Democracy As A Spontaneous Society

January 16, 2009

[First published on February 7, 2006] This is in response to a comment by Gus DeZerega on “The Myth Of ‘The Myth Of Democratic Peace'”. Gus is a 1984 Berkeley Ph.D. in political science and a Visiting Assistant Professor, Dept. of Government, HYPERLINK “”St. Lawrence University. His website is here. He is also into art , as I am. He has written, among others, Persuasion, Power and Polity: A Theory of Democratic Self-Organization, and the article, “HYPERLINK “”Democracy as a Spontaneous Order,” published in Critical Review.

Pro Forma, Gus, and I are the only ones, to my knowledge, who have recognized the critical role that F.A. Hayek’s felicitous term, “spontaneous society,” plays in understanding democratic freedom and the democratic peace. This is very close to the idea of a free market, but involving all of a society and not only its economic system. In my mathematical, and subsequent philosophical development of the theory, I use the idea of a social field instead of spontaneous society, but no matter, although the former is more precise the meaning is much the same.

Now, in his comment, Gus DeZerega (GD) said:

This is an excellent rebuttal of the libertarian position, which unfortunately too often these days puts having the ideologically correct conclusion ahead of good analysis. (Disclosure: I am a former libertarian.)

RJR: As I am. I now call myself a freedomist.


However, I think that Dr. Rummel’s disparagement of anti-Iraq war positions, libertarian or leftist, is tangential to the strength of the democratic peace argument. 

There are two separate issues at stake. First, is there a democratic peace? Some of us have said “Yes” for a long time – in my case pretty much since Cliff Ketzel pointed it out in an IR class at the University of Kansas in the 60s. Alas, he didn’t publish and it took me years to arrive at insights similar to those Dr. Rummel arrived at first. Happily so eventually did many others.

Second, if there is a democratic peace, how do we get more democracies and therefore more peace? Here there are two broad positions, and the answers to this question do not translate into where we stand on the validity of the first. 

The first position is that it is possible to bring democracy to undemocratic areas by means of liberating war. The second does not necessarily oppose that view in every instance, but is skeptical and cautious, emphasizing a country needs certain socio-cultural pre-conditions before it can reliably become democratic. This view argues that stable democracy needs to arise largely within and through the efforts of people in the society adopting the institutions. Democracies can assist this process but they cannot impose or control it under most circumstances. (Germany, Italy, and Japan are seeming exceptions, but I would argue otherwise.)

RJR: As I would.


As I read him (and I may misread him) Dr. Rummel is in the first camp, and I most definitely am in the second.

RJR: While I do not accept that war should be fought to democratize a nation, I do say that if it is fought for other reasons, such as to stop wide scale democide, as it would be in Sudan, than once a country is defeated, I believe its people should be freed from their former enslavement by promoting democratization. Japan, Germany, and Italy are examples of what I mean. It may fail, as it has done in Haiti, but better to fail than not try at all.

A fascinating experiment is taking place in Palestine today that may shed light on the strength of one or the other position, though the real world is always messy enough to make a single case only suggestive, no matter what the issue. I truly hope the Palestinian experiment in democracy works. I am dubious. I am even more dubious regarding Iraq because it is far more divided internally than Palestine and its democratic institutions more obviously imposed.

RJR: Not imposed, but the Iraqis have been freed from a bloody tyrant. If freeing slaves is “imposing” freedom on them, then so is imposing freedom on the prisoners of a concentration camp by killing the guards and throwing open the barbed wire gates for all to leave.


Further. My own analysis, which shares a great deal in common with Dr. Rummel’s, emphasizes the degree to which democracies are unlike undemocratic states in their internal organization as a crucial element in the democratic peace phenomena. War unites democracies behind executive power, weakening those differences. Thus, war that is not truly necessary runs the risk of weakening those systemic elements in a democracy that are most crucial to maintaining the democratic peace.

Which general view is correct? Perhaps the next few years will give us a pretty good test.

RJR: War is always a danger to a democracy in that it more or less creates a garrison state, which after a war is only partially dismantled. It is not as though, however, democracies can pick and choose whether to fight a war because of this danger, since often survival in the short or long run is at stake, as it has been for the U.S. with its wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Korea, and World War II. WWI was an exception and need not have been engaged by the U.S., in my view. Thus, by creating a garrison state that cast a long shadow over the future of a democracy, as Gus points out, fighting a war can weaken those very aspects of the democratic peace that promote long run peace. However, if the war ends in the further spread of democracy, then this garrison state effect is more than offset.

Links of Day

Quadrennial Defense Review Report: This is the once every four years review of American defense policy. Rather, what’s new, what’s old, what’s changed, and what’s to be changed. It starts with this provocative, but correct, statement:

The United States is a nation engaged in what will be a long war.

Liberty vs. democracy: An argument for liberty under an authoritarian regime, rather than for a corrupt and economically unfree democracy. Not a parody.

“Freedom first, democracy after”. Relevant to the Hamas electoral win, this expresses Natan Sharansky’s argument that freedom should come first and then democracy.

Quoting Sharansky, “Germany and Japan didn’t have elections in 1945, either,” he claimed. “Elections are the end of the building process of a free society, not the beginning.”

“Violent Rhetoric or Flush Toilets”:

Democracy may not be a perfect defense against the Mafia — obviously, it is not. American mobsters exist. They intimidate judges in New Jersey, own aldermen in Chicago, and slide cash to congressmen via K Street. Democracies, however, tend to marginalize gangsters, in the same way they tend to marginalize political extremists. With checks and balances like the rule of law, the free press and electoral politics, Al Capones and Jack Abramoffs end up in jail. Even a president can lose his law license for “misleading” a federal judge.

Democracy is no perfect defense against religious and ethnic terrorists, either. Hamas won an election, soundly drubbing secular Fatah.

Democracy is flawed — the other choices, however, are fatal.

“DEMOCRACY AND VIOLENCE GO TOGETHER LIKE BUSH AND LIES”: Re the claim that democracy and violence are incompatible:

it nearly made me choke over my breakfast.
The hypocrisy of it all. . . . As if democracy and violence do not go simply and always hand in hand. Which present day democratic state does not employ violence and terror?

RJR: I give this link just to show that I am not making up the incredibly ignorant, if not ideologically dogmatic, opposition to the democratic peace.

“Facts vs. Fiction: A Report from the Front “ By Karl Zinsmeister, author of Dawn Over Baghdad:

Well, nearly every war is riddled with disappointment and pain, Iraq certainly included. But judged fairly, Iraq has been much less costly and debacle-ridden than the Civil War, World War II, Korea, and the Cold War, each considered in retrospect to have been noble successes.

Warning: a blood and gore democide
painting not for the queasy