Arguments Against the Democratic Peace

May 13, 2009

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[First published October 10, 2005] I have on occasion linked to or critiqued articles arguing against the democratic peace (DP). They fall into four groups.

First, are those who argue from historical examples that allegedly disprove DP. Favorites are the Civil War, WWII against “democratically elected” Hitler, democratic Finland being allied with Germany in World War II, the various French-British crises, , and certain democratic American Indian tribes on which the U.S. made war. Also, there is the finger pointing at all the wars that the U.S. and U.K. fought. No amount of historical analysis that disproves these as exceptions persuades members of this group, who generally argue that DP supporters are defining them away.

Lets say that all the exceptions are true exceptions. There were 371 pairs of countries involved in wars against each other 1816-2005 About 22 exceptions have been put forward, which if excepted would mean that democracies fought that many wars out of 371, or 6 percent. Therefore, taking every claimed exception as true we can still say that democracies tend to be most peacefully disposed to each other. That is, if democracy were universalized, war in the world would still be sharply reduced.

The second group is those who, misunderstand what DP is, and thus use examples that are at different levels of analysis or conceptual design. For example, they argue: “Look at all the wars that Britain and the United States have fought. Indeed, Britain has fought more wars that any other nation.” Yes, but this says nothing about what nations Britain fought against after it became a democracy with the Reform Act of 1884 (which extended the franchise to agricultural laborers). Although both the U.S. and Britain have fought many wars, none were against democracies.

A variant of this is to argue that the U.S. and Britain were the aggressors in many wars. True, the U.S. started the Spanish-American and Mexican-American wars, and now the Afghan and Iraq Wars. But the DP does not say that democracies will never launch wars. Only that it will not do so against other democracies.

The third group argue from balance of power or power superiority theories, a la Hans Morgenthau, and assert that DP is Wilsonian idealism, i.e., unrealistic, and wishful thinking. This is the most common argument appearing in the elite journals and by foreign policy commentators. In effect, it is arguing DP away in a nice way — by labeling it as head-in-the-clouds idealism in contrast to the feet-on-the ground realist. Yet, it is the other way around. It is DP that is grounded in historical data, and its claims have been well tested by scientific methods. Those promoting their “realism” cannot say this. And in those cases where power and its balancing have been tested against DP, the results were in favor of DP, not the other way around. Most often, however, the comparison is a matter of speculative realism versus empirically well tested DP. But either this is something that realists are unaware of, or will deny by lifting arguments from the two groups mentioned previously.

Finally, there is the group of those who question the methodology, with one of the favorites being “correlation does not mean causation,” as though all of us using quantitative methods on DP never took Statistics 101. I find these people usually don’t know what they are talking about (although sometimes wrapped in the usual quantitative jargon), or like the above quote, assume we’re all naïve or empty headed. In some cases, however, they apply apparently sophisticated statistics to data on war and democracy, among other variables, and conclude: “Hey, see, how insignificant democracy is compared to other variables.” When, however, these studies are looked at carefully, one usually finds that the methods have been misunderstood, misapplied, or the data were inappropriate to the method used (for an example of this, see “The CATO Institute Gets It All Wrong” here). Such is the kinds of war counting, empirical studies, I referred to in my blog, “Counting the Democratic Peace Away” (here).

In 1981, to the conclusion of my five volumes on Understanding Conflict and War (here), I wrote: 

In total, some violence is inevitable; extreme violence and war are not. To eliminate war, to restrain violence, to nurture universal peace and justice, is to foster freedom.

That conclusion has not only held up well, it also now declarative American foreign policy.

Link of Day

” Democracy, Spontaneous Order and Peace” By Augustus diZerega

Abstract: The democratic peace hypothesis which states that democracies rarely or never go to war against one another and that democracies do not commit democide raises issues penetrating to the core of modern liberalism, classical and otherwise. If democracies are unique from other forms of government, as claims for their peacefulness towards citizens and one another suggest, then possibly the classical liberal and libertarian critique of democratic government needs re-examination. By separating liberal democracy from undemocratic states, the democratic peace hypothesis separates the classical liberal and libertarian critique of the state from a straight forward application to liberal democracy. The work of F. A. Hayek and Michael Polanyi holds the key to understanding the democratic peace, and thereby leads to rethinking the classical liberal and libertarian critique of politics. To jump ahead, democracies are spontaneous orders in Hayek’s sense of the term. Consequently democracies are not states in the usual sense, and often do not act like them.

RJR: diZerega is one of the few to recognize that Hayek’s spontaneous society provides an explanation of DP. Nonetheless, Hayekian libertarians, excepting diZeerega, will continue to treat DP as the muttering of diseased minds.

Links I Must Share

Marshall vs. Miers

Unqualified, no judicial experience, just a political crony. Miers? No, John Marshall, whose name generally is preceded by the adjective great, some describing him as the greatest figure in the history of American law. . . . But let’s ask ourselves realistically whether a fracas precipitated by an in-your-face nomination of a conservative with strong and well known commitments to hot-button issues would not simply have led to yet another ignominious defeat by the legions of Darth Vader.  At no time in recent memory has the Republican Senate leadership evidenced any notable parliamentary, tactical, or PR skills.  The Democrats have out-maneuvered them at every turn.

Maybe President Bush simply looked at the facts in the cold light of day and concluded that the nation’s interests would be better served by appointing someone who is both confirmable and committed to sound general principles.  Maybe he concluded that reliance on Senators like Arlen Specter and Bill Frist was as likely to be successful as buying a lottery ticket.

RJR: Too many conservatives are blind to this. For too long, they have wanted a fight with the Demos, and now they are upset by not getting it. Well, getting another strict constructionist on the Supreme Court is more important, and anyway, they would have lost the fight.

“Media Ignore Freedom’s Victories”

It’s troubling that so many refuse to recognize, let alone support, the struggle for freedom in Iraq. The groups behind the September 24 anti-war march on Washington, D.C. really do not care if an American withdrawal ushers in a terrorist victory. One of the co-sponsoring groups, International ANSWER, is actually led by members of the Workers World Party, a communist group that has backed Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Kim Jong-Il. But don’t look for the media to mention that fact.

RJR: They never do. The communist are free to organize as they will without mention of their involvement. True now, true during the anti-nuclear demonstrations, true during Vietnam. Can’t seem a McCarthy, you know.


. . . . the Army has been bankrolling “HYPERLINK “,+2005″Excalibur,” a Raytheon effort to build a 155mm artillery shell that’s guided by GPS. Think of it as the howitzer’s answer to smart bombs.

RJR: Combine this with a drone providing the GPS coordinates of a tall man dressed all in white, and . . . .

Synopsis, three chapters, and free download