstances such as Catholics having higher birth rates on account of holding moral positions which reduce their use of birth control.

One example of an unsatisfactory outcome from CEV is that the AI could assess that humans’ moralities are at core caused by a drive to reproduce our genes, and that our limited minds merely use visual similarity as a proxy for genetic similarity and empathize with other biological beings roughly commensurately with their visual similarity to us out of that interest. It could judge that humans’ moralities are shaped by a goal of cooperating and competing with each other and a fundamental indifference to those who one can dominate (see also footnote 220). As such, an AI could develop a very selective circle (e.g. only including powerful beings) that we would not desire.

[230] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Better_Angels_of_Our_Nature#Criticism

[231] Alexander Holst and Pim Martens, “Determinants of Animal Protection Policy,” Politics and Animals 2, No. 1 (2016). The source for international per capita incomes was “GDP per capita based on purchasing power parity (PPP) in 2013 from the International Monetary Fund (IMF,2014).” The measure of public political engagement was “the Civic Activism index from the Indices of Social Development Database (ISD, 2013). This composite index combines measures of size and activity of the NGO sector with survey results about coverage and use of news media, and reported willingness to participate in different forms of political protest (e.g. demonstrations, petitions). The composite index is scaled between 0 and 1.” The measure of animal protection was the Animal Protection Index - “API is a composite index aiming to reflect to what extent a country’s policies and legislation offer protection for animals and improve their welfare.”

[232] Alexander Holst and Pim Martens, “Determinants of Animal Protection Policy,” Politics and Animals 2, No. 1 (2016). As a measure of animal protection organizations, they use a log-transformation of the number of animal protection organizations per 10,000 kilometers squared to the base of two. The source is “the WorldAnimalNet Directory (WorldAnimalNet, 2015).”

[233] Many examples could be cited. For recent examples, see The Humane League’s blog.

[234] Many examples could be cited. The worldwide Google Trends results for “vegan” show search interest having increased by a multiple of 5.25 by September 2018 compared to January 2004.

[235] Reese explains that “Consciousness reductionism is the idea that we can reduce consciousness to other phenomena, and eliminativism means we can just leave out discussion of consciousness and simply refer to those other phenomena… I believe Brian Tomasik has written the best articulation and defense of this view in his essay, The Eliminativist Approach to Consciousness.”

[236] Brian Tomasik has listed lists many examples, such as: Tom Regan, the author of The Case for Animal Rights, writing that “[T]he goal of wildlife management should be to defend wild animals in the possession of their rights, providing them with the opportunity to live their own life, by their own lights, as best they can [...]. If, in reply, we are told that respecting the rights of animals in the wild in the way the rights view requires does not guarantee that we will minimize the total amount of suffering wild animals will suffer over time, our reply should be that this cannot be the overarching goal of wildlife management, once we take the rights of animals seriously.”

[237] Jesse Clifton notes that the Brazilian constitution from 1988 asserts that “All have the right to an ecologically balanced environment. [sic] which is an asset of common use and essential to a healthy quality of life, and both the Government and the community shall have the duty to defend and preserve it for present and future generations… In order to ensure the effectiveness of this right, it is incumbent upon the Government to: … protect the fauna and the flora, with prohibition, in the manner prescribed by law, of all practices which represent a risk to their ecological function, cause the extinction of species or subject animals to cruelty.”

[238] The researchers in the first RCT, “found no difference in average score between the control and Cruelty groups (p=0.996), but participants in the Environment group took scored lower on the WAS measure (p=0.060).” The researchers in the second RCT  found “that the animal cruelty group had significantly greater ‘“preferences for more habitat’” than the environment group. Our interpretation was that this indicated that relative to the environmental flyer, the animal cruelty flyer strengthened preferences that would increase WAS, given that more habitat would increase the number of wild animals and that in turn would increase the amount of WAS. This result did not support our hypothesis, which could be informative, but because of the small amount of supporting evidence we would like to see this replicated in further experiments before we place moderate weight on it.”

[239] This might happen, for instance, if increasing concern for farmed animals increases preservationism and as such decreases concern for wild animals, perhaps by: introducing people to an existing farmed animal community whose members generally hold the traditional environmentalist value of preservation; by evoking environmentalist motivations to oppose animal farming and increasing the salience of environmentalism, including its present focus on preservation; or by making people care more about animals but only to a naive extent that results in assumptions of preservation being good for wild animals’ welfare. However, the opposite effect might occur in the longer-term, as expanding the moral circle to farmed animals could make people more receptive to expansion to wild animals and more interested in their individual welfare than their populations or their autonomy from humans.

[240] After noting the lack of consensus on the causes of the industrial revolution, he suggests that “though I have not studied the issue deeply, I would guess that there is even less consensus on the inevitability of the social progress described above [referring to “the flowering of democracy,” “the rise of tolerance for religious,” “ideological, and philosophical diversity,” “the abolition of slavery,” “the civil rights movement,” “the rise of women’s equality and feminism,” “the lowest levels of per capita violence in human history.”] It seems that it would be extremely challenging to come to a confident view about the conditions leading to this progress. In the absence of such confidence, it seems possible that a catastrophe of unprecedented severity would disrupt the mechanisms underlying the unique civilizational progress of the last few centuries.”

[241] Faunalytics found that 10% of US people aged 18-24 reported eating no meat or fish over the past year. The percentage decreased with each age category to a low of 1% in the age category 55+.

Benjamin Allès, Julia Baudry, Caroline Méjean, Mathilde Touvier, Sandrine Péneau, Serge Hercberg, and Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot, “Comparison of Sociodemographic and Nutritional Characteristics between Self-Reported Vegetarians, Vegans, and Meat-Eaters from the NutriNet-Santé Study,” Nutrients 9, No. 9 (September 2017), similarly to Faunalytics’ results for the US, found that a larger proportion of surveyed vegetarians (18.2%) and vegans (28.5%) than meat-eaters (10.2%) were aged 18-30.

[242] Jacy Reese, The End of Animal Farming: How Scientists, Entrepreneurs, and Activists are Building an Animal-Free Food System (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2018), 16

[243] Branwen notes that “progress could be an illusion. Random data can look patterned, and especially patterned if one edits the data just a little bit.”

[244] Branwen notes that “if we were to find that the appearance of progress were due to omissions in the presented data, that would certainly shake our belief that there’s a clear overall trend of progress (as opposed to some sort of random walk or periodic cycle or more complicated relationship). And there may indeed be points omitted.”

[245] Branwen notes that, “Who among us has lived through all those centuries, has believed as they believed, and could really give an accurate account of changing ethics & mores?... not only are our ideas of what ethics is changing over time, so are our standards of evidence, and even what entities we believe to exist (even before we get to questions about which entities have moral standing!).”

[246] http://effective-altruism.com/ea/xp/lessons_from_the_history_of_animal_rights/

[247] See ACE’s 2018 blog post.

[248] This site, using the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization statistics, has useful graphs on global trends, and a report by Animal Charity Evaluators has detail on U.S. per capita consumption, in the context of rising populations.

[249] Seymour Martin Lipset, Political Man (London: Mercury Books, 1963), 57, although focusing on the extent of democracy, rather than liberal values, suggests that studies findings education as leading to liberal and democratic values “should lead us to anticipate a far higher correlation between national levels of education and political practice than we in fact find. Germany and France have been among the best education nations of Europe, but this by itself did not stabilize their democracies… If we cannot say that a “high” level of education is a sufficient condition for democracy, the available evidence suggests that it comes close to being a necessary one. In Latin America, where widespread illiteracy still exists, only one of all the nations in which more than half the population is illiterate - Brazil - can be included in the “more democratic” group.

[250] One article notes that, using self-reports of moral attitudes from professors in five U.S. universities, a survey found that philosophers specializing in ethics “appeared to endorse more stringent moral standards” than “philosophers not specializing in ethics, and a comparison group of other professors from the same universities.” These more stringent moral attitudes assigned appear to assign greater value to animals, as well as to other humans: “Ethicists were more likely than other groups to rate blood donation and charitable donation as morally good, and they were more likely to rate meat-eating and failing to be an organ donor as morally bad. The results are especially striking for vegetarianism: 60 per cent of ethicists rated ‘regularly eating the meat of mammals, such as beef or pork’ somewhere on the ‘bad’ side of a 1-9 scale from ‘very morally bad’ to ‘very morally good’, compared to 45 per cent of non-ethicist philosophers and only 19 per cent of professors from departments other than philosophy (χ2 = 64.2, p < .001).  When asked ‘About what percentage of income should the typical professor donate to charity?  (Enter “0” if you think it’s not the case that the typical professor should donate to charity.)’, only 9 per cent of ethicists entered ‘0’, compared to 24 per cent of non-ethicist philosophers and 25 per cent of other professors (χ2 = 18.2, p < .001); and among those not entering ‘0’, the geometric mean was 5.9 per cent for ethicists vs. 4.8 per cent for both of the two other groups (ANOVA, F = 3.6, p = .03).  However, as mentioned above, these differences in normative attitude did not detectably manifest in behavior.”

[251] See footnote 220.

[252] Faunalytics found that in India, 9% of 18-24 year olds reported eating no meat or fish over the past year. The percentage increased with each age category, ranging up to 24% of those aged 55+. China also tended in this direction, from 1% of 18-24 year olds up to 3% of those aged 55+. In Russia and Brazil, all age categories were 1% or 2%.

[253] See footnote 217.

[254] For example, medical advances, contraception, women’s empowerment, changes in quality of life, welfare systems and access to a consistent food supply (in many parts of the world), among other changes since prehistory, have changed the selection for who reproduces.

[255] Daniel S. Lane, Stewart M. Coles, and Muniba Saleem, “Solidarity Effects in Social Movement Messaging: How Cueing Dominant Group Identity Can Increase Movement Support,” Human Communication Research (July 2018), a study about how the identity of a speaker supporting the #BlackLivesMatter movement affected perceptions of them, found that “Among White participants, White speakers were evaluated (a) more favorably in general than anonymous speakers, and (b) as less racist than both Black and anonymous speakers. Such evaluations were ultimately associated with increased support for #BlackLivesMatter.”

[256] Consider children’s rights movements. The importance of, for instance, West Indian slave revolutions in changing British public sentiment are unclear, but as the victims’ political involvement was limited to few and mostly-failed revolts and the public words of a very small number of ex-slaves (see Sentience Institute’s report on the British antislavery movement), this provides some evidence for the claim, particularly considering that any key value of that involvement may have been in expressing the victims’ agency and distress, which allies of most groups should be able to communicate with, for instance, video footage of attempted escapes, resistance, and expressions or indications of suffering.

[257] See footnote 227.

[258] Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017; first published 2014), 265, notes that “That somebody is excluded from the original extrapolation base does not imply that their wishes and well-being are disregarded. If the coherent extrapolated volition of those in the extrapolation base (e.g. living adult human beings) wishes that moral consideration be extend to other beings, then the outcome of the CEV dynamic would reflect that preference. Nevertheless, it is possible that the interests of those who are included in the original extrapolation base would be accommodated to a greater degree than the interests of outsides. In particular, if the dynamic acts only where there is broad agreement between individual extrapolated volitions (as in Yudkowsky’s original proposal), there would seem to be a significant risk of an ungenerous blocking vote that could prevent, for instance, the welfare of nonhuman animals or digital minds rom being protected. The result might potentially be morally rotten.”


Subscribe to our newsletter to receive updates on our research and activities. We'll email you once a month at most!