The Myth of “The Myth of Democratic Peace”

[First published January 22, 2006]
They have become so predictable. Consider this bio: Dr. Leon Hadar is a research fellow in foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, where he analyzes international politics and economics with a special focus on the Middle East and East Asia. A former United Nations bureau chief for the Jerusalem Post.

Now, what do you think Hadar’s take will be on the democratic peace? With the key words CATO and UN bureau chief, you’re right. He’ll be totally negative. And so he is in his recent article, “The Myth of Democratic Peace.”

What is it with these CATO libertarians? It’s not incompetence, not when there has to be a conscious avoidance of studies with which they disagree. It has to be a visceral prejudice. Well, my colleague Pro Forma lets rip on them, and he’s right. He says:

I think what really annoys me about these bozos are four things:

First, they rely on no actual social science (neither empirical nor theoretical) to make their points — the paleolibertarian case against the democratic peace is almost entirely rhetorical.

Second, they completely ignore the vast DP literature. It’s not that they say it is flawed and cite any examples…they just don’t even deal with it. The DP literature is incredibly rich in all sorts of empirical research, and abounds with theoretical explanations at many levels. Yet, they refuse to engage any of this. It’s like studying world geography, and despite Columbus and Magellan and Drake and modern cartography and trips into space and satellite photography, they are still using maps without the Americas, but instead a big vast emptiness between Europe and Asia. You can’t do science this way!

Third, they seem to dismiss any possibility of democratic peace by arguing that democracy has many definitions, so nobody really knows what it is…. yet they are quick to assert that this thing that no one can define is actually very non-peaceful. This not only is bad science, it denies the possibility of science.

Fourth, the implications — both philosophical and policy — of the anti-DP rhetoric by the paleolibertarians is profoundly disturbing for anyone who loves freedom and values liberty. Let’s think about this.

If democracy is so bad, then non-democracy should be pretty good. In fact, Leon Hadar concludes his article with a proposal to inquire if non-democracies are actually more peaceful than democracies (note to Hadar: it’s been done; they aren’t). If peace is a human value, and a good thing (since it favors life and well-being, and democracies were found to be actually less peaceful than non-democracies, we would not want democracy, and should work to establish and spread non-democracy.

Yet, I cannot think of any realistic non-democratic form of government that anyone would rather live under. The core difference between democracy and non-democracy is that you can change democratic governments with ballots (peaceful), while you can only change non-democratic governments with bullets (non-peaceful). This is philosophically very confusing: we want a peaceful government, so, according to the paleos, we want a non-democratic government so we’ll have peace. But we can only change this non-democratic government with non-peaceful means.

Does this mean we are doomed to renew and alter our government only with bloody means, and that the great experiment the American founders engaged in is a failure? If so, then all this writing about universal aspirations for democracy is false. And Fukuyama was wrong when he argued that over the past few thousand years, in the “marketplace” of history, democracy has been desired by people more than any other form of government.

If all this is wrong, then what form of government should we desire, and work and fight to put into place? On this, the paleos are strangely silent. Which is VERY worrisome. Since you cannot rely on government protecting rights and minimizing its incursions on liberty by either hoping the government will behave, or by putting power in the hands of a benign dictator who promises to keep government small, just how do the paleos think freedom will be protected? Thinking about this — and of the impossibility in history of establishing an anarchy-country, I’m beginning to think that the paleos, for now only on a theoretical level, are really enemies of freedom, and anti-liberty in their core.

Links of Note

“Diplomats Will Be Shifted to Hot Spots “:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that she will shift hundreds of Foreign Service positions from Europe and Washington to difficult assignments in the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere as part of a broad restructuring of the diplomatic corps that she has dubbed “transformational diplomacy.”
The State Department’s culture of deployment and ideas about career advancement must alter now that the Cold War is over and the United States is battling transnational threats of terrorism, drug smuggling and disease, Rice said in a speech at Georgetown University. “The greatest threats now emerge more within states than between them,” she said. “The fundamental character of regimes now matters more than the international distribution of power.”

The democratic peace oriented transformation (revolution?) of the Department of State continues. Now, think of what she would do if president.

“Public unrest increasing in China”:

The Public Security Ministry said it handled 87,000 public disturbances last year, a rise of more than 6% on 2004. . . . A ministry spokesman said the figure did not refer just to mass protests, but to all criminal cases linked to public disorder, including mob gatherings, obstruction of justice, fighting and trouble-making.

The greatest likelihood to the collapse of communist rule will come when a depression, or steep inflation, occurs, not with this mild unrest in the face of rapid economic growth.

“The Region: Moving apart “ By Barry Rubin:

The world is about to rethink its views of the whole Arab-Israeli conflict, due to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s past policy shift, his evident departure from politics, and Palestinian developments. The critical variable here is not what has happened to Sharon but a Palestinian political situation which makes any progress toward peace impossible for years to come. Sharon’s illness may be distracting attention from the Palestinian crisis, but it is ultimately much less important in shaping the region’s future.

Read Rubin. He is good and informative on this intractable ME conflict.

“The “Democratic Peace”: A Skeptic’s View “ By Mark Pietrzyk:

an alternative view is that the long peace between democratic states is the result of reverse causation. That is, the current peaceful international order (created by such factors as U.S. hegemony, the solidification of borders, economic growth, and the nuclear revolution) has made it possible for liberal democracy to flourish in many countries which have found it difficult or impossible to build and maintain free institutions in previous eras of international violence and instability.

Another book on the democratic peace. Note the logical problem. If (A) nations made war on each other before becoming democratic; and (B) did not make war on each other after becoming democratic, how is that B implies A. Does time reverse itself?

“A Lesson From Somalia”:

Somalia offers a sobering lesson of what can happen to American forces when our government blunders into the middle of a civil war. We dare not do it again. And we had better see the warning signs.

I must be the only one that sees the American intervention in Somalia as a victory. We saved about a million lives at the cost of 18 American marines. Have ever before so few given their lives to save so many?

The vast literature on the
Democratic Peace

One Response to The Myth of “The Myth of Democratic Peace”

  1. […] The Myth of “The Myth of Democratic Peace” « DemocraticPeace Blog […]

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