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The Miracle That Is Freedom


Chapter 1: Why is This Book [Web Site] Credible?

Chapters 2 to 7 have been extensively rewritten and included in Saving Lives, Enriching Life: Freedom as a Right And a Moral Good

Chapter 8: An Enlightened Foreign Policy

Annotated Bibliography

Bibliography on democracy and war

Other Democratic Peace Documents On This Site


What is the "democratic peace"?

"The rule of law: towards eliminating war"

"Freedom of the press--A Way to Global Peace"

"Convocation Speech,"

Freeman Interview

City Times Interview


"The democratic peace: a new idea?"

Q & A on democracies not making war on each other


"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. 4: War, Power, Peace (see e.g., Propositions 16.11 and 16.27

Power Kills


Chapter 9

But What About...?*

By R.J. Rummel

It is natural that the revolutionary content of The Miracle That Is Freedom should provoke a variety of questions. Many of these I have tried to answer in previous chapters and here I will deal with others that have been raised in my classes, presentations, or by colleagues.

Where is your proof for any of this?

On the facts that well established democracies do not make war on each other and never have in history and also for the inverse relationship between violence, democide, and freedom, see the Annotated Bibliography. I have screened all the empirical and statistical work on this in English three times in the last two decades and have carried out my own statistical analyses. All consistently support what I say here. It is because of this great empirical support and the fantastic importance of these findings that I have come out of the academic closet to make them more generally available and to promote their use as a basis for our foreign policy.

Still, how can YOU be so confident?

I have spent my whole research career (beginning in 1958, if one counts my first undergraduate research paper) on the question of what causes war and other violence. But as I noted, one does not have to take my word for it. Others doing their own research have arrived at the same conclusions, particularly about war and democracy, and they are also noted in the bibliography. In other words, I am not making my assertions simply based on one research study or one person's overall research but on what has become a wealth of research accumulated over several decades by diverse social scientists and historians using different data and different methods.

But has there not developed among political scientists a consensus that democracies are as prone to make wars as nondemocracies?

Such a consensus has, in fact, been mentioned in the literature, but was based on a misreading of research results and inappropriate methods. My own research and a detailed assessment of over a dozen other studies substantiate that the more democratic a nation, the less severe its wars. Others, such as Professor James Lee Ray mentioned in the bibliography, have also come to agree with this.

You have claimed that even in previous centuries democracies have not made war on each other. But can you really apply the contemporary definition of democracy to previous centuries ?

For previous centuries the definition of democracy has been loosened to include at least two-thirds of males having equal rights (as long as the lower classes were not excluded), while maintaining the other characteristics that define contemporary democracies (equal rights, open competitive elections, etc.). Democracies so defined in previous centuries, such as the United States in 1800 and democratic classical Athens, saw themselves as democratic, called themselves democratic and were perceived by other nations as democratic. Still, even with this looser definition, "well established democracies" did not make war on each other ("well established" means that a regime had been democratic long enough for it to be stable and for democratic practices to become established).

The fundamental question about any definition is: does it work? Does it define something in reality that predicts systematically to something else. If we have so defined an x such that it regularly predicts to y, then that is a useful and important definition of x. In the definition I have given above of democracy it predicts to a condition of continuous peace (nonwar) between nations defined as democratic. If one does not agree that these are democracies, fine. Then call them xcracies. We then still can say that xcracies do not make war on each other and by universalizing xcracies we have a solution to war.

Does not the fact that Great Britain has fought more wars than any other country and that France and the United States have also fought many wars disprove your assertion?

No, for two reasons. One is that they may have fought many wars, but many of these were for them low intensity wars, whereas, many nondemocracies like Japan (1900-1945), Germany (1900-1945), and the Soviet Union fought more violent wars, as judged by their casualties. The number killed that a nation suffers in war is an important indicator here. The theory is that in democracies there are many restraints that inhibit leaders from choosing to go to war and that the more potentially violent the war might be the greater these inhibitions. Moreover, as the body bags start coming back from a war, the domestic opposition to the war rises and makes it increasingly difficult for democratic leaders to pursue the war. Nondemocratic leaders, however, not having a domestic opposition to contend with and not being responsible to their people through elections, are free to seek victory without such concerns. Thus, for example, we have the human wave attacks so characteristic of Chinese communist warfare or the Soviet use of prisoners, their own citizens, to clear minefields by walking back and forth across them.

The second reason is that my assertion is a statistical one. On the average, the more democratic a nation, the less severe its wars. A democracy that has been involved in some very severe wars would not disprove this anymore than the facts that a few people die from penicillin shot and some more fail to get well in spite of these shots would disprove that penicillin is a miracle drug in the fight against infection and disease.

Regarding your claim that democracies don't make war on each other, what about the British-American War of 1812, or for that matter the Spanish-American War and World War I? In these cases were not Britain, Spain, and Germany democratic?

At the time of the War of 1812, Great Britain was not a democracy, regardless of the existence of a parliamentary government. Voting was not secret, the franchise was highly restricted to a small minority, many new cities (such as Birmingham and Manchester) had no representation in the House of Commons while many small villages might send two or three members and, in any case, less than one-third of the Commons was properly elected. The greater majority of seats were appointed or selected (such as by guilds) or bought or rented. Democracy did not come to Great Britain until the franchise was extended to the middle class by the Reform Act of 1832, to industrial workers by the Reform Act of 1867, and to the agricultural laborers by the Reform Act of 1884.

As for Spain, at the time of its war with the United States, the two major political parties alternated in power, not by election but by arrangement preceding elections, and the election outcomes were then controlled. This was hardly democratic.

Then there was Imperial Germany's war against the democratic allies in World War I. Its citizens did have certain civil and political rights, including universal male suffrage, and the legislature was fully elected. But the unelected Kaiser appointed the chancellor, directly controlled the army and involved himself in foreign affairs, all major reasons that the well established democracies of the time did not see Germany as a fellow democracy.

As noted in the bibliography, political scientists Bruce Russett and James Lee Ray and historian Spencer Weart have intensively studied these and other possible exceptions to the claim of no wars among democracies. None were found.

But, is not the historical sample of democracies too small for making such a broad generalization?

Whether the definition of democracy is broad or narrow, we have statistical means of calculating whether the number of democracies is, in fact, significant (the same kind of statistics medical researchers use to test the significance of drugs or symptoms). The empirical finding that there have been no wars between democracies since, say, 1816 is statistically significant. That is, given the historical number of democracies, the probability of the hypothesis that democracies have never made war on each other being wrong is very low (odds of millions to one).

Can you give an example of how these statistics work? In fact, cannot statistics be used to prove anything?

True, statistics can be misused and have been, but this is true of any scientific method. Virtually all the medical drugs one takes today are based on statistical tests not unlike those used to test whether the finding that democracies do not make war on each other is a chance occurrence. If one is going to be cynical about these statistics, then one should also be very wary of taking any modern drugs for an illness or disease. This issue is really not statistics but how well they have been applied and whether the data meet the assumptions of the statistical model used.

Here are some actual statistics. If one defines an international war as any military engagements in which 1,000 or more were killed, then 353 pairs of nations (e.g., Germany vs. USSR) engaged in such wars during 1816 to 1991. None of the fighting was between two democracies, 155 pairs involved a democracy and a nondemocracy, and 198 involved two nondemocracies fighting each other. The average length of war between states was 35 months, while average battle deaths equaled 15,069 people.

A good way of calculating the statistical significance of democracies not making war on each other is through the binomial theorem (a way of determining the probability of a number of events happening). To do this requires several statistics: the number of nondemocratic pairs and democratic pairs of states in the world for the period during which the wars between these types of pairs occurred, and the number of wars between each type. The problem has been in determining not the number of democratic pairs but nondemocratic pairs in the world. This has been confronted in the literature and, for those periods in which this number could be defined, the lack of wars between democracies has been very significant, usually much less than a probability of .01. Just one example follows.

For the years 1946-1986, when there were the most democracies and thus the hardest test of the proposition that democracies do not make war on each other, there were 45 states that had a democratic regime; 109 that did not. There were thus 6,876 state dyads (e.g., Bolivia-Chile), of which 990 were democratic-democratic dyads. None of the 990 fought each other. Thirty-two nondemocratic dyads engaged in war. Thus the probability of any dyad engaging in war from 1946 to 1986 was 32/6876 or .0047; of not engaging in war was .9953. Now, what is the probability of the 990 dyads not engaging in war during this period? Using the binomial theorem, it is .9953 to the 990th power or .0099, which rounded off, equals .01. This is highly significant. The probability of this lack of war between democracies being by chance is virtually 100 to 1.

One should not take this result in isolation since the lack of war has been tested in different ways for other periods, other definitions of democracy, and other ways of defining war and in each case the result has been significant. Thus, the overall significance is a multiple (or function, if some of these studies are not independent) of these difference significant probabilities, which would make the overall probability (subjectively estimated) of the results being by chance alone at least a billion to one.

But your statistics were for the Cold War period. Was not the lack of war between democracies really due to the threat of the Soviet Union (i.e., the Cold War)?

My above test for the years 1946-86 is not the only one. As mentioned, other tests have been done for different years, including 1816-1960. Now it may be true that the Cold War accounted for the lack of war between democracies, but what about other periods? Also, ignore the statistics and consider Europe, the historical cauldron of war, and what has happened since the end of the Cold War. Unity has continued to grow rather then hostility. And, incredibly, those old enemies, France and Germany, have considered forming a common army. Moreover, once the former enemies became democratic, they have tried to join and are being integrated into a larger Europe.

Can you meet the assumptions of the statistical model, particularly that of randomness?

All statistical tests on humans suffer from the inability to truly meet the assumption of randomness (equal likelihood of each case, event, sample point) basic to the model. In a medical test, whether double-blind or not, the sample is usually constrained to Americans, students, doctors, etc. and in this way may introduce unknown masking factors. Ignoring this, any statistical test is only giving results in terms of probabilities, and for that one test the improbable may in fact have happened. This is why no researcher should accept any one or two tests as definitive. It is only when a range of tests are consistent over many kinds of data, researchers, and methods can one have confidence in the results. Such has been the case for the propositions that democracies do not make war on each other and that they are more domestically peaceful.

How well supported is your claim that democracy is inversely correlated with democide?

I am the only one who has done the relevant statistical research on this so far, and I had to spend eight years collecting the comparative data to do so. I have subjected these data to all forms of statistical analysis, testing particularly for the possibility that it is not democracy that is really inversely related to democide, but economic development, education, culture, ethnic-religious-racial diversity, war, or revolution. In each case or for all together, democratic freedom comes out as the only or the most significant factor.

Are there not other factors really accounting for the lack of war between democracies, such as geographic distance?

A number of studies have tried to determine whether there is a hidden factor accounting for the fact that democracies do not make war on each other. Economic development, industrialization, geographic distance, trade, and alliances represent the many factors considered. Always, democracy comes out as the best explanation.

"Best" is meant in a statistically significant sense. That is, the probability that democracy would not be a determinant when these other factors are considered is very low (odds also of tens of thousands to one). This has been gauged through such statistical techniques as analysis of variance and regression analysis.

Are there not studies that show democracy has no relationship to economic growth?

Yes there are, but on this one must be careful because of the effect of scale. Very poor countries can have high growth rates whether they are democracies or not because they are at a low level of development. It is like a country with only one factory--its growth rate is 100 percent if it builds a second factory. Economically developed countries, with their massive and diversified economies, cannot easily grow more than 4 or 5 percent per year. However, China, which had an abysmal command economy in 1975, has grown at double digit rates since it began liberalizing its economy. Moreover, such comparisons between the growth rates of democracies and nondemocracies do not take into account the effect of greater freedom on nondemocracies like China. Were this entered into the analysis, one would find that when economies were given more freedom, even within a partial command structure, they experienced dramatic growth. In addition to communist, but economic liberalizing China, consider the economic miracles of authoritarian Singapore and the colony of Hong Kong, and newly democratic Taiwan and South Korea, with their largely free markets.

Now lets step aside from growth rates altogether and note the economic progress and status of countries that have allowed their economies to be relatively free. They are virtually all the most developed and modernized countries of the world. Then consider in what countries economic conditions are at their worst or have decline sharply over the years. They are generally those in which there is or has been until recently a controlled or command economy.

Is not the relationship between freedom and violence or freedom and wealth a simple correlation? Correlation does not mean causation. What is your theory?

There has been considerable effort among social scientists and historians to understand why freedom has the effect it does. In fact, in some cases, as in my own research, a theory about democracy and violence led to the remarkable results given here, rather than the other way around. This theory has been melded into the previous chapters and for a more explicit and technical presentation, see my Power Kills and the already mentioned Annotated Bibliography. In sum, freedom produces a diversity of groups and interests that inhibit violence and a culture of discussion, negotiation, and compromise, of tolerance. Moreover, freedom produces bonds and restraints between democracies and where each democracy perceives the other as democratic they expect their differences to be resolved by peaceful means. Economically, by theory, freedom should release creative forces, motivate people to improve their products and services and create a most efficient use of resources.

How can you predict what a world of democracies would be like when such a world has never existed?

All predictions of the future are based on the past. All our public policies implicitly predict the social, political and economic consequences of certain government actions. And they are usually based on unsystematic suppositions, intuition, particular cases, or common experiences like the appeasement of Hitler at Munich in 1939, the Cold War, or the Vietnam War. Very seldom, if ever, has a foreign policy been based on a careful, systematic weighing of all relevant cases. Actually, I know of no research in international relations that has involved so many positive replications and such solid results as those underlying the foreign policy recommendation given here.

But there is another point involved in the question. It may be that when we have a world of democracies a new factor may emerge to confound our prediction about world peace. Researchers have tried to anticipate this by looking for hidden or masked factors in determining the relationship between democracy and violence, but none have appeared. Moreover, there is good theory to explain why democracies should not fight and why they should minimize violence and produce wealth and prosperity. And the theory and empirical results jointly lead me to recommend the foreign policy I do. Still, the possibility that a democratic world will defy predictions exists.

Nonetheless, should we not act on these results because something that has not, so far, made an appearance and, by theory, should not still has a very small probability of defeating the effects of democracy in the future? Furthermore, if we do not act on the knowledge we now have, consider what peace and prosperity would be lost to the world if we let this small chance of being wrong stand in the way. Even if there were much less support for this prediction than is now available, as a nation and people we must act on it. The global benefits to mankind of being right are too great.

But how could you ignore the Civil War, Northern Ireland, the French massacres in Algeria, and other democratic violence?

These are not ignored and have been taken into account in the analyses on which this book and the relevant ones of my colleagues are based. To say that democracy will minimize internal political violence is not to say it will eliminate such violence. Nor is it to say that, in some cases, for particular reasons (keep in mind the Civil War was fought over freeing slaves--over greater freedom), there may not be great violence. What can be said is that on the average democracies have much less violence than other forms of government, and this knowledge gives us the greatest practical tool for reducing world political violence by and within countries. Incidentally, regarding examples of democracies with "high" levels of internal violence, one can easily point to cases of much more deadly violence within nondemocracies. The Teiping Rebellion in China during the 19th century may have killed 20,000,000 people, even possibly 40,000,000. The Mexican Revolution near the beginning of our century left about 2,000,000 dead. Ignoring the associated famine, the Russian Civil War killed over 2,000,000 people. Then there was the Chinese Civil War which was fought from 1928 to 1949 and killed at least 10,000,000 Chinese. Even the much lesser internal conflicts in smaller nondemocratic nations has been deadly. The list is long and sad, including El Salvador (during its nondemocratic periods), Colombia, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Czar's Russia, Hungary, Rumania, Yugoslavia, and Uganda. Just recently 500,000 or more Rwandans were likely slaughtered in a couple of months of civil war.

Still, what about the American Civil War?

At the time of the Civil War the South was not a sovereign democracy. For one, it was not recognized by any major power, which means that it was not recognized as an independent state. Aside from this, the franchise was limited to free males (which constituted about 35-40% of males) and President Jefferson Davis was not elected but appointed by representatives themselves selected by the confederate states. There was an election in 1861, but it was not competitive.

As with many facts by which we guide our lives, we need not be hung up on such possible exceptions. All alleged exceptions are at the margins of what we call democracies. Even though none have been accepted as truly exceptions to the rule by those who have done research on them, even if they were exceptions it would not weaken the proposition that well established democracies do not make war on each other. This is because in no case have undoubted democracies, such as Sweden and Norway, Belgium and France, the United States and sovereign Canada, made war on each other and none are mentioned as exceptions.

What about the colonial violence by democracies and the 19th century extermination of American Indians?

During the age of colonization which ended in the three decades following World War II, many democracies took and managed colonies. In some cases this was a bloody conquest, involving many massacres as in the American-Philippine War of 1899-1905. However, democracies committed far less democide during this period and were involved in much less severe violence than were other countries. All one need do, for example, is compare the treatment by the United States and Britain of their colonial subjects with that of Kaiser's Germany in Africa where Germans launched a systematic campaign to eradicate the Hereros and massacred perhaps as many as 65,000 or the Soviet Union viz. her foreign subjects. The Soviets systematically killed a country's intellectuals, clerics, and possible leaders and deport hundreds of thousands to labor camps in Siberia where few could expect to survive. And the Japanese colonization of Korea and Manchuria is another story of massacres, executions, and horrific cruelty.

Moreover, one should keep in mind that colonization by democracies was generally seen as a civilizing duty ("white man's burden"), bringing the fruits of more advanced countries to Asia, the Pacific, and Africa and preparing their people for independence. No matter the associated excesses, and there were many, the instincts were often positive. That they failed, that they were infused with self interests (as in China), should not distract from their justification. In many colonies schools were built, the rudiments of an economic infrastructure were laid, natives were trained, and preparations were made for independence. When the time came, the democracies usually gave up their colonies without much violence. Examples of this include Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Philippines, and dozens of other colonies in the Middle east and Africa. Hawaii, at first made a territory of the United States by force, voted overwhelmingly to be a state of the United States and became such in 1959. Puerto Rico, another territory, voted to remain a territory of the United States. There were some exceptions to the comparatively favorable colonial record of democracies, most notably French Indochina and Algeria where France fought bloody wars to keep them. But what was an exception for democracies was a rule for nondemocracies which gave up their colonies only at the point of a gun. Such was the case for Kaiser's Germany, Mussolini's Italy, militarist Japan and fascist Spain and Portugal.

Well, democracies may not make war on each other, but they do conduct covert action against other democracies and have participated in their overthrow by force and the creation of nondemocracies. What about this?

This is true. Democracies have engaged in covert action. The U.S. did so in Chile, the Dominican Republic, and Iran. However, this was done secretly by agencies of government, such as the CIA, operating with minimum democratic oversight. The agencies were really enclaves of power acting abroad without the normal restraints of democratic leaders and outside of the democratic culture. They were insulated from the effects of freedom that operate within a democracy. The same holds true for the military in time of war (and our intelligence agencies during the Cold War saw us as involved in a deadly war). They were largely given their head to operate like a fully authoritarian government within a government, to impose the utmost secrecy on their behavior, to permit minimal freedom to those within their control and to punish severely for insubordination. This may be justified, of course, but too much or too little democratic control is not the point. The point is that everything a democracy does should not be looked at as the actions of a free people and culture. Some of this behavior may come from peculiarly nondemocratic agencies which for good or bad reasons are allowed to operate outside of normal democratic constraints.

Since everyone is in favor of democracy anyway why make a big thing of this?

Because it will take the investment of much resources by the United States and other democracies to help nations democratize. Russia alone needs tens of billions in aid to further democratization. Such aid will be more forthcoming and more broadly supported if there is a wider understanding among the democracies that by providing human and financial resources to democratize we are not only promoting the freedom and prosperity of other countries but also peace and nonviolence. Such aid is cheap compared to the likely human and material cost of future wars.

There is also the struggle for human rights in many countries. It will help this fight to not only justify human rights for their own sake but to point out their importance for global peace and security.

How can you write about freedom minimizing violence? Look at all the violence in the United States and the murders in the inner cities. Is not the United States the most violent country in the world?

Actually, the United States does have the highest murder rate among Western democracies, but there is much more criminal and social violence in other countries, such as Colombia, Peru, India, Sri Lanka, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Brazil. Still the question is important. In any case, do not take such violence in the United States as paradigmatic of democracy. We could as well focus on the lack of such violence in Sweden or Switzerland.

The argument here is that freedom reduces to a minimum political violence, not civil violence between racial groups, strike violence, or interpersonal murder and assaults. Although this violence is important and we must find a way of reducing it (empirical research, as a matter of fact, really has yet to be done on the relationship between the types of governments and such internal group and interpersonal civil violence), this violence is irrelevant to my argument. This is not to say that my argument only covers a narrow range of violence. It includes the most violent and deadliest--civil wars, revolutions, coups, guerrilla wars, anti-government riots, rebellions, mutinies, assassinations. It involves any violence against or by governments. To minimize all this kind of violence would alone be a revolutionary step toward world peace.

Does not freedom lead to excess? Look at the United States today with its breakdown of families, lose of traditional values, increase in illegitimate births, use of dope, violence in movies and on television, murder by school children, etc. Is this not a result of too much freedom?

There is no agreement on what the source of this cultural collapse is. In my view much of it is caused by an excess of government involvement in interpersonal and social affairs, that is, by a lack of freedom. But this question need not be decided, for the issue is not the amount of democratic freedom a nation should have, but that of democracy itself. The United States is not the model, nor should Sweden, Denmark, New Zealand or Switzerland be models of the ideal democratic government, although one can counter the alleged excesses of freedom in the United States with the lack of such in other democracies. It is enough that no democracy makes war on each other, that compared to nondemocracies, particularly totalitarian ones, democracies have the least political violence and democide and that democratic freedom promotes wealth and prosperity. Whether there is such a thing as too much freedom in a democracy or too little is a matter we can debate once having achieved the dream of no war, a virtual end to democide, and much improved global standard of living.

You are promoting universal democratization? Is this not really a call for the West to impose its values on nonWestern countries and cultures?

I have tried to make clear that this is not an imposition of foreign values, but the enabling of people of all cultures to realize the values inherent in their being human beings. Everywhere people oppose the genocide and mass murder that would be virtually eliminated by democracy. They fear the horrors of war that democracy would end. They desire the wealth and prosperity democratic freedom would produce. They desire the freedom, at least the freedom to choose to be free or unfree, that democracy entails. And, therefore, they would accept the democratic principle of freedom, that they be free to chose their way of life and kind of government. 


* From the pre-publisher edited manuscript of Chapter 9 in R.J. Rummel, The Miracle That Is Freedom: The Solution to War, Violence, Genocide, and Poverty, 1997. For full reference to The Miracle That Is Freedom and the list of its contents, click book.

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