The Democratic Peace Theory as I understand it…

Posted: October 13, 2011 in Uncategorized
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The democratic peace theory basically says that democracies do not go to war with each other. However in the following type I’ll only talk about two causal mechanisms of the DPT, and criticisms of the DPT. I wrote this in 30 minutes, the rest of class time I spent writing a second essay on realism…which I didn’t do so good at.

Welp here it goes…

The first variant of the DPT is the normative mechanism. This mechanism focuses on the “live and let live” norm that is externalized into other democratic states. This “live and let live” attitude takes root within the state’s institutions. For example, a person who competes with another for a political position will not be punished if he or she loses the election. Furthermore, disputes between politicians are settled through compromise, not by force. This action is also externalized to other democratic states when they negotiate through compromise instead of settling disputes via war.

The second variant is the structural mechanism. This consists of all of the domestic institutions which limit the power of leaders. One common institution is the power of the public to to influence a leader’s decisions via elections. A leader must first influence public opinion to support whatever it is that the politician wants to do. An effective and mature press is another institution which influences public opinion. Without an effective press, leaders could easily manipulate public opinion in order to bring about their own policies that the public may not necessarily support.

A criticism of the DPT is that the structural mechanism is not exclusive to democracies. Any other state can have institutions which limit leaders, which makes the DPT too general to apply to only democracies. The theory needs a causal mechanism that only democracies have in order for it to be a strong argument.

A second criticism of the democratic peace theory is that the theory is not strong enough of an explanation when compared to Realist theory. In the Fashoda crisis between France and Britain for example, the two countries were able to avoid war, but not because of the mutual respect based on “live and let live” norm, but because of Britain’s wants for vital interests. Britain was fully prepared to go to war with France, and France was unprepared. They did not avoid war through compromise, but through sheer intimidation.

A third criticism is that the DPT does not have clearly defined operational indicators of war or democracy. For example, how many institutions must a state have in order for it to be considered democratic? Whether or not a state is democratic is not like a coin—either heads(democratic, or tails(non-democratic)—rather, it is on a continuum. This raises the question: At what point on the continuum can we consider a state democratic in order for it to be tested according to the democratic peace theory? This happened with the case of the American Civil War. Democratic peace theorists avoid this case by saying that the confederacy was not democratic enough for it to be considered for testing.


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