11 March, 2006

The Democratic Peace hypothesis (part one)

I mentioned the Democratic Peace hypothesis in my second posting on Liberalism. Some of my pals on the Helicopterview mailing list took issue with the idea, but I think they have got the wrong end of the stick and started talking about whether so-called democratic states are actually democratic, given their elitist nature and the role of the media in manufacturing consent etc. etc.. My own feeling is that for the purposes of the Democratic Peace hypothesis, such ideas are irrelevant. The point of the theory is not to get into a discussion of whether country A is more democratic than country B - anyone who has studied democratic theory knows that democracy is a scalar rather than binary concept, and also that modern liberal democracies are far less democratic than what might be considered an abstract ideal of what a democratic society should be like. The point really starts from an awareness that there are a certain type of country in the world which have been dubbed "liberal democracies". Maybe the name is not fully descriptive, just like the People's Democracies that once flourished in Eastern Europe, so think of it as a label attached to a certain kind of society... basically the countries of Western Europe, North America, Australasia and Japan. The Democratic Peace hypothesis is based on one simple and observable fact - that as the governmental systems of these countries have converged, they have shown less and less inclination to go to war with each other.

And again, in world historical terms, this is very strange. There has never previously been any sense in which countries with similar social systems resolved their difference through non-violent means while reserving war for those countries with different systems. The observation also runs counter to the Realist theory of International Relations which so many people are taken with, that states act in accordance with their interests, and that these interests exist independently of the internal political system of a country. To a Realist, a democratic Germany should have the same interests as a fascist or authoritarian Germany, yet the years after 1945 did not see Adenauer gearing up for a third crack at the French.

(The German-French example is slightly unfair, but only slightly. Realists would talk about erstwhile enemies uniting against a common foe, and arguably that's what West Germany and France did in the face of the USSR. However, with the removal of the USSR's threat, a Realist would assume that Germany and France's conflicting interests would drive them back to hostility)

Join me soon, when I will discuss explanations for the Democratic Peace.

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