Other Democratic Peace Documents On This Site
What is the "democratic peace"?
"Waging denuclearization and social justice through democracy"
"The rule of law: towards eliminating war"
"Freedom of the press--A Way to Global Peace"
Bibliography on Democracy and War
Q & A On Democracies Not Making War on Each Other
"The democratic peace: a new idea?"
"Libertarianism and International Violence"
"Libertarianism, Violence Within States, and the Polarity Principle"
"Libertarian Propositions on Violence Within and Between Nations: A Test Against Published Research Results"
"Democracies ARE less warlike than other regimes"
Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix (see Chapter 35)
Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace (see e.g., Propositions 16.11 and 16.27
Graduates! Roll that around on your tongue and savor it! You have done it. You have exploited your freedom, manipulated it to your advantage, and you have won. You have now better positioned yourself to further exercise your freedom, to choose your job, to advance your career. Congratulations.
I want to say something more about this freedom so manifested in your advanced degree. This is a freedom you may not yet appreciate. It is like the use of our arms and legs. We take them for granted until we have experienced an injury to one of our limbs. Then we suddenly appreciate how valuable and useful they are. In the same way we take for granted the freedom you have used so well.
No doubt you have selected your courses, chosen your major, picked your advisors, questioned your professors, even criticized our government, and enjoyed your freely chosen extra-curricular activities. All this you did without really giving any thought to how historically rare this freedom is; and how still in the majority of the world students or young people your age enjoy no such freedom. In many countries only politically or religiously correct students get to go to college, and then the government tells them what to major in and study, picks only politically or religiously correct textbooks and teachers for them, and allows them no criticism under threat of prison, torture, forced labor, or execution. And when they finally graduate the government often tells them where, when, and how they will work.
As valuable as your freedom has been in your getting a degree and will be in your new profession, this very same freedom will also secure your life and welfare and that of those you love. Freedom is like a marvelous inoculation that will protect you against deadly diseases. It is this further virtue of freedom that I want to expand on here.
Now, what I am going to say will both astonish and shock many of you. Indeed, many of you will look truly thoughtful as you check what I will say against the facts as your know them. Indeed, you should see the brows of my colleagues up here furrow as they also engage what I will say.
Before going further, however, let me define freedom. By this I mean the freedom that people have to pursue their own interests and beliefs, and includes their political liberties and civil rights as institutionalized in a liberal democracy. That is, freedom of religion and speech and organization, and the freedom to vote one's leaders out through regularized democratic elections.
With this in mind, consider. We now have an unbelievable simple and practical solution to the problem of war. It is democratic freedom. This freedom not only empowers you to learn and critically engage as you have, but it ends war. Note that throughout history there has been no clear recorded case of established democracies making war on each other. This is true even if the definition of freedom is loosened to include the ancient democracies of Greece or the Swiss forest democracies of the Middle Ages.
Now I know I got many of your minds working. Ah, you may ask, what about the Anglo-American War of 1812, the Spanish-American War? And was not democratic Finland allied with Nazi Germany against the Allies in World War II? And there are many other possible exceptions that you might mention. But historians and political scientists who have studied such possible exceptions in detail have concluded that they do not break the rule. Democracies don't fight among themselves. Period.
As the number of democracies have grown in the last two centuries they have created among themselves an oasis of peace. Today, 76 out of 191 sovereign nations are liberal democracies, among which there is and has been no war. Nor is there any expectation of war and they do not militarily arm against each other. Western Europe, the cauldron of war throughout history, is now finally at peace. And France, Germany, Spain, Great Britain, Italy, and the others, are not only at peace, but have formed a common union and military force, and France and Germany have even considered building a common army. Why finally this peace? Because they are all democratic. We thus now have a practical and desirable and just solution to war. Promote democratic freedom.
But the power to end war is only one aspect of the miracle that is the freedom that you have exploited so well. This is not a simple dichotomy-be free or not. As nations become more democratically free, as human and political rights are expanded, the severity of their warfare is reduced. The more freedom two nations have, the less violent they are towards each other.
This miracle also extends to internal collective violence. The more freedom in a nation, the greater a government's respect for human rights, the more peace within that nation. So freedom not only creates peace among nations, but minimizes their internal violence as well.
Now I could stop here and what I have said will be astonishing enough and incredible in its implications for world peace and harmony. But there is something even more unbelievable.
The number of people killed in combat in all the foreign and domestic wars in this century-WWI and II, Korea, Vietnam, the Russian and Mexican Revolutions, and the hundreds of other wars-is about 39,000,000. This is a horrible number and that freedom alone can save this many lives makes promoting it one of the most valuable public health measures.
But this number killed in war is much less than the number that governments have murdered outside of combat in war. In fact, governments have murdered in cold blood almost 170,000,000 citizens and foreigners. You may know about the current mass murders in Rwanda, Burundi, and Bosnia. You surely know about the near 6,000,000 Jews that the Nazis slaughtered. You may have also heard about the millions massacred by the communists in Cambodia and Vietnam, and the tens of millions murdered in China by both the Nationalist and Communist regimes, and by Lenin, Stalin and their successors in the Soviet Union. When all this wanton killing is totaled, even the cases in which a few dozen have been murdered in small nations, this democide (this murder by government) comes to, as I say, near 170,000,000. This is near four times the number killed in all wars.
If all these corpses were lined up head to toe, they would reach from here to Washington, D.C., and back sixteen times.
How do we understand all this cold blooded killing. The lack of freedom, pure and simple. The same basic explanation as for war. When power is centralized in one or a few hands, when the people have no way of kicking the bastards out except by bloody revolution, when what students study in school is highly controlled and limited and it is dangerous, if not lethal, to criticize one's government, then the powerful can act as they desire, whether by whim or grand calculation. We find historically that the more such power of government, the more likely it not only will make war but also murder its own people and foreigners under its control.
Therefore, the solution to democide is also the same as for war. Freedom. And the more freedom the safer and more secure from political violence a people will be. In other words, democratic freedom is a method of nonviolence.
But this still is not all of the miracle that is freedom!
With the free economic, social, and knowledge market that is created by freedom, what we call a spontaneous society, we are constantly enriched in goods, services, and understanding. On a grand scale this can be seen no better than by the failures of freedom's major competitors, religious absolutism, fascism, state socialism, and communism. We now know that the best way of creating wealth and happiness is through people being free to pursue their own interests, as you have been free to achieve your degrees.
So, to conclude. The consequences of freedom are miraculous. It can end war, minimize domestic violence, and virtually eliminate government murder. Moreover, freedom has the positive virtue of promoting wealth and opportunity and, therefore, I will insist, the greatest happiness among the greatest number.
I therefore urge you. Go from freedom into freedom. Continue to seize and exploit freedom as you have done so well here. Succeed and be happy. But if you have time to make the world better for others less fortunate than yourself, then you could do no better than help enhance and protect our own freedom and foster it for others
Go to top of document