In the chapter on Statism: Our Condition of the 1983 version of the New Libertarian Manifesto by Samuel Edward Konkin III the following can be found,

In the 20th Century alone, war has murdered more than all previous deaths; taxes and inflation have stolen more than all wealth previously produced; and the political lies, propaganda, and above all, "Education" have twisted more minds than all the superstition prior; yet through all the deliberate confusion and obfuscation, the thread of reason has developed fibers of resistance to be woven into the rope of execution for the State: Libertarianism.

Being in the first 10 sentence in the seminal work on Agorism such a claim is kind of concerning. I don't see how it could be true.

Especially interesting is that he wrote this in 1983, the 20th century wasn't even over yet.

  • 1
    Thank you. The title still reads funny to me but it's probably because I'm not a native speaker :)
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jan 10, 2014 at 22:38
  • @Sklivvz: No, the English in the claim (and hence the title) is clumsy.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jan 11, 2014 at 0:35
  • 1
    Maybe a better question would be, "Did the death toll due to war in the 20th century exceed the sum of all previous centuries' deaths due to war?"
    – Marsh
    Commented Oct 1, 2015 at 16:03

2 Answers 2


It's completely false: a good, and well cited, guesstimate is that 100 billion people lived.

how many people lived source full article

From the same table, about 10 billion people lived in the XX century.

In no way, therefore, more than the same amount of people may have died in the XX century, and in consequence, war in the XX century may not have caused more than about 100 billion deaths.

Note: the table above contains spurious digits: what determines precision is the "Deaths per 1,000" column which has 1 significant digit, so any result should be assumed to be valid to the order of magnitude.

  • I'll accept it. ;) Seems at least somewhat likely he wanted to reference something like democide which I still don't believe is a valid claim. Commented Jan 10, 2014 at 22:47
  • Beat me top it. Commented Jan 10, 2014 at 23:12
  • I haven't added imprecision. I don’t think the data I presented is reliable beyond making a scale argument. I would not have used it if the previous deaths were only more by 10 or 20%
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jan 11, 2014 at 9:32
  • Ehh.... There was never a year with 2 people on Earth. Come on. Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 2:18
  • 2
    @WakeDemons3 sure, but you could say the same for any other number. The beginning of the human species is, for all intents and purposes, a definition and a convention
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 6:17

As literally stated, no this could not have been the case.

Let's take the Wikipedia list of wars by death toll, and take the maximum estimate of each (almost certainly too high) in the 20th Century. Let's consider only wars with over a million deaths.

  • Second World War: 85 million
  • Second Sino-Japanese war (almost certainly some overlap with WWII) 27 million
  • World War 1 30 million
  • Chinese Civil War (probable overlap with Sino-Japanese) 7.5 million
  • Russian Civil War 9 million
  • Second Congo war 5 million
  • Algerian War of independence 2 million
  • Korean War 1 million
  • Vietnam War 4 million
  • Nigerian Civil War 3 million
  • Mexican Revolution 2 million
  • Sino-Tibetan War 1 million
  • First Indochina War 1 million
  • Iran-Iraq War 1 million
  • Second Sudan Civil War 1 million
  • Soviet Afghanistan War 1 million
  • Mozambican Civil War 1 million
  • Rwandan Civil War 1 million
  • First Congo Civil war 1 million
  • Spanish Civil War 1 million
  • Mozambican Civil war 1 million

Horrific as these figures are, they come to less than 200 million deaths. The world population grew to 1 billion around 1830, which makes it more than certain that there were many more than a billion deaths before 1900.

It is of course possible that they author meant to say "more people died in wars in the 20th Century than in all previous wars". That's going to be much harder to calculate, because of some very vague statistics of deaths in ancient wars, but also a vague definition of 'what is a war'. If one village rides out to kill the people in another village and steal their cows, that doesn't count as a war in twentieth century reckoning, but it may have happened millions of times in the ancient world and the casualties add up.


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