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Democratic Peace Theory: Recent Developments

Final Report Summary - DPTRD (Democratic Peace Theory: Recent Developments)

In the last three decades political philosophers and international relations (henceforth IR) scholars have widely debated the so called 'democratic peace' thesis, i.e. the idea that liberal democracies are more pacific than authoritarian regimes. The root of this thesis is to be found in the Kantian essay To Perpetual Peace (Zum ewigen Frieden, 1795) where the German thinker argued that the main cause of war is not the evil nature of mankind, as philosophers and theologians had thought for centuries, but the lack of just political institutions.

With a series of famous articles published from 1983 to 1986 Michael Doyle placed Kant's intuition back to the centre of the international debate. Doyle used his sympathetic reconstruction of Kant's intuition to refute a central assumption of the realist school, namely that the external behaviour of a state is completely independent of the moral commitments valid 'within' and fully determined by the search of power (or security) in the anarchic international arena.

Since its appearance the jointly Kantian-Doyleian thesis (henceforth KDT) has been subject to a series of criticisms, arising mainly, but not only from the realist school. Critics have questioned both the empirical evidence in favour of the thesis and the interpretation of the causal factors underlying the 'democratic peace'. While it is clear that the KDT needs revisions and qualifications, research in this topic, despite an impressive numbers of publications, has not determined precisely their extent, i.e. whether it is possible to save the fundamental intuition that lies at the foundation of KDT. Research conducted by the fellow during the ERG n. 224862 has reached the following results:

1) A determination of the extent of the revisions made necessary by the criticisms of KDT. It was determined that more than a mere narrowing of the temporal validity of the democratic peace (no longer two centuries, but few decades) is necessary. It has been argued that they imply an overall rethinking of the grounds on which the theory rests. We made the case that a monadic interpretation of the theory fits better with Kant's original understanding, and is not readily refuted by empirical data, if database is properly changed and better interpreted.

2 ) A reflection on what specific features of modern democracies favour peaceful external relations. Kant's original intuition underscored the direct interest of citizens in peace, and the utilitarian approach has (wrongly) interpreted his recipe for peace as limited to this ingredient. However, the phenomenon of democratic nationalism in the Balkans, as well as the United States (US)-led invasion of Iraq, show that the mere respect of the average voter's will is not sufficient to avoid democratic wars against other democracies or wars fought for reasons other than self-defence.

3) The fellow evaluated the proposal to modify KDT by adding to the democracy requirement typically liberal elements such as a separation of powers, an independent and impartial judicial system, a fully developed system of parties, and a critical 'civil society' as further conditions for securing the peaceful external behaviour of a nation. It was determined that this is necessary but still not sufficient.

4) An analysis of whether the democratic peace can be guaranteed by satisfying the 'formal' conditions specified in 5) or whether an adequate level of social security and a generally widespread education are also essential factors; in this regard, the project intends to explore Rawls' 'more precise idea of the democratic peace' as presented in his The Law of Peoples.

5) An assessment of the prospects of KDT as basis for imagining new forms of global governance. In this context, KDT has been contrasted with two competing proposals:
a) the cosmopolitan democracy of D. Held and D. Archibugi;
b) the Plädoyer for a common European foreign policy by J. Habermas and J. Derrida.