Democratic Peace and its Discontents

Two Men I admired: One was a scientist; the other was a political scientist

The guys at Democratic Peace have responded to my response to their response to my response to their post which was a response to an op-ed I'd published about The Myth of Democratic Peace which was a review of a book by Jack Snyder and Peter Mansfield which was originally published in the Singapore Business Times and was then posted on
A longer piece of mine on all the issues of Democratic Peace and against the backdrop of the great showcase for democracy in the Middle East, the Hamas electoral victory in Palestine, will be published in the next issue of the American Conservative. But let me respond here briefly to some of the comments posted on the Democratic Peace blog(their stuff is in bold).

The Myth Of "The Myth Of Democratic Peace"

This is a continuation of the exchange between Leon Hadar, a research fellow in foreign policy studies with CATO, and political scientist Pro Forma. The original exchange was here, with a second exchange following here, and to which Hadar added more below. This is followed by another response by Pro Forma.

What's the deal with "Pro Forma?" This is not a porno chat room or a discussion between Chinese political dissidents. Why would a political scientist expressing his views on Democratic Peace refrain from identifying himself or herself. It's their right. But still..

Why should you read this exchange, which after all is between political scientists, hardly involving the fascinating stuff of real politics like the Hamas electoral victory? So it seems. But, here the libertarian arguments against the democratic peace are well displayed, and the core problems in these arguments nicely underlined by Pro Forma. In essence, this is an argument over the fundamental goals of American foreign policy -- whether we can end war and democide. The libertarian says this is a chimera, and anyway democracy per se is not that good; Pro Forma is a staunch advocate of democracy and the democratic peace.

It's important to stress here that there is a serious debate among libertarians, including among scholars at the Cato Institute, on the issue of DP. So I don't think that we can refer to "the libertarian arguments against the democratic peace." That's too simplistic. In fact, my own arguments reflect -- among other things -- traditional "realist" perspective, as in the Realist School of Thought in International Relations (Robert Morgentahu; George Kennan: E.H. Carr; Reinhold Niebuhr;Walter Lippmann) and Neo-Realism (Kenneth Waltz; Stephen Walt; Robert Keohane; John Mearsheimer; Robert Gilpin). Libertarians and classical liberals in general are opposed to interventionist government policies at home and abroad and assume that there is a strong relationship between the expansion of state power on the domestic front and in the global arena, between the welfare state and the "warfare state." Hence "War is the health of the state" and so on. Foreign policy realists, on the other hand, are more respectful of the power of the state and regard the nation-state as an almost permanent feature of human experience. Their main concern is the need to manage peacefully relations between nation-states. There are not many libertarians who are foreign policy realists, and vice versa. Earl Ravenal, Ted Carpenter and yours truly are several of the few who wear both hats. I can't speak on behalf of the other realist-libertarians. My view is that when it comes to foreign policy pursued by a state committed to classical liberal principles, like the United States, decisions should be made by the representative government operating under checks and balances, free media, etc. and not by supranational institutions and regimes. Our main interest is to discover ways that will make it more likely that the international system remains stable and peaceful through the use of diplomatic means. At the same time, we hope that trade and engagement with other states would help spread the ideas of political and economic freedom which could help produce a vituous circle of freedom, prosperity and peace.

However, libertarians are a small band of brothers who do not amount to much in national politics, in the academy, and in the media. Why am I paying so much attention to them? Because their views on foreign policy roughly correspond to those of the left-liberals, the "anti-war" coalition, the "peace" activists, and "realist" foreign policy specialists. So, critiquing libertarian foreign policies is, roughly, showing the power of democratic peace theory against its most ardent and prevailing detractors in the academy and on the left.

That's silly, since the groups mentioned here don't have a lot in common except for the fact that many of them have been opposed to the war in Iraq. Many left-liberals have supported the U.S. intervention in Yugoslavia, Haiti, Somalia, etc and would like to see the United States taking part in "peace operations" under UN or NATO leadership. Libertarians at the Cato Institute and many "realists" as well as traditional conservatives have been opposed to these policies. Similarly, many realists have been in support of U.S. military intervention in Vietnam and the first and second Iraq War but in the name of advancing U.S. national interests and not spreading democracy. Neoconservatives like Robert Kaplan and Daniel Pipes aren't believers in Democratic Peace although they supported the war in Iraq. And I can go on and on. Hence the writer's attempt to make a distinction between the "good guys" (like the DP crowd) and the "antiwar" coalition is very misleading but serves his/her purpose.

Now, in response to Pro Forma, Leon Hadar said:
Dear Pro Forma: Thanks for your response. Sorry, but I haven't been reading your [Rummel's] blog on a regular basis and therefore I'm not familiar with your Pro Forma shtick. I was under the impression that it's Dr. Rummel's personal blog. So I removed his pic from my blog and some of the references to him.

Again, let me emphasize that the piece I had written was a policy oriented op-ed which didn't necessarily represent the views of Cato on the subject (where there are disagreements on this and other issues). As you know, many of these are published in numerous newspapers every day on topics ranging from foreign policy to life on Mars. They tend to be relatively short and to be read (and sometimes written) by Joe Public. Not every op-ed on U.S. economic policy requires the author to refer to , say, Milton Friedman or base his/her arguments on this or that "school of thought." My book, "Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East" has numerous footnotes and references to many social science theories. Moreover, op-eds and commentaries appearing in publications like the Weekly Standard or the New Republic are supposed to be somewhat entertaining and even nasty and brutal in an understated way, that is...

Finally, let me once again challenge your implication that DP [democratic peace] or political science have become the kind of hard science that can guide our way to America or to the moon. Sorry. In my lifetime, PS had given birth to such schools of thoughts as "convergence" (remember how capitalism and communism were to converge?) and "interdependence" (I'm not even mentioning Marxism and neo-Marxism) that were over-run by, well, reality. The same applies to very complex social science theories that helped provide legitimacy to many now-bankrupted social welfare programs.

So how about some sense of humility about DP, pro forma? Is it possible that you are wrong? Now... I'm not going to respond to all your comments since you refrained to doing that in your comments. I've read M-S new book and other works by the two. My op-ed -- including the title -- summarized what they had to say in their book which I find very convincing.

I also find your effort to teach me PS 101, how should I put it? Condescending. I'm familiar with many definitions of democracy and the way the term is applied in the real world. I'm interested in the way in which political cultures and economic systems affect political development. And I'm of those who does make a distinction between "illiberal democracy" where elections take place under conditions where the foundations of a liberal society haven't been in place, and liberal democracy like our own. In general, I see the rise of nationalism -- the main cause of wars in the modern era -- as tied very much to the rise of democracy. Liberal and mature democracies in general are more successful in containing the more radical forms of nationalism (including ethnicity, religious identity, etc.), while illiberal "organic" nationalism tends to be more warlike.

I DON'T think that authoritarian systems are more peaceful. But I do think that that argument makes as much sense as proposing that democracies are more peaceful. Moreover, realist international relations theory assumes that balance of power has been sustained more frequently -- and I don't regard that as a "science" -- when great powers counter-balanced each other (Congress of Vienna; Cold War bipolarity). In that context, democracy and certainly nationalism CAN BE destabilizing forces. Indeed, I'm still waiting for your explanation why the authoritarian great powers of the 19th century and a democratic power (US) and a dictatorship (Soviet Union) were successful (relatively speaking)in maintaining world peace. I'm also very, very skeptical that liberal democracy will be established in the Middle East in our life-times. And.. hey.. All the women I know would be have chosen liberal Switzerland and Hong Kong over democratic India (which I don't consider to be liberal).

Pro form responded:
Hadar replies to my comments about Hadar's essay, "the Myth of Democratic Peace," with several points worth responding to.

Again, my article wasn't a " essay" but was posted on as are articles from the New York Times and the Washington Post.
First, header defends -- I guess -- his vituperative language by writing that op-eds like his "are supposed to be somewhat entertaining and even nasty and brutal in an understated way, that is... " Oh. OK. I wonder who the "op-ed commissar" is who dictates such verbal misbehavior, and why header feels the need to comply... Nasty rhetoric doesn't much contribute to scholarly discourse. But if header thinks it OK to write "nasty stuff" then he should not take offense at my calling paleos like him bozos. Hey, it's all part of the op-ed world, buddy!
Oh comonnn... This "Pro form" started the debate by calling those who disagree with him "bozos" and then criticized my op-ed for not being a serious scholarly work and now he poses as Mr. or Mrs. Manners. My main point wasn't to defend my "vituperative language." I was just trying to explain that you cannot measure an op-ed piece against the standards of a scholarly work both in terms of content and style.
Second, his disparaging comments about political science are ones I share, for the most part. I suspect we would find common ground in viewing modern day political science as largely unscientific, and in viewing most political scientists as mandarins of the state -- after all, most of them (oops, us) cater to statism, privilege the state over freedom, and are apologists for increased state intervention in our lives. Indeed that's what far too many decades of social science, so called, has done: justify the growth and penetration of the state. But the answer isn't to moan about the effects of state-supporting science -- it is to show how it is bad science, to do better science, and to answer more important and more freedom-oriented research questions.
Excellent points, although I don't think I made "disparaging remarks" about political science. I have a lot of respect to many wonderful teachers and colleagues in this field who are people of honor and integrity and who have done great work (like Dr. Rummel). I'm just urging all of us to get off our high "scientific" horse in a sense that we should adopt, indeed, a sense of humility and skepticism when we come up with theories and models that are supposed to explain human behavior, and in turn, serve as basis for policies. And my concern is not only about political and social scientists who serve the state. There has been a lot of scholarly output in such "anti-state" fields like Marxism, neo-Marxism, feminism, and ethnic studies, not to mention all the wave of "de-construction" -- and yes, even some components of "peace studies" -- that have had horrible effect on the social science, including political science.
That having been said, it is nonsense to argue that anything that is political science is junk. I totally agree. Surely there is the possibility of science in studying politics: is there data (not just opinion), is it comprehensive (not anecdotal), is the data analyzed responsibly, is there underlying theory, and is there predictive power? I also agree although as I mentioned in my earlier posts I'm a bit allergic to what Hayek called "scientism," suggesting that even his own "economics" is not exactly physics, and that's most important to consider when we deal with the application of "science." Applying physics we can fly to the moon. Applying economic and political science to policies effecting human affairs is something totally different, reflecting ideological, cultural and other biases. It can also be very dangerous to human beings (think about Eugenics and other social science theories -- their promoters always had good intentions -- that have made life miserable for millions of people).
I would argue that the democratic peace research program is very much characterized by such science. And to date, I am not aware of any study that has refuted the central argument: well-established democracies do not engage in war with each other.
This finding has been confirmed from a variety of research approaches by many scholars, from historian Spencer Weart, to "standard" political scientists such as Bruce Russett and James Lee Ray, to game theory specialists like Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, to anthropologists Carol R. Ember and Melvin Ember, capitalist-political scientists Erich Weede, and "data-dink" such as Zeev Maoz and John Oneal. This democratic peace research has, to be very simple, looked at war, and regime type, bounced that data on each against the other, and found that some types of governments do not fight each other. Even after many skeptical articles Russett once remarked about the democratic peace, echoing Galileo, "it still moves."

Here we go again... What the writer is doing here is referring to several important social scientists (btw, including an old friend of mine) who have conducted important research and who have tried to demonstrate to many of their readers (not all of whom agreed with them) that under certain conditions and with many qualifications (some of these scholars disagree with each other) we can conclude that some democracies are less likely to go to war against each other. Let's not even get into discussion here about the methodologies that have been used in this kind of research. Let's assume for the sake of argument that they are very solid scientifically speaking (notice that all the terms I'm using here are very questionable and open to debate). My main problem with these and other studies (in general) is that they use the term "democracy" to describe something that is many things to many people. Hence the need to qualify -- electoral democracy, liberal democracy, constitutional democracy, and now we have "mature democracies" vs. "emerging democracies," etc. etc. Is India a democracy in the same way that the United States is. Was the United States and Switzerland democracies before half of their population (women) were allowed to vote (peaceful, really peaceful Switzerland did that in 1971). Since the evolution of modern democracy has taken place in the modern area and mostly in the West, can we really come up with universal scientific laws that apply to that system when we deal with democracies in non-western societies? Can we really apply the same set of standards when we study "emerging democracy" like the U.S. in the 19th century and India today? And how do we make a clear distinction between "peace" and "non-war" (like between U.S. and the Soviet Union)? That Canada and the United States don't go to war against each other at this time and age is explained by many factors, including the fact that they are Anglo-American democracies. That's an interesting observation. It's not a scientific theory.
Furthermore -- and this must be of interest to libertarians -- the same kinds of countries that reliably and understandably do not fight each other also commit far less mass murder against their own citizens. Is there some common thread here? To write off all this research -- and it is research -- as wishful misguided thinking, without explaining why, AND showing evidence to the contrary is simply unacceptable, whether it be in an op-ed or a book. Sorry, doesn't work for me. Yes, the mature and prosperous western (all Christian plus Japan) liberal democracies in the second part of the twentieth century didn't go to war against each other, and they didn't commit mass murder against their own population (although blacks in South, Irish in Northern Ireland, Algerians in France (before independence)and others have mixed memories of that period). At the same time, Franco's Spain and Salazar's Portugal were authoritarian regimes that committed major human rights violations against their own people, yet they proved to be peaceful governments for most of the 20th century. The reason why nation-states don't go to war against each other can only be partly be explained by their political systems and has a lot to do with concepts such as balance of power and deterrence.

To be sure, there is much useful jousting at the periphery of this central argument of no war between well-established democracies, and this is what the Mansfield-Snyder writings are. They never contradict the democratic peace. What they do is caution us about the dangerous transition periods. They even argue that we should be promoting democracy, but more effectively. This isn't a contradiction of the democratic peace, and it certainly is no argument for the democratic peace being a myth! "Useful jousting at the periphery of this central argument?" How about "powerful challenges against that one argument."

Third, what are the implications of all this for American foreign policy? Should the US ignore regime type in conducting international relations, or recognize that the kind of government a country has matters -- especially regarding war and peace. If the democratic peace is a reality in global politics, so what? Is "realism" (power, power, power...echoing the realtor and geopolitician's motto of location, location, location) a better approach? Perhaps. But if there actually is more peace (less violence, and less possibility of violence) between democracies, compared to relations between non-democracies, then isn't there some incentive to support and foster increased democratization? We may not be doing it well, but pursuing democracy offers an alternative that realism does not: people throughout the world get to proclaim liberty in their land, and to share the joy and prosperity of freedom with other like-minded peoples. And for anyone who loves liberty, this is certainly more moral than favoring regimes that oppress and murder their own citizens. I doubt any libertarian (paleo or otherwise) believes that liberty is only for us, or that it is wrong to help others seeking liberty.

Here we get into the policy debate. Iraq, Palestine, etc. My op-ed focused on these issues and my conclusion is the following: The United States can help advance the cause of political and economic liberty through example and through engagement, including trade and other forms of peaceful exchange. It's a huge responsibility to secure our political and economic rights at home and the idea that we have the obligation and the right to use military power to "export democracy" runs contrary to my core libertarian beliefs. Liberty is for anyone who is willing to fight for it and help defend it!
header mentions the inter-authoritarian 1800's (presumably post-Napoleon) and the Cold War as periods of world peace. So what? Non-democracies certainly can have periods of non-war (call it peace if you want). Certainly neither era was a peace of peacefulness: the threat of nuclear annihilation may have deterred combat in the Cold War, for example, but is this "peace of the gun, featuring tyrants" really the preferred model of world peace, given the alternative of democracies keeping the peace by not even thinking of nuking each other? You might just as well argue that since communist countries can and have produced wealth, there is no reason to prefer capitalism.
That's a lot of semantics. The 19th century was the golden age of Europe in terms of its political, economic, scientific and cultural development. That was secured in part through the long "non-war." Similarly, the period of the Cold War was the golden age of the middle class in the West. Again, thanks, among other things, to "non-war." No, it wasn't heaven on earth. Is DP going to deliver that?
Finally, header mentions that he is very skeptical that liberal democracy will be established in our lifetimes in the Middle East. Why does this even matter to him, if he is so skeptical about the connection between peace and democracy? Or does he harbor lurking democratic peace tendencies?
I'm actually quite concerned that a U.S. administration seems to be committing us to endless war in the Middle East in the name of promoting democracy there. I think that such a commitment is not cost-effective in terms of U.S. interests even we were able to achieve democracy in the region. It's certainly a waste of lives and money if you've concluded that that is not a realistic objective. That matters to me.


Gothamimage said…
That was an interesting debate -- it seem he wished to pigeonhole you in a political category more specific than liberatarian. As that became difficult, he seemed to have some cognitive dissonance. Regarding you view of Condi - they go to against the media consensus. There may be all sorts of people who agree with you, but they will never admit that. Condi has all sorts of degrees, references, and credentials. That stuff matters to people in the media.

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