Democracy and War: Rejoinder

By Carpenter, Ted Galen | Independent Review, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Democracy and War: Rejoinder


Carpenter, Ted Galen, Independent Review


Professor Rummel continues his tradition of creative historical revisionism. Given the amount of space he devoted to the peaceful-democracies thesis in his book, it is misleading--at the very least--for him now to argue that that was merely one of five propositions. It is by far the most prominent theme of his book; unfortunately, it is also the weakest.

Rummel's other objections are no more compelling. He invokes the work of yet another historian to "prove" that democracies never make war on each other. That invocation does little to remedy one of the more intractable problems with the democratic-peace theory: so much of the thesis depends on arbitrary coding decisions by the analysts involved. Whenever such scholars do not ignore the hard cases--as Rummel did repeatedly in Power Kills--they massage the evidence until it supports the conclusion that at least one of the parties to a conflict was not a real democracy. It is a safe bet that if war ever erupts between Greece and Turkey, Rummel and his colleagues will discover that one or both regimes failed to meet their purity test for being "well-established" democracies--a vacuous standard that can mean anything the writers want it to mean.

Nowhere is the arbitrary quality of coding decisions more evident than in Rummel's latest comments about Wilhelmine Germany. He notes that the Kaiser "had considerable power over foreign affairs, and the army was effectively independent from control by the democratically elected Reichstag. For all practical purposes, in foreign policy Germany was autocratic, without a democratic leash, and thus World War I hardly contradicts the proposition that democracies don't war on each other."

That observation is revealing in several respects. First, Rummel appears to be conceding that in domestic policy Germany was democratic--which raises the interesting question of why such democratic values and institutions did not carry over into the arena of foreign policy. Second, "for all practical purposes" the British and French governments also conducted foreign affairs as a policy fiefdom virtually immune from parliamentary input, much less control. …

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