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Political Philosophy on War - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 58
War/Political philosophy/Forbes: Liberal democracies have rarely or never gone to war with each other. But can we say that democracy is a cause of peace or a sufficient condition for it? The hypothesis can claim a root deep in modern political theory (Doyle, 1983(1); Cavallar, 2001(2); Franceschet, 2001(3)).
Statistics: The earliest statistical studies (Babst, 1972(4); Small and Singer, 1976(5)) suffered from some obvious shortcomings, but more recent studies have been models of careful conceptualization, assiduous data collection, and sophisticated multivariate data analysis.
Problems: (...) since the relevant cases are so few, the coding of one or two problematic ones (Spain’s status as a democracy in 1898, Finland’s status as an enemy of the Allied powers from 1941 to 1944) can have a substantial impact on the results of any statistical analysis.
„Empirical laws“: Despite these difficulties, there is now a consensus that empirical research generally supports the hypothesis: joint democracy seems to be a sufficient condition for peaceful relations between states (for reviews of the literature see Chan, 1997(6); Ray, 1995(7); 1998(8); Russett, 1993(9); Russett and Oneal, 2001(10)). This now widely accepted ‘empirical law’ about ‘democratic dyads’ provides an outstanding example of statistically based causal theorizing in political science.
Even strong and well-established statistical relationships invite conflicting causal interpretations, however. Thus Joanne Gowa (1999)(11), using the same historical data as many other studies of democracy and war, suggests that there was a different relationship between these variables before World War I than there has been since World War II. Before World War I, it seems, democracies may have been more likely than autocracies to threaten each other militarily and no less likely to be involved in war. Only since World War II do the data support the idea of a ‘democratic peace’. In other words, the hypothesis does not hold universally, according to Gowa, but only as a statistical rule in particular circumstances, as a by-product of a particular structure of alliances. Other recent studies have advanced a related critique, suggesting that broad ‘cultural variables’ (similarities of interest and outlook) are more important than ‘structural variables’ (forms of government) in explaining the relations between states (Gartzke, 1998(12); Henderson, 1998(13); Kacowicz, 1995(14)) or that other political similarities, such as joint republicanism or joint dictatorship, may be as strongly associated with peace between states as joint democracy is (Peceny, Beer and SanchezTerry, 2002(15); Weart, 1998(16); Werner, 2000(17)). >Positive Political Theory/Forbes.


1. Doyle, Michael (1983) ‘Kant, liberal legacies, and foreign affairs’, Parts I and II. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 12: 205–35, 323–53.
2. Cavallar, Georg (2001) ‘Kantian perspectives on democratic peace: alternatives to Doyle’. Review of International Studies, 27: 229–48.
3. Franceschet, Antonio (2001) ‘Sovereignty and freedom: Immanuel Kant’s liberal internationalist “legacy”’. Review of International Studies, 27: 209–28.
4. Babst, Dean (1972) ‘A force for peace’. Industrial Research, 4 (4): 55–8.
5. Small, Melvin and J. David Singer (1976) ‘The warproneness of democratic regimes’. Jerusalem Journal of International Relations, 1: 50–69.
6. Chan, Steve (1997) ‘In search of democratic peace: problems and promise’. Mershon International Studies Review, 41: 59–91.
7. Ray, James Lee (1995) Democracy and International Conflict: An Evaluation of the Democratic Peace Proposition. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.
8. Ray, James Lee (1998) ‘Does democracy cause peace?’ Annual Review of Political Science, 1: 27–46.
9. Russett, Bruce (1993) Grasping the Democratic Peace: Principles for a Post-Cold War World. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
10. Russett, Bruce and John R. Oneal (2001) Triangulating Peace: Democracy, Interdependence, and International Organizations. New York: Norton.
11. Gowa, Joanne (1999) Ballots and Bullets: The Elusive Democratic Peace. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
12. Gartzke, Erik (1998) ‘Kant we all just get along? Opportunity, willingness, and the origins of the democratic peace’. American Journal of Political Science, 42: 1–27.
13. Henderson, Errol A. (1998) ‘The democratic peace through the lens of culture, 1820–1989’. International Studies Quarterly, 42: 461–84.
14. Kacowicz, Arie M. (1995) ‘Explaining zones of peace: democracies as satisfied powers?’ Journal of Peace Research, 32: 265–76.
15. Peceny, Mark, Caroline C. Beer and Shannon SanchezTerry (2002) ‘Dictatorial peace?’ American Political Science Review, 96: 15–26.
16. Weart, Spencer R. (1998) Never at War: Why Democracies Will Not Fight One Another. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
17. Werner, Suzanne (2000) ‘The effects of political similarity on the onset of militarized disputes, 1816–1985’. Political Research Quarterly, 53: 343–74.


Forbes, H. Donald 2004. „Positive Political Theory“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications.


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The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Political Philosophy
Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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