Would you believe that surges in murder rates correlate closely with a loss of faith in government and the social hierarchy? Racial, religious, or political antagonism associated with an increase in hate speech and racial slurs, signs of disunity and a loss of fellow-feeling among members of society top the list of factors in predicting homicide rates, according to historian Randolph Roth. Even during the Depression and other tough times incidence of homicide remained low, while the 60’s, a time of protest, unrest, anger and suspicion of government saw a rise in those rates.
Roth tracked changes in the character and incidence of murder in the U.S. from colonial times to the present. The recent book, American Homicide, holds that factors of distrust, divisiveness and disunity best explain the fluctuations in rates of homicide in the United States (distinctive in its level of violence among unrelated adults—friends, acquaintances, and strangers) and other Western nations over the past four centuries, and why the U.S. is today the most homicidal affluent nation.
America, the author found, was extraordinarily homicidal in the mid-seventeenth century, becoming relatively non-homicidal by the mid-nineteen hundreds even in the slave South; and by the early twentieth century rates in the North and the mountain South were extremely low. After the American Revolution the homicide rate rose substantially among unrelated adults in the slave South and hit all time highs across the States from the late 1840s through the mid-1870s, while rates in most other Western nations held steady or fell. Notably, these were times of unrest and distrust among the people and government.
All in all, Roth found that social divisiveness, a breakdown of national cohesion and solidarity were most clearly related to and characteristic of periods of high murder rates.
Unity, I suspect, is much more involved in social and individual well- being than any of us realize...
You can learn more on this study in Randolph Roth’s interview on his book, American Homicide on BookTV.org.