Blogs > Liberty and Power > On Democracy, War and Roderick Long's Argument

Nov 28, 2006 10:44 am

On Democracy, War and Roderick Long's Argument

When I wrote “Democracies are not states, except in a purely legal sense. This is why they do not act like states internationally. Most importantly, democracies do not fight other democracies, nor do they kill large numbers of their own citizens.”
Roderick replied:
“Well, democracies do a pretty good job of acting like states in their relations with non-democracies. One reason they don’t attack each other as much is that democracies tend to be more prosperous than non-democracies so it’s riskier to attack one; I think Hoppe is largely right about that.”

I respond:

Hoppe is simply wrong. For example, Denmark is prosperous. It is also pretty small. Denmark needn’t worry about Germany. Prosperous Kuwait had quite a bit to worry about… As we are learning in Iraq, risk also need not be a function of wealth.

There are many many wars throughout history where the opponents were well enough matched that the outcome was fraught with risk for both sides. Simple risk calculation is in no sense a adequate explanation for why wars are or are not fought. It is an explanation we might expect from an economic reductionist. But it is easily shown to be wrong.

Roderick again:
“Still, it happens; most of the “non-democratic” participants in World War I, for example, were in fact largely democratic.”

Take Germany as the best of your counter examples. Its domestic politics was largely democratic and had been for some time. Germany also had well developed political parties. But, and this is crucial, its foreign policy was completely independent of the Reichstag. The Kaiser decided without democratic oversight. Rather like the Bush/Cheney model (which is one reason it is so dangerous). Consequently the democratic processes that are so important in keeping the peace never had a chance to operate.

Democracy is not magic. There are identifiable reasons why democratic processes keep the peace between democracies, as my article on the subject in the Review of Politics explained in some detail after the Independent Review refused to allow the issue to be broached in its pages. It can also be downloaded from my website, go to “Politics” and click, then scroll down to the relevant article.

Many of the third-world countries in which the U.S. has intervened were also largely democratic, or at least more democratic before the intervention than after.

I discuss this in my article. At some length. Once you understand the REASONS for why democracies do not fight democracies, you will see that these examples actually support the argument.
And then of course there’s the U. S. Civil War. If you regard the Union and the Confederacy as separate nations, then we have a war between two democracies.

Hardly. The South was not a democracy. Not only was a substantial portion of its population enslaved, its laws made it illegal for Southerners to question that slavery. Books and newspapers were banned. The most basic principles of democratic and republican government were violated on a massive scale in the antebellum South.

That is why the North could be called a democracy even though women did not have the vote. There were no problems in arguing they should, and those arguments ultimately prrevailed. Once women did have the vote there were no radical changes in their legal and social status in sharp contrast to that of Blacks in the South.

Vice President of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens put my point very well when he said “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its corner-stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery – subordination to the superior race – is his natural and normal condition.

“Thus our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.“

Democracies are characterized by purely procedural rules. The South was characterized by constitutional rules that reinforced a particular point of view and penalized even its own citizens for questioning this order, potentially with death. Thus, the South established a federation of states with some democratic characteristics inherited from the Founding era, but that were basically slave dependent oligarchies controlled by a slave owning class who made political competition against them impossible and usually illegal. For example, property qualifications in many Southern states made it impossible for non-slaveholders to hold office.

Thus the South was organized around serving a particular interest, and its rules were therefore not procedural but instrumental and teleological, like any instrumental organization. Southern states were states in the strong sense.

Democracies act like this during war time because at that time there is widespread agreement as to what needs to be done and hysteria against those who think otherwise. The South was organized along this line even in peacetime. It was so organized at the state level before secession.

This is separate from the issue of whether they should have been allowed to secede.

"If you regard the Confederacy as an unsuccessful aspirant to separate status, then the Union was a democracy that killed large numbers of its own citizens."

As Sweden and Norway demonstrated, along with the Czech Republic, secession can and does take place peacefully in democracies. In the case of the Civil War three things undermined this happy outcome. First, the demonization on both sides before the secession. Second, the South’s initial resort to violence. Violence does wonders at turning off rational thought. Lincoln also. But had the South been genuinely democratic, I personally think there would have been no war, either because there would have been no secession, or because if Lincoln had invaded there would have been insufficient moral energy on the North’s part to wage it successfully. But no, the South was most definitely not a democracy.

One of the biggest intellectual and historical frauds perpetrated by some Southerners on classical liberals was that they in any sense at all fought for liberty, except for the liberty of those in power to do as they willed.

It hasn’t changed. The South is still the most thoroughly illiberal part of the country – in any sense of the word liberal.

Also, a democratic regime can vote itself into non-democracy and then kill lots of its own citizens, as in the transition from the Weimar Republic to the Nazi regime.

The Nazis never received a majority of the vote. The fall of the Weimar Republic was a complex affair, but this version is not even close. There are many histories of this time, and all agree that the Nazis did not receive a majority of the votes, that in Germany’s last free election their percentage of the vote fell, and that they used extra constitutional means to create their dictatorship.

So I remain unconvinced by the democratic peace hypothesis.

If these are the best counter examples, the hypothesis is in good shape. But please see the major writings on the subject. My piece is a relatively short introduction and the only one outside my book that explicitly makes the connection with spontaneous order in Hayek's sense. But my view is not idiosyncratic. R. J. Rummel, the first to explore this issue using modern statistics and the like, agrees with me, and independently arrived at similar insights.

One reason war is such a problem in democracies is that it turns the political system into an organization. There is one clear goal and all else is subordinated to it. Disagreement is treason. While war may sometimes be unavoidable, it is always a serious threat to democratic institutions because they are incompatible with an organizational approach to politics.

It is no accident that when agreement is most fervent, during wartime, is when democracies act most undemocratically. That should give people a clue that in reality democracies are not defined simply as majority rule.

The deepest criminality of the Republican Party is that they sought to make war permanent, thereby destroying American democracy. Look at how they sought to make every election a referendum on the war - until theor own greed, corruption, and incompetence made it an albatross for them. There are no criteria for when the so-called "War on terror" will be over, and until it is over they and their little Caesar claim war powers, despite war having never been declared. Any American who understood the logic of the Constitution and the principles behind it would see that these people are guilty of treason.

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Robert Higgs - 11/30/2006

DiZeraga puts me in mind of the old story about a mother watching her son march with his troop in a parade: "Why, look! They're all out of step but Johnny!"

DiZerega has an idea: he thinks that democracies are spontaneous orders. The rest of the world finds this idea incoherent because governments whose leaders were chosen in open elections (i.e., democratic governments, as normally understood) do not produce a spontaneous order, as the actors do in the market process, in the use and change of forms of language, in the historical use and change of forms of money, and so forth. Instead, democratic governments, like other governments, stick a gun in people's faces and tell them: "Do as I tell you or I'll blow your head off." Whatever you wish to call this type of action, "spontaneous order" is the wrong term, and imagining that it is the right term is a deeply misguided idea.

But alas, I, along with the rest of the world's editors, readers, writers, thinkers, and so on may all simply be out of step. Thank goodness diZerega can hear and march to that different drummer's beat.

By the way, I hope no one will be inclined to accept diZerega's claim that no new ideas appear in THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW. I invite everyone to read the journal and hence to reach an informed opinion on this question.

Gus diZerega - 11/30/2006

Higgs has demonstrated something else in his post – that he cannot or will not understand a critical rejoinder.

I could hardly have argued that IR was suppressing discussion of the democratic peace hypothesis because as I said, my article was in response to a critical review of Rummel’s book that appeared on its pages. I am happy that occasionally the argument reappears. Bravo!

But that was I think pretty obviously not my point.

As I explicitly said, my point was that IR does a good job publishing a variety of pre-existing schools of thought and a poor job of publishing anything new. This is obviously quite different from what Higgs accuses me of saying. Further, that this kind of thing is part of a wider pattern I encountered, and the most sympathetic explanation I could find was that editors and other gate keepers are protective of intellectual turf and loath to open the door to new insights or arguments. This has been a problem in intellectual life for about 2000 plus years. It is hardly unique to classical liberals or to Robert Higgs.

IF democracies are spontaneous orders, much libertarian and classical liberal thought needs to be reframed because it is based on an incorrect model of what a democracy is. The same holds true with a great deal of liberal and classical liberal analysis. This means that the realm of unexpected findings suddenly opens up wider than before. We do not know where it will lead. For that reason it is reasonable to expect arguments such as mine to be subjected to intense criticism. But it is not reasonable for credible scholarship to be ignored or suppressed. I leave it to the reader to say whether it was ignored or suppressed in IR.

Recent studies of brain imaging at Emory University have shown that strong partisans do not think very rationally about challenges to their position. Higgs response seems a pretty good illustration of their finding. Gate keepers in particular should be able to see merit in being somewhat open to challenges because even if the challenge is ultimately rebutted, the energy expended in the effort sharpens everyone’s intellects. When challenges are ignored or suppressed, a school of thought ossifies.0

To my knowldge, this blog is the only place left where competing classical liberal and libertarian perspectives can confront one another without the control of a gate keeper with an agenda. Thus there is intellectual energy and creativity here that I do not see elsewhere in the classical liberal community. There used to be a Hayek list, but it seems to be defunct. This problem bodes ill for the future of the classical liberal tradition.

I will give one piece of quite different evidence to back me up here. Hayek pioneered spontaneous order theory in the 20th century, building largely on the Scottish Enlightenement. For a while good stuff was emerging from Austrian economists and those allied with them, particularly with respect to economic planning issues and to some degree with common law. A possible spin off inspired mostly by Michael Polanyi did great work on science as a spontaneous order, something Hayek had commented on as well.

Today little that is new or innovative is coming from people who are largely inspired by Hayek’s approach. In my view most of the really innovative work is coming from people who focus on the world wide web as an emergent order. Check out Yochai Benkler’s Wealth of Networks (Yale, 2006) for a good example. He even mentions Hayek in passing, but his background seems not to be there. You can download Benkler’s book online. Nor is Benkler alone.

Anyone well acquainted with Hayekian or Austrian thought with a Hayekian bias, will see important points of connection and potential mutual enrichment. These people would benefit from an encounter with Hayekian perspectives, and vice versa. But where are the books by Hayekians on these phenomena? The classical liberal community is not a very friendly place for research that open up questions that might require orthodoxy to be questioned, at least with respect to applying, developing and expanding spontaneous order theory. It is just fine as it is as a weapon in the “war of ideas.”

If Robert Higgs or anyone else wants to discuss the democratic peace argument or my contention that it, and a great many other unique features of democratic regimes, exists because democracies are emergent orders rather than instrumental organizations of domination, I have time to discuss or debate. But I am through with this issue.

Gus diZerega - 11/30/2006

Thanks, Mark. As to WWI, I am no expert on that era. There are people on this list who doubtless know a bunch more than me. I haven't read anything very substantive about the diplomatic and military history of that era in at least 30 years, other than stuff about Wilson.

Having said that, as I understand it, Germany was Great Britain's strongest European rival, and was growing steadily stronger. The kinds of dynamics that would serve to reduce tensions and fears between democratic countries did not exist, and as I understand it, Wilhelm did indeed harbor imperial ambitions and was rapidly building a fleet to rival the British, a VERY provacative step from the English point of view.

I imagine they decided better now than later, and - again based on old reading, neither they nor anyone else anticipated the conflagration that would ensue.

Democratic leaders are little better than undemocratic ones with respect to war. It is the dynamics of the two potentially rival systems that matter far more than the people in charge. In other worlds, mine is an invisible hand kind of argument.

Mark Brady - 11/30/2006

I'm grateful for your thoughtful and nuanced answer that better explains your analysis of democratic and undemocratic states. That said, I shall ask another question. What do you say regarding the fact that it was "democratic" Britain that declared war on "undemocratic" Germany, and not the other way around?

Robert Higgs - 11/29/2006

My mother, looking down from heaven, will be relieved by diZerega's declaration that "Higgs is not a liar"—she was always strict about such things—but I fear she may be troubled to learn that her younger son has developed a "different . . . weakness," namely, ideological rigidity. Perhaps a few additional words are in order.

It seems to me that diZerega knows a great deal about me, considering that we have never met, and about the journal I edit, THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, considering that he "now only look[s] at it occasionally." Well, some men are masters of inference, and they can infer a great deal from a handful of data. I worry, however, that diZerega may be privy to my FBI files.

DiZerega has convinced himself that Higgs, "one of the gate keepers of classical liberal thought," won't let anybody write for TIR unless they hew to his personal, rigid, ideological line. These things are news to me. I would be walking taller if I believed for one moment that I am a gate keeper of classical liberal thought. As editor of TIR, I am more like a beggar. Forever desperate for decent materials, I fall over myself in my haste to acquire acceptable articles or even papers with the potential to be molded into acceptable articles. Anyone can see that there is more journal space available in this world than there is good material to fill it. To think of myself as standing sternly at the gate, warding off anyone whose ideological odor offends my delicate sensibilities—why, I can scarcely hold back the laughter.

But let us return to some indisputable facts with regard to this topic—the democratic peace—that I supposedly don't want to have broached in TIR. At least six articles in the journal have dealt directly with this topic so far: Ted Galen Carpenter's review essay on Rummel's book "Power Kills" (winter 1998); R. J. Rummel's reply to that review (summer 1998); Carpenter's rejoinder (summer 1998); Edward P. Stringham's article on Cobden's ideas (summer 2004); Erich Weede's major survey article (fall 2004); and Stephen W. Carson's article (winter 2007, due out in a few weeks). Other articles and reviews that bear less directly on the democratic-peace thesis have also appeared in TIR. So, diZerega's most recent insistence that TIR "did refuse to allow the subject to be discussed in its pages" and that rather than encouraging debate, "Higgs shut it down" does not hold water. Indeed, I invited Rummel to reply to Carpenter's initial review. DiZerega fancies that I rejected his submission because it "challenged [my] own strong opinion," but I have never done any research or writing in the field of democratic-peace studies or, except in passing, about spontaneous-order theory, so I don't have a dog in this fight. Moreover, it does seem odd, given DiZerega's dark suspicions, that a member of TIR's board of editors is Bruce Russett, who is a major contributor to the literature on the democratic-peace thesis and a strong supporter of the thesis—and also someone with whom I have maintained friendly professional relations for many years.

I love controversy in TIR. It enlivens the pages and attracts readers. Those who, unlike diZerega, read the journal regularly know that I frequently include debates under the rubric "Controversy" and that these debates have been spirited. Inasmuch as I cannot be on both sides of these debates simultaneously, it appears that I may not be as ideologically rigid as diZerega claims. Perhaps if he read the journal regularly, rather than simply shooting at it from the hip, he would have a more informed opinion of TIR and its editor.

Gus diZerega - 11/29/2006

There was a big difference between Britain and Germany, but before I go more deeply into that, let me explain in more detail why Britain qualifies as a democracy. It will also explain why germany did not.

What makes a country a democracy in the sense in which I use the term is that the rules for political contest have become purely or nearly purely procedural. They do not exist to deliberately give the advantage to any partial interest in society at the expense of the rest – and most importantly, do not discourage any political movement with significant public support from contesting for power. Further, there is enough freedom of speech and press so that unpopular positions have the opportunity to reach and convince others, and grow in support. In other words, the system rests basically on popular persuasion.

As a consequence, what is vital is an ongoing process of political criticism and contestation in a environment where no side has the power to suppress its critics, and critics have the genuine opportunity to take power from those they criticize if they win a basically fair election. The decision is less important, whatever it is, than the dynamics surrounding it on both ends.

This model describes the political version of a spontaneous order: rules are procedural, participants have abstract but not necessarily concrete equality, any or virtually any position can be argued for publicly and seek popular votes, if it gets the votes, it wins. There is freedom of organization for all seeking to influence politics. Thus the rules facilitate people coming together to seek support for public values.

Because the government can wield coercive power, there are substantial prices to be paid for this institution due to corruption and the risk of being taken over by undemocratic factions (Nazis, Christian Right, Communists), but in the absence of other means for providing public values, people rely on democracies to do so. So far no undemocratic group has received a majority of the vote in a reasonably well established democracy.

By this definition, Britain was a democracy or pretty close. Property qualifications were not particularly high and residency was to a significant degree a matter of choice. Remember, England moved from being an oligarchic aristocracy to a democracy in a series of steps. Just when the line was crossed is a judgment call. But by WWI she had a popularly elected parliament whose leader, the Prime Minister, essentially was the country’s leader. The monarch was largely ceremonial, and steadily became more so.

Consequently the rules of the game rewarded seeking as many popular votes as possible, the ability to compromise differences with allies, ability to survive and thrive in an atmosphere of public debate where one’s position could be legitimately challenged, and so on. In other words, political power was based on the ability to convince people with no power that you and your party were preferable to other choices who could easily have voted for a competitor.

Germany was quite different. Unlike the British royals, the Kaiser was no figurehead. The German chancellor was appointed by and could be dismissed by Wilhelm II. The emperor had direct authority over the army. The military was largely independent from the War Ministry, the Kaiser was very active in foreign affairs, and the chancellor was in no sense the creature of the Reichstag. In other words, Germany’s foreign policy was not subordinate to popular government. When Woodrow Wilson (a man I basically despise) said WWI was a “war to make the world safe for democracy” no one argued that this did not make sense because our chief opponent was also a democracy. No one.

Germany had democratic elements. Strong ones. Had the war not taken place, in all likelihood the Reichstag would have continued to slowly gain power at the emperor’s expense. But, alas, that is not what happened.

Mark Brady - 11/29/2006

Some 58% of men over 21 had the vote (not more because of property and residency qualifications). I think it's fair to say that the UK had freedom of press and speech, freedom to organize politically, and freedom to challenge the incumbent party. The Liberals, latterly with Irish Home Rule and Labour support, and the Conservatives were alternately the two governing parties. So would you call the UK in 1914 a democracy?

That said, Germany in 1914 may be characterized in a not dissimilar fashion. In which case, if you would call the UK in 1914 a democracy, why wouldn't you also call Germany in 1914 a democracy?

Gus diZerega - 11/29/2006

Did they have universal or near universal manhood suffrage? Freedom of press and speech? Freedom to organize politically? Freedom to challenge the incumbent party and have a fair chance of winning an election?

If so, yes.

Gus diZerega - 11/29/2006

I said Rummel was "about as close" to a libertarian as you will find in international relations. And much closer than most. For that matter there are members of this blog who argued with me years ago as to whether we should attack Iraq. I said no, they said yes. I have argued with Rummel about the same issue.

He has far greater faith than I do in a kind of social engineering. And I think he underestimates just how disasterous to democratic institutions war can be.

So Rummel and I apparently agree as to why democracies do not fight one another but disagree on other things.

Mark Brady - 11/29/2006

Would you call the UK in 1914 a democracy?

Anthony Gregory - 11/29/2006

He supports preventative war and censorship. How close is he to a libertarian, really? Doesn't he specifically say he's not a libertarian, since he disagrees with libertarians on such crucial issues? This isn't to say none of his research is useful to libertarian thinkers. But he doesn't seem like he's very libertarian to me, and he himself appears to agree with this assessment.

Gus diZerega - 11/29/2006

Higgs is right about one thing. This is a little event. I referred to it in passing both in this case and in the original one because it was part of a pattern of events, each little in itself, but when taken together, perhaps not so little, because the pattern indicates the openness of ideologues to challenging intellectual and scholarly inquiry, even when they are ideologues for their view of freedom.

What follows will shed little light on the democratic peace hypothesis and more light than most want on the politics of publishing in ideological environments. To put the matter briefly, in my view Higgs is not a liar, he is ideologically rigid. That is a different, more common, and more frequently encountered, weakness.

Of course I read his note to me about his refusal to publish. And as he notes, I also participated in a subsequent discussion with him on this list where he said he tried to be polite to me in that original note because in fact the paper was incompetent, even though that is not what he had originally written.

Interestingly, during the Liberty and Power discussion Higgs also said he respected R. J. Rummel's work on the democratic peace. Any reader can go back to the discussion and read that for themselves. Rummel has said several times, including in his own blog, that my arguments are among the most perceptive in grasping his own analysis of why democracies do not fight one another.

So - if my work was so shoddy, why does Rummel, whom Higgs respects, like it so much? Why was it then readily accepted in The Review of Politics, a major peer reviewed journal?

My GUESS is that it’s problem for Higgs was that it was out of the traditional ideological box. Independent Review, while often having very good articles, generally selects those that already fall fairly clearly into well established camps. (Which is chiefly why I now only look at it occasionally.)

I personally suspect that the fact my analysis challenged Higgs own strong opinion that democracies are states just like dictatorships didn’t help. I argued then and now that democracies are not leviathans. Hobbes’ front piece of a giant man made up of little men is an image of an instrumental organization. It has a big head, symbolizing purposes and goals, which is how the international relations field generally describes states. I argued that only in wartime (or conceivably in a huge natural disaster) did democracies resemble such an image, and that the resemblance was temporary. That is why a permanent crisis is so destructive of democracies – it can potentially turn them into states. The Nazis used claims for such a crises to do that to the Weimar Republic.

I still think IR would have been a better venue for the article than the Review of Politics, even though the latter is more respected in the scholarly community, because I was trying to encourage discussion by people already somewhat knowledgeable about Hayek’s work and the concept of spontaneous order. Few in mainstream political science are. Further, in its original form my article attempted to contribute to an issue that had just appeared in IR’s pages – a long review essay of Rummel’s work. It did not arrive out of the blue. What more logical place to publish?

So I stand on my statement. IR did refuse to allow the subject to be discussed in its pages. Higgs’ note did not say revise and we will reconsider. It did not say, address the following objections if you want it in this journal. He gave no concrete objection at all. He did not say anything other than – seems wrong to me, we will not publish. Perhaps Higgs can find a different meaning than “refuse to publish” in this response, I cannot.

In that original exchange with Higgs here at Liberty and Power he did correct me on one point, which I immediately acknowledged. The person I was rebutting was not Higgs. He was the editor. The episode happened many years ago and I had since mixed up the name of the editor and the author I was criticizing in my memory.

Higgs might say – just get over it. I have. (In fact, I later encouraged a student of mine to submit an article on drug issues to IR for publication, and it was accepted. No generalized hard feelings, even.) I only bring it up in appropriate contexts – and then Higgs gets upset, jumps in, and we discuss it at greater length than most readers probably want.

Higgs is one of the gate keepers of classical liberal thought. In terms of keeping IR open to existing varieties of orthodox classical liberalism I give him good grades and always have. I fault him, and will probably always fault him, for not encouraging subjects that challenge from new directions while still working within the classical liberal paradigm.

The alternative interpretation to ideological rigidity is less charitable: Higgs does in fact encourage dissent except when his own theoretical paradigm is directly challenged.

The democratic peace hypothesis, whether Higgs likes it or not, is taken increasingly seriously by mainstream scholars. Its primary theorist, R. J. Rummel, is about as close to a libertarian as you are likely to find in the international relations field. That should interest libertarian and classical liberal scholars, although for the most part is has not.

My own contribution was to argue a Hayekian approach would shed additional light on the subject. But in the process I challenged several apparently sacred orthodoxies – that democracies are states just like undemocratic governments and that the market is not the only significant spontaneous order. Rather than encouraging debate to see whether I was right or part right, or simply engaged in a new form of error, Higgs shut it down.

Given that I was replying to a very negative attack on Rummel in IR, and that to my knowledge no other defense of him by a reader was published, encouraging debate seems to have been far removed from Higgs’ mind. I think it still is.

Higgs can say it was written poorly. I can say it was well done as is evidenced by the fact that it was later published (minus discussion of the Rummel review) along with the fact that it was earlier part of a Berkeley Ph.D. dissertation. But those are ultimately our opinions. What matters is how people think who actually read the argument and address its points.

Gus diZerega - 11/29/2006

True enough. That is why I emphasized that if peace is to be secured those kinds of choices must be short circuited nefore they arise. Once a people has been manipulated into that kind of situation, the result is essentially a foregone conclusion.

The form of democracuy is not what is important - it is the process. And that is what was lacking in Germany.

Truly, except for debates like this, NO ONE has ever called Kaiser Wilhelm II's germany a democracy. No one.

Robert Higgs - 11/29/2006

Gus diZerega makes the statement: "There are identifiable reasons why democratic processes keep the peace between democracies, as my article on the subject in the Review of Politics explained in some detail after the Independent Review refused to allow the issue to be broached in its pages."

Veteran readers of Liberty & Power may recall that I entered into a discussion of this matter some time ago, because, as the editor who made the decision to which diZerega refers, I knew what had been done and why, whereas diZerega simply made accusations without being in a position to know.

Now he says that "the Independent Review refused to allow the issue to be broached in its pages." Not true. The Independent Review--that is, Robert Higgs, the review's editor--made a decision to decline publishing diZerega's paper, on the ground that it did not meet the journal's standards of scholarship. As editor, it is part of my job to make such judgments. My decision had nothing to do with a refusal to "allow the issue [dealt with in diZerega's paper] to be broached."

How many times must I repeat the facts of this little episode before diZerega will accept that I made a decision for reasons that I know and he does not, even though I have told him (and the world) at this site?

Dear Mr. diZerega: If you are simply calling me a liar, please feel free to make clear that you are doing so. (Of course, if you are simply calling me a liar, someone may want to see your evidence.) Otherwise, please cease telling this false story, which impugns my integrity and the good reputation of the journal I edit.

Mark Brady - 11/28/2006

Gus: "But in matters of foreign affairs the Kaiser retained absolute power. Foreign policy was not a matter of parliamentary control. And it was the Kaiser’s foreign policy, unchecked by democratic processes, that led to Germany’s involvement in WWI."

The Social Democrats voted for war credits to finance the war. Foreign policy was therefore in that sense at least a matter of parliamentary control. This was paralleled by events in the UK. British understandings with France and Russia had been concluded without reference to the British Parliament. Subsequently, MPs voted to finance the war. Without those votes in the Reichstag and the Westminster parliament, neither the Kaiser nor the British cabinet would have been able to fight a war.

Gus diZerega - 11/28/2006

Hoppe is still wrong.

First. Statistics is a major tool of science, even if Hoppe doesn’t like it. Sorry. Second, and more to the point, my argument is in fact not based on statistics, except for the fact that there are no cases on one side and many on the other. But let’s set all that aside.

Hoppe says there is no more than a single case; post WWII Europe. Has Hoppe ever heard of the US/Canada border? The longest unmilitarized border in the world? It’s been that way for a long time. Long before WWII, and there are no US troops stationed in Canada.

With the fall of communism many Eastern European nations have taken the democratic route. This region was rife with territorial claims on one another. But there is little evidence that anyone need worry about war breaking out.

Has Hoppe ever heard of Switzerland? Not in NATO and not threatened by or a threat to its neighbors. Sweden? Same thing. Ireland? Ditto. If ever a country had reason to be mad at the English, it is the Irish. But no problems there, either.

And before WWII Sweden and Norway separated peacefully. No problem then, no problem now.

By comparison’s sake, every communist state whose party came to power on its own and that bordered another such state, fought a war with that neighbor. The sample is small, but 100% in the other direction: Russia/China, China/Vietnam, Vietnam/Kampuchea. Had Yugoslavia bordered the USSR, that would likely have been another example, once Tito broke with Stalin and Russia reportedly at least considered an invasion.

I am a strong critic of American foreign policy, and of its military adventurism, more so than some libertarians on this list, but in my view Hoppe’s analysis is about at the level of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade or the old Maoist Progressive Labor Party. Much fire and brimstone and self-righteous denunciation that must feel good, little attention to actual arguments.

Has Hoppe, or you for that matter, thought about the fact that when France left NATO – and there were no American troops in France – there was no tendency towards war breaking out between the US and France. In fact very little happened. But when Khrushchev and Mao had a falling out, a great deal more happened as a consequence, including a border war. And we know now that both parties knew they were militarily weaker than NATO, yet they still tied millions of their own troops and treasure down on one another’s borders. I discuss this in the easily downloadable peer reviewed article I recommended but that none of my critics have read.

Many foreign policy “realists” predicted that with the collapse of the USSR there would be a movement on the part of European countries to establish a countervailing military force to the US. It was supposedly going to center around Germany, perhaps with a closer alliance with France or Russia. Sorry, no sign of that. If Bush succeeds in turning the US into a Caesarist power, undemocratic in its foreign policy, maybe that will happen. But only then. And only with great US provocation.

One last point – what intrigues me most about the prevalence of war is not only that democracies do not do it with one another, but also how often it seems to arise when no one really wants it, and how the path to war seems to take on a life of its own. Wars often arise from miscalculations. There seems to be something about undemocratic states as such that makes war likely.

My own guess is that a big part of the problem is that dictators and the like need to be perceived as strong to maintain power against similar parasites who covet their position. "Backing down" in order to compromise in the face of a challenge is to seem “weak.” George Bush who is a dictator at heart, understands this. With men like him this problem is even afflicts democracies. But democracies have secure positions for their leaders so long as they abide by the rules. Dictatorships do not. Consequently, undemocratic states have a hard time compromising because those in power fear they will be punished by ouster if they do.

Democracies seem institutionally oriented towards compromising or isolating differences, and this manages to defuse situations when both are democratic.

Gus diZerega - 11/28/2006

The German example illustrates why those who are interested in the issue would be well advised to actually read the studies before commenting on the argument. There is actually a rather large literature by this point. I have tried to make it as easy as possible by making my own paper available as a free download, but to little avail.

Here is why the German example does not rebut the argument.

Germany was internally reasonably democratic before WWI. But in matters of foreign affairs the Kaiser retained absolute power. Foreign policy was not a matter of parliamentary control. And it was the Kaiser’s foreign policy, unchecked by democratic processes, that led to Germany’s involvement in WWI.

The democratic peace argument is not a magical one that says once a country becomes democratic in some sense, there is an instant and unexplained move towards peace with other democracies. Rather, insofar as democratic procedures are in place, foreign policy becomes increasingly subjected to domestic political issues. Public debate, pressure by the opposition, and a tendency among democracies to isolate disagreements and focus on areas of agreement – as was famously seen in the aftermath of France’s withdrawal from NATO, are par for the course. Indeed, this tendency to compromise was why many cold war observers wondered whether democracies would be able to successfully oppose Russia. After all, they compromised with Hitler at Munich.

Once war starts, or is virtually guaranteed, people in just about every nation line up in support of their rulers. Germany was no different than many classical liberals at the eve of the war with Iraq. The reaction is almost hard wired in the human psyche. Therefore the important task is to prevent such situations arising, because once they do most people’s critical facilities break down very fast.

Democracies manage to do this when both potential antagonists are democratic.

As to Bush – my how we work at not understanding my point!

Bush is seeking to insulate the executive branch from all democratic influences. Conservatives and many classical liberals have been conspicuous enablers, by the way. If he manages to do this – and happily this now seems less likely than it did a few months ago – I would say that in the US the democratic checks on war will have broken down. Since he has next succeeded, they have not. The very public debate over Iraq is a case in point.

I suggest that critics try and read my posts before criticizing them.

Anthony Gregory - 11/28/2006

Indeed, this is a problem with democratic peace theory. So Germany was no longer a democracy because it waged war in a non-democratic manner. This seems somewhat circular. Gus implies that Bush, too, is waging war in a non-democratic manner. Is the US not a democracy, then? And if not, what does this democratic peace theory really tell us — that so long as democracies don't adopt autocratic warmaking procedures, they will not wage war on other democracies? And how likely is it for a democracy to stop being a democracy just long enough to wage a war?

Anthony Gregory - 11/28/2006

Gus: "Hoppe is simply wrong. For example, Denmark is prosperous. It is also pretty small. Denmark needn’t worry about Germany. Prosperous Kuwait had quite a bit to worry about… As we are learning in Iraq, risk also need not be a function of wealth."

Here is Hoppe's explanation:


"Since almost no democracies existed before the 20th century the answer supposedly must be found within the last hundred years or so. In fact, the bulk of the evidence offered in favor of the thesis is the observation that the countries of Western Europe have not gone to war against each other in the post–World War II era. Likewise, in the Pacific region, Japan and South Korea have not warred against each other during the same period. Does this evidence prove the case? The democratic-peace theorists think so. As "scientists" they are interested in "statistical" proof, and as they see it there are plenty of "cases" on which to build such proof: Germany did not war against France, Italy, England, etc.; France did not war against Spain, Italy, Belgium, etc.. Moreover, there are permutations: Germany did not attack France, nor did France attack Germany, etc.. Thus, we have seemingly dozens of confirmations — and that for some 60 years — and not a single counterexample. But do we really have so many confirming cases?
The answer is no: we have actually no more than a single case at hand. With the end of World War II, essentially all of — by now: democratic — Western Europe (and democratic Japan and South Korea in the Pacific region) has become part of the US Empire, as indicated by the presence of US troops in practically all of these countries. What the post World War II period of peace then "proves" is not that democracies do not go to war against each other but that a hegemonic, imperialist power such as the United States did not let its various colonial parts go to war against each other (and, of course, that the hegemon itself did not see any need to go to war against its satellites — because they obeyed — and they did not see the need or did not dare to disobey their master).
Moreover, if matters are thus perceived — based on an understanding of history rather than the naïve belief that because one entity has a different name than another their behavior must be independent from one another — it becomes clear that the evidence presented has nothing to do with democracy and everything with hegemony. For instance, no war broke out between the end of World War II and the end of the 1980s, i.e., during the hegemonic reign of the Soviet Union, between East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary, etc. Was this because these were communist dictatorships and communist dictatorships do not go to war against each other? That would have to be the conclusion of "scientists" of the caliber of democratic-peace theorists! But surely this conclusion is wrong. No war broke out because the Soviet Union did not permit this to happen — just as no war between Western democracies broke out because the United States did not permit this to happen in its dominion

Max Schwing - 11/28/2006

As I remember it from my history course during Gymnasium, not only Kaiser Wilhelm, but also the leadership of the Socialist party wanted this war. They were keen on engaging the enemy and only towards the end of the war, they wanted to back out.
I don't think that "Democracies" are the deciding factor, but rather the amount of nationalism. Pre-WWI Germany was in a blood-rush of nationalism and demanded the war.

At least, this is what they told me in school :)