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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"

"Convocation Speech"

Freeman Interview

City Times Interview


Bibliography on Democracy and War

Q & A On Democracies Not Making War on Each Other

But What About...?


"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

Statistics of Democide

The Miracle That Is Freedom

Power Kills


By R.J. Rummel

By the end of the eighteenth century a complete [classical] liberal theory of international relations, of war and peace, had ... developed... Peace was ... fundamentally a question of the establishment of democratic institutions throughout the world.[2]


Are political systems related to collective violence and war? This is now fundamentally answered in one of three ways: yes, democracies are least violence prone; yes, socialist equalitarianism assures peace; and no, political systems and violence are unrelated.

Recent theoretical and empirical research confirms the first answer: those political systems that maximize and guarantee individual freedom (democracies) are least violence prone; those that maximize the subordination of all individual behavior to state control (totalitarian systems) the most, whether socialist or not; and wars do not occur between democracies.

Known for centuries, a tenet of classical liberalism, the pacific nature of democracy has became largely forgotten or ignored in the last half-century. That democracy is inherently peaceful is now probably believed by no more than a few prominent peace researchers. In part this has been due to the intellectual defection of Western intellectuals from classical liberalism to some variant of socialism, with its emphasis on the competitive violence and bellicosity of capitalist freedoms. Many intellectuals, and in particularly European and Third World peace researchers, have come to believe that socialist equalitarianism is the answer to violence; others, particularly American liberals, believe that if the socialist are wrong, then at least democracies are no better than other political systems in promoting peace.

Socialism aside, there also has been a rejection of Western values, of which individual freedom is prominent, and acceptance of some form of value-relativism (thus, no political system is better than any other). In some cases this rejection has turned to outright hostility and particularly anti-Americanism, and thus opposition to American values, such as freedom. To accept, therefore, that democratic freedom is inherently most peaceful, is to the value-relativist, to say the unacceptable--that it is better. For another, to accept that this freedom promotes non-violence seems to take sides in what is perceived as the global ideological struggle or power game between the United States and Soviet Union.

Independent of different ideological or philosophical perspectives, several interacting methodological errors have blinded intellectuals and peace researchers to the peacefulness of democracies. One of these is the strong, general tendency to see only national characteristics and overall behavior. Then a nation is rich or poor, powerful or weak, belligerent or pacific. But most important for identifying the relationship between freedom and violence is rather the similarities and differences between two states and their mutual behavior. Thus should be observed a lack of violence and war between democracies; and the most severe violence occurring between those nations with the least freedom.

Another error has been to selectively focus upon the major powers, which include among them not only several democracies having many wars, but also Great Britain having the most. However, a systematic comparison among all the belligerents and neutrals in wars, would uncover the greater peacefulness of democracies.

Along with this selective attention is the tendency to count equally against democracies all of its wars, no matter how mild or small. Thus, the American invasion of Grenada would be one mark against democracy; Hitler's invasion of Poland that initiated World War II would be a similar mark against non-democracies. This stacks any such accounting against democracy.

Finally, while a systematic survey of the literature shows significant support for the inverse relationship between democracy and violence, researchers have done little theoretical testing of this relationship, thus resulting in their overlooking or ignoring it when it appears in their results.


The organizers of this conference asked me write a taxonomic paper on the question: "Can the relative bellicosity of states be measured and predicted as a function of their internal political system?" The answer of most current empirical research is decidedly yes.[3]

Indeed, the empirical relationship is even more profound and comprehensive than the question implies. In theory and fact, the more democratic the political systems of two states, the less violence between them; and if they are both democratic violence is precluded altogether.[4] That is, democratic states do not make war on each other. Moreover, the more democratic a political system, the less foreign and domestic collective violence; the more totalitarian, the more likely such violence.[5]

Perhaps the most surprising finding is that the less democratic a government, the more likely it will kill its own citizens in cold blood, independent of any foreign or domestic war. Now, war is not the most deadly form of violence. Indeed, while 36 million people have been killed in battle in all foreign and domestic wars in our century, at least 119 million more have been killed by government genocide, massacres, and other mass killing. And about 115 million of these were killed by totalitarian governments (as many as 95 million by communist ones). There is no case of democracies killing en masse their own citizens.[6]

The inverse relationship between democracy and foreign violence, collective domestic violence, or government genocide is not simply a correlation, but a cause and effect. In a nutshell, democratic freedom promotes nonviolence. These results are worthy of the greatest attention and analysis, for if true, which I am now convinced they are, then peace research has in fact defined a policy for minimizing collective violence and eliminating war: enhance and foster[7] democratic institutions--civil liberties and political rights--here and abroad.[8]


The fundamental inverse relationship between freedom and violence is truly a matter of insight and knowledge gained and lost among political philosophers to be rediscovered through rigorous theoretical and empirical research by peace researchers. In fact, so long ago as 1795, in his virtually now forgotten Perpetual Peace , Immanuel Kant systematically articulated the positive role of political freedom in eliminating war; and proposed therefore that constitutional republics be established to assure universal peace. This proposal has various nuances, such as those involving the difference between republics and democracies, and between political and economic freedom, but the essential idea was this: the more freedom people have to govern their own lives, the more government power is limited constitutionally, the more leaders are responsible through free elections to their people, then the more restrained the leaders will be in making war. In Kant's words:[9]

The republican constitution...gives a favorable prospect for the desired consequence, i.e., perpetual peace. The reason is this: if the consent of the citizens is required in order to decide that war should be declared (and in this constitution it cannot but be the case), nothing is more natural than that they would be very cautious in commencing such a poor game, decreeing for themselves all the calamities of war. Among the latter would be: having to fight, having to pay the costs of wars from their own resources, having painfully to repair the devastation war leaves behind, and, to fill up the measure of evils, load themselves with a heavy national debt that would embitter peace itself and that can never be liquidated on account of constant wars in the future. But, on the other hand, in a constitution which is not republican, and under which the subjects are not citizens, a declaration of war is the easiest thing in the world to decide upon, because war does not require of the ruler, who is the proprietor and not a member of the state, the least sacrifice of the pleasures of his table, the chase, his country houses, his court functions, and the like. He may, therefore, resolve on war as on a pleasure party for the most trivial reasons, and with perfect indifference leave the justification which decency requires to the diplomatic corps who are ever ready to provide it.

Through the writings of Kant, de Montesquieu, Thomas Paine, Jeremy Bentham, and John Stuart Mill, among others, it became an article of classical liberal faith in the 18th and 19th centuries that "Government on the old system," as Paine wrote, "is an assumption of power, for the aggrandizement of itself; on the new [Republican form of government as just established in the United States], a delegation of power for the common benefit of society. The former supports itself by keeping up a system of war; the latter promotes a system of peace, as the true means of enriching a nation."[10]

These liberals believed that there was a natural harmony of interests among nations, and that free trade would facilitate this harmony and promote peace. Most important, they were convinced that monarchical aristocracies had a vested interest in war. It was, in contemporary terms, a game they played with the lives of the common folk. Empower the common people to make such decisions through their representatives, and they would always oppose war.

In an historical perspective that they did not have, it is clear that the classical liberals had too much faith in the masses. They did not anticipate the rise of nationalism, although the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars presaged what our century would behold in full glory: the total nation at arms, total mobilization and total war. They did not appreciate how the superheated hatred and revengefulness of majorities can drive democratic nations to war. The Crimean and Boar Wars, and the Mexican-American and Spanish-American wars were yet to occur. The clamor for war can be irresistible to ambitious politicians.

But much to their peril, popular leaders also have discovered the flip side to Popular Will. The people can be aggressive today, pacific tomorrow. One need only contrast the popular support for American involvement in Vietnam from 1963 to 1966, to the vigorous hostility among intellectuals and opinion leaders to a continuation of the war in 1969. Of course it is also true that the people can be stubbornly opposed to what they perceive as bellicose policies, no matter what their merits may be. Thus, President Roosevelt felt constrained by isolationist public opinion from giving all out military aid to America's fraternal ally Great Britain in 1940-1941, the time when her survival from air and submarine attacks by Nazi Germany was very questionable, indeed. Yet, in deference to massive public opposition to American involvement, Roosevelt could only aid indirectly, discreetly, or illegally under the table, this last European bulwark against Nazi tyranny, aggression, and genocide.

In the 18th century classical liberals had to write about the pacific nature of democracies in the abstract, by hypothesis. Of course, the bellicose history of Emperors, Kings and Queens, and aristocracies, was clear. History could not tell them, however, how free peoples would behave. This could only be derived from reason and was ultimately based on faith. No wonder, then, that their associated theory was simplistic. Leaving out the invisible hand, harmony of interests, and free trade baggage, war would disappear among democratic nations because popular majorities would refuse to pay in their blood and property for such wars.

As mentioned, the historical record now shows that the people are not only willing, but sometimes will demand to go to war. The problem with the theory is that it provides only an incomplete and superficial explanation, and for that reason is only correct part of the time (e.g., explains why America did not declare war on Hitler in 1940, but not why America did so against Spain in 1898). A proper theory of democratic peacefulness must allow for both these aggressive and pacific sides of Popular Will. It must go beneath public opinion and popular majorities and deal with the social forces involved. These are in terms of social fields, cross-pressures, and polarization.


The civil liberties and political rights of a democratic system foster and maintain an exchange society. This is a social field, whose medium is composed of a people's meanings (as those given to the flag or a cross), values, and norms; its social forces are imbedded in this medium and flow one way or another, forming various equilibriums among what people want, can, and will try to get; and conflict or cooperation within this field, violence or peace, depend on the congruence between these equilibriums and the expectations people have about the outcome of their actions.

Democratically free people are spontaneous, diverse, pluralistic. They have many, often opposing, interests pushing them one way or another. They belong to independent and overlapping occupational, religious, recreational, and political subgroups, each involving its own interests; and then they are moved by the separate and even antagonistic desires of different age, sex, ethnic, racial, and regional strata.

Freedom thus creates a social field in which social forces point in many different directions, and in which individual interests, the engine of social behavior, are often cross-pressured. Like the Catholic political conservative who cannot decide whether to vote for the Episcopalian, Republican conservative, or the Catholic welfare democrat, many within a free society must balance often contradictory wants. This means that those very strong interests that drive the individual in one direction to the exclusion of all else, even at the risk of violence, do not develop easily. And, if such interests do develop, they are usually shared by relatively few individuals. That is, the normal working of a democratically free society in all its diversity is to restrain the growth across the community of that consuming singleness of view and purpose that leads, if frustrated, to wide-scale social and political violence.

Consider by contrast a centralized society with a totalitarian government. In the main, behavior is no longer spontaneous, but commanded; in its major, most significant outlines, what one is and does is determined at the center. The totalitarian model is familiar and need not be elaborated. Relevantly here, such a system turns a social field into an organization, with a task to achieve (such as equality, communism, social justice, development), a management-worker, communal-obey class division cutting across all society, and all the characteristics of an organization (coercive planning, plethora of rules, lines of authority from top to bottom) needed to direct each member's activities.

The consequence is to polarize major interests. If the satisfaction of one's interests depends always on the same "them"; if "they" are responsible for one's job, housing, quality and cost of food, and even life and death, then almost all that is important depends on whether one is in the command or obey class. In effect, these are two poles to which interests become aligned. Thus, and most importantly for us here, since most vital interests depend on one center, it is easy to see that the interests related to this center--who commands and what is commanded--are matters of grave concern. In a democracy one can shrug his shoulders over losing: "win some, lose some, I'll do better next time." But in a highly centralized system, a loss on one issue may result in a loss on all, including even one's life.

With so much at stake, therefore, violence comes easily, especially to the rulers who must use repression and terror against possible dissent or sources of opposition; the gun, prison, or concentration camp are the major tools of social policy. And, as happened in Poland, in such a polarized system, conflict and violence involving local interests soon engage the whole society. For the split between those who command and obey is a fault line: slippage in one place moves along the whole fault and causes a social quake--wide-scale conflict and, given the importance of the issues, quite possibly violence.

What about foreign violence? By virtue of the same cross-pressures restricting violence within democracies, the unification of public interests needed to pursue foreign aggression is usually missing. Given the lack of general public support, and perhaps the outright opposition of certain social or interest groups, a democratic leader would pursue a costly foreign conflict at great risk to his political future, even if he could get the government's counter-balanced machinery to work in the same perilous direction. This he can do, especially when some external threat or attack unites public opinion (as in Great Britain's military response to Argentina's invasion of the Falkland Islands), but not with anything like the political freedom with which a dictator or small ruling group can make war. And among democracies, each with its own pluralism, cross-pressures, and politically constrained leaders; and each quite possibly having a variety of political and commercial ties and transactions that create their own pro-peace interest groups; the forces opposing violence overwhelm any tendencies toward severe conflict, violence, and war between them.

A totalitarian ruler has no such natural constraints. True, there will be cross-pressures among the elite. There are calculations to be made about the cost in lost trade, aid, allies, and the like, not to mention in resources and manpower. But such cross-pressures are usually within a particular direction (Should we invade today or wait? Should we squeeze them into submission?) and among often hand-picked subordinates. Real, fundamental opposition is lacking, where as in a democracy even the basic constitutional laws governing the making of war are open to debate and political contest.

In all this I am simplifying to essentials, as in universally describing a falling body by a simple equation that ignores wind, body shape, and air friction. And the heart of this pure explanation is the difference between a social field of cross-pressured interests and politically responsible leaders versus a tightly organized society of polarized interests and dictatorial rulers. I am describing pure types, recognizing that there are many gradations between.

But this should suffice here. To promote democratic institutions promotes a deeper and more durable peace because it promotes a social field, cross-pressures, and political responsibility; it promotes pluralism, diversity, and groups that have a stake in peace.


Contemporary theory aside, the classical liberal's view of democracy's peacefulness was insightful. But by the middle of the 20th century, this insight became almost completely ignored or forgotten.

How did we fall off the classical liberal path to peace and fail to find it again until recently? There are several reasons for this, some ideological, some methodological. First and foremost, the classical liberal view itself fell into disrepute among intellectuals and scholars. Essentially, classical liberals believed that the government that governs least governs best. Adam Smith's An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations was their economic bible. And in current terms, they preached democratic capitalism. But beginning in the 19th century capitalism came under increasing attack by socialists of all flavors. First, the socialist agreed with the classical liberal that the people had to be empowered, and that this would bring peace. But what the socialist saw when the liberal creed was enacted into law, especially in Britain, was that the bellicose aristocracies were replaced by equally bellicose capitalists. Democracies and their attendant free market appeared to foster exploitation, inequality, and poverty; to enable a very few to rule over the many. Most important here, capitalism was seen not just to promote, but to require colonialism and imperialism, and thereby war.

But what was to be done? Here the socialist mainly divided essentially into the democratic socialists, state socialists, and Marxists. The democratic socialists argued that true democracy means that both the political and economic aspects of their lives must be under the people's control, and this is done through both a representative government and government ownership, control, and management of the economy. The capitalist would be thus replaced by elected representatives, who would oversee economic planners and managers, and above all be responsive to popular majorities. With the aristocratic and capitalist interests in war thus eliminated, with the peace oriented worker and peasant democratically empower, peace would be assured.

The state socialists, however, would simply replace representative institutions with some form of socialist dictatorship. This would assure the best implementation and progress of socialist equalitarianism, without interference by the bourgeoisie and other self-serving interests. Moreover, the people cannot be trusted to know their own interests, for they are easily blinded by pro-capitalist propaganda and manipulation. Burma today is a good example of state socialism in practice.

While agreeing on much of the socialist analysis of capitalism, the Marxist added to it a deterministic, dialectical theory of history, a class analysis of societies, an economic theory of capitalism, and the necessity of the impoverishment of the worker and the inevitability of a communist revolution. However, the Marxist disagreed with the socialist on the ends. Never far from the anarchist, the Marxists, especially the Marxist-Leninist of our century, looked at the socialist state that would come into being with the overthrow of capitalism as nothing more than an intermediary dictatorship of the proletariat through which the transition to the final stage of communism would be prepared. And stripped of its feudal or capitalist exploiters and thus its agents of war, communism would mean, not the natural harmony among nations as in the liberal creed, but among all people as each works according to his ability and receives according to his need. The state then would wither away, and the masses would then live in true, everlasting peace and freedom.

It should be underlined that while the democratic or state socialist believes that socialist governments will be peaceloving and nonviolent, the Marxist-Leninist believes this true of only the final, communist stage of stateless anarchy. The socialist transition period may well involve war with capitalist states, but while this inter-state war is to be avoided if at all possible in this age of nuclear weapons, the world-wide struggle against capitalism must be pursued by all means short of inter-state war. This would involve not only the arts of deception, disinformation, subversion, and demoralization, against capitalist states, but also terrorism and domestic wars through "national liberation fronts". For the Marxist-Leninist, then, it is the communist system that is inherently peaceful, not the socialist intermediary state. This socialist stage means the purposeful, aggressive use of force and violence to pursue the final, global stage of communist peace and freedom.

In any case, regardless of the brand of socialism from which the critique of capitalism ensued, the protracted 19th century socialist assault on capitalism had a profound effect on liberalism and especially the theory of war. Falling into disrepute, its program seen as utopian or special pleading for capitalists, pure classical liberalism mutated among Western intellectuals into a reform or welfare liberalism that is little differentiated today from the programs and views of the early socialists. And this modern liberalism, or liberalism as it is now called, has been heavily influenced by the socialist view of war; and this modern liberal view grew widely influential in scholarly research on international relations, and thus war and peace. It must be recognized that until the 1960s such research was largely the preserve of the social sciences, and that an overwhelming number of social scientists were by the mid-20th century modern liberals or socialists in their outlook.

In the early 1960s the development of peace research began to take off and is today a full discipline. In its early years it was very much an American phenomenon and also very liberal in its view of war. Where real factors, as apart from psychological ones, were focused upon, war was generally believed to be caused by the existence of have and have not, rich and poor nations; by poverty, unrestrained competition, and the maldistribution of resources; by exploiting multinational corporations, armament merchants, and the military industrial complex. But peace research soon became internationalized, and with this global growth the European socialist and neo-Marxist's view of capitalism and war soon dominated. The milder, American peace researcher's modern liberal view soon became passe, and in its place one began to read about Western (capitalist) imperialism and dominance; about world capitalist economic control, manipulation, and war making; and about the promotion of non-violence through material equality and a socialist world economy. Positive peace and social justice became central concepts in peace research, both meaning some kind of socialist equalitarianism.[11]

But what happened to the idea that individual freedom promotes nonviolence?[12] With the protracted socialist attack on the classical liberal's fundamental belief in capitalism, coupled with the apparent excesses of capitalism, such as sweat shops, robber barons, monopolies, depressions, and political corruption, classical liberalism eventually lost the heart and minds of Western intellectuals. And with this defeat went its fundamental truth about democracy promoting peace. Interestingly, in the last decade there has been a conservative resurgence of classical liberalism. President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher exemplify this, and their often expressed views on the positive role of free institutions for peace are straight out of classical liberalism. This popular resurgence has yet to percolate up to those in the social sciences and peace research communities.

This is not to say that most peace researchers generally view capitalist political-economic systems as the cause of war, as asserted by hard-line socialists. Many European and Third World peace researchers generally view capitalism as one cause among several, although some theoretical emphasis may be given to capitalism, as in Galtung's influential center-periphery theory which clearly lays the major blame for war on a capitalist type, competitive system.[13] Indeed, many peace researchers, and especially Americans, have moved to a middle position: both capitalism or socialism can be a source of peace or war, depending on the circumstances. In either case, neither is a general factor in war.

Now, capitalism and democracy are not the same thing. Democratic socialist systems exist, as in Sweden and Denmark, as do authoritarian capitalist systems like Chile and Taiwan. Why then has the peace-making effects of democratic freedoms been tossed out with capitalism? As mentioned, these freedoms were part of an ideology emphasizing capitalism--as the ideology retreated, so did its belief in the positive role of freedom in peace. But there other factors at work here that are at least as important.


One of these factors causing scholars and peace researchers to reject democracy's peacefulness is a misreading of history. Kant and the classical liberals were writing in theory about freedom and war; they had virtually no historical evidence. But by the middle of the 20th century enough democracies had existed for over half-a-century for an historical judgment to be made. And that was believed to show that democracies not only do go to war, but they can be very aggressive. Americans alone could easily note their American-Indian Wars, Mexican-American and Spanish American wars, and of course the Civil war, the most violent war of any in the century between the Napoleonic wars and World War I. And even if one argues that the United States was dragged into both World Wars, there is the invasion of Grenada and the Vietnam War, which many peace researchers view as a case of American aggression. Then, of course, there is Great Britain, who between 1850 to 1941 fought 20 wars, more than any other state. France, also a democracy for most of this period, fought the next most at 18. The United States fought 7. These three nations alone fought 63 percent of all the wars during these 92 years.[14] Of course, Britain did not become a true democracy until 1884 with the extension of the franchise to agricultural workers, but she was afterwards still the aggressor in numerous European and colonial wars. The historical record of democracies thus appeared no better than that of other regimes; and the classical liberal belief in the peacefulness of democracies seemed nothing more than bad theory or misplaced faith.

But all other types of regimes seemed equally bellicose. The supposed peacefulness of socialist systems was belied by the aggressiveness of its two major totalitarian variants, that of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany[15]; and other types of regimes, whether authoritarian dictatorships like Japan before World War II, or absolute monarchies like czarist Russia before World War I, appeared no less warlike. The verdict was and is an easy one--all types of political, or politico-economic, systems make war; none is especially pacific. Clearly articulated in Kenneth Waltz's widely read Man,the State and War,[16] this critique is today the consensus view of American peace research, and in peace research elsewhere it is the major alternative belief to that of the inherent bellicosity of capitalist systems.

A number of methodological errors account for peace researchers misreading the recent history of democracies ; and the history of wars being so misleading. First, there is that of selective attention. The many wars of a few democracies is focused upon and the total population of democracies and wars is ignored. A true comparison should involve that of all democracies with non-democracies and for all wars, at least in this century.

Second, there is the error of improper weighting. Even where such systematic comparison is done, the intensity of wars is ignored.[17] In such comparisons, the American invasion of Grenada and the British Falklands Islands War, among history's least violent wars, are counted as wars, and put on par with the American and British participation in, say, World War II. The proposition that democracies are more peaceful than other political systems really means that they engage in less violence, where violence is understood as a continuum, from low intensity to high. To say that democratic freedom reduces violence is like saying that aspirin reduces pain. It is not a question of the presence or absence of war, but of the degree of killing involved.

Another error, one I also admit to being guilty of in my earlier work, is to atheoretically screen correlations and to ignore low ones--to claim that low correlations between political systems and violence simply show that no meaningful relationship exists. This is simply a matter of seeking mountains and ignoring the hills. In truth, as a systematic screening of all the empirical and quantitative literature shows,[18] there is a consistent and significant, but low, negative correlation between democracies and collective violence, as predicted by classical liberalism. The reason for this low correlation is that freedom is not both necessary and sufficient for non-violence to occur. That is, like democracies, authoritarian and totalitarian systems can be without violence for many years.[19] The problem here is an almost endemic one in the social sciences: drawing conclusions about a theory from exploratory data analysis in which the theory is not explicitly tested.

Even if these errors caused an historical misinterpretation of the relationship between freedom and violence, how could it be missed that democracies do not make war on each other, if true? After all, this is a point prediction whose historical truth or falsity should be obvious. The problem is just that social scientists and peace researchers do not ordinarily think dyadically. They think of nations as developed or undeveloped, strong or weak, democratic or undemocratic, large or small, belligerent or not. That is, they think monatically. Thus history is generally studied for the relationship between a nation's political system and its bellicosity.[20]

Like so much in science, this is a matter of perspective, as in looking end-wise at a cylinder and seeing only a circle. A simple change in perspective would show a cylinder; similarly, a simple shift to dyadic relations would show that when two nations are stable democracies, no wars occur between them.[21] In all the wars from 1814 until the present, there has been no war between stable democracies, even though the number of democracies has grown to number 51 today, or 31 percent of all nations, governing 38 percent of the world's population. That just for all the large or small wars since 1945, not one has involved democracies against each other; that in a world where contiguous nations often use violence to settle their differences or at least have armed borders between, democracies like the United States and Canada should have long, completely unarmed borders; and that in Europe, the historical cauldron of war, once all Western European nations became democratic they no longer armed against each other and the expectation of war among them is now zero; that all this should be missed shows how powerfully misleading an improper historical perspective or model can be.[22]


So the socialist critique of capitalism combined with a monadic view of history and a failure to empirically and properly test these beliefs has led peace researchers to accept the view that capitalist freedoms in fact were the cause of violence, or that at least there was no relationship between democratic freedoms and collective violence. But besides socialism and these methodological errors, there are still other factors at work. Since the first world war and accelerated by the second, there has been a strong rejection among intellectuals of any hint of nationalism. Nationalism was seen by many non-socialists as a fundamental cause of war, or at least of its total national mobilization and total violence. Internationalism, rising above one's nation, seeing humanity and its transcending interest as a whole, and furthering world government, became their intellectual ideal. Social scientist and peace researchers, who after all are usually intellectuals with Ph.Ds, have almost universally shared this view. In fact one of the attractions of socialism for many was its inherent internationalism, its rejection of the nation and patriotism as values.

Internationalists generally have refused to accept that any one nation is really better than another. After all, cultures and values are relative; one nation's virtues is another's evils. Best we treat all nations equally to better resolve conflicts among them. As Hans Morgenthau points out in his most popular and influential international relations text, both the United States and Soviet Union should be condemned for the Cold War; it is their evangelistic, crusading belief in their own values that makes the East-West conflict so difficult to resolve. The following quote from Morgenthau shows well this language of two-partyism.

From the aftermath of the Second World War onwards, these two blocs [centered on the superpowers] have faced each other like two fighters in a short and narrow lane. They have tended to advance and meet in what was likely to be combat, or retreat and allow the other side to advance into what to them is precious ground....

For the two giants that today determine the course of world affairs only one policy has seemed to be left; that is, to increase their own strength and that of their allies....either side must fear that the temporarily stronger contestant will use its superiority to eliminate the threat from the other side by shattering military and economic pressure of by a war of annihilation.

Thus the international situation is reduced to the primitive spectacle of two giants eying each other with watchful suspicion. They bend every effort to increase their military potential to the utmost, since this is all they have to count on. Both prepare to strike the first decisive blow, for if one does not strike it the other might. Thus, contain or be contained, conquer or be conquered, destroy or be destroyed, become the watchwords of Cold War diplomacy.[23]

This two-partyism easily can be seen in reading the peace research and related literature. There is no victim or aggressor, no right or wrong nation, but only two parties to a conflict (when this two-partyism does break down, it is usually in terms of American, or Western "imperialist, aggression"). Consequently, to except that the freedom's espoused by the United States and its democratic allies lead to peace, and that the totalitarian socialism fostered by the Soviet Union leads to violence and war, is to take sides. It is to be nationalistic. And this for the internationalist is ipso facto wrong.

There is another psychological force toward two-partyism that should not be underestimated. The statement that democratic freedom fosters peace seems not only nationalistic, but inherently ideological. After all, freedom is one of the flags in the "ideological Cold War." No matter that this is a scientific statement based on rigorous theory and empirical tests; no matter that the results come from researchers who themselves have conflicting ideologies. To accept it appears not only to take sides; but to be what is worse, a right wing, cold warrior.

For these reasons there is a knee-jerk reaction among many peace researchers against any assertion that the democratic regimes of the West provide a path to peace. Is it any wonder, then, that there has been relatively so little empirical research directly and explicitly on this question,[24] and a strong resistance to the results of such research showing the inverse relationship between freedom and collective violence.

But of course there are peace researchers who reject two-partyism; and for some of these there is another factor at work, an apparently strongly emotional one hinted at above. In the last two decades, there has grown within the peace research community a virulent anti-Westernism, often centered on the United States. Rather than being neutral between East and West, evincing a studied internationalism, this view does take sides. It is fundamentally socialist, sometimes neo-Marxist and Third World in orientation. The West is seen as exploiting, lusting for profit and power, and forever struggling to dominate other countries; its alleged democratic values are a facade behind which it manipulates and controls poor nations. Violence is their means, their secret services, and especially the CIA, their tool. In this view, which is held by a significant segment of the peace research community, there is nothing too evil for the West to commit in grasping for power and profit. Seemingly, anything negative will be believed. For example, in a communication to the students and faculty of the Political Science Department at the University of Hawaii, such a well known peace researcher as Johan Galtung alleges that the CIA has been carrying out "very much the same thing" as Hitler's "holocaust" against the Jews, and has "rubbed out" 6,000,000 (sic) people throughout the world.[25] No peace researcher with these views could accept the possibility of Western, democratic freedoms promoting peace.


To conclude, then, theoretical and empirical research establishes that democratic civil liberties and political rights promote nonviolence and is a path to a warless world. The clearest evidence of this is that there has never been a war between democracies, while numerous wars have occurred between all other political systems; and that of the over 119 million people genocidally killed in cold blood in our century, virtually all were killed by non-democracies, and especially totalitarian ones. That democracies are relatively non-violent is not a new discovery. It was fundamental to 17th and 18th century classical liberalism. But this truth has become forgotten or ignored in our time.

The reasons for this are many and complex, but they reduce basically to these. First, 19th century socialism and 20th century internationalism offered influential alternative explanations of war and ways to peace that seemed to fit the contemporary history of war better than the apriori speculations of the classical liberals. This history especially seemed to show that democracies not only made war on other nations, but were at least as aggressive as any. Second, for recent generations ethical relativism (and its associated two-partyism) and anti-Westernism (or anti-Americanism) have caused many intellectuals to reject fundamental Western values, including the faith in classical democratic freedoms; and with this has also gone a rejection of any evidence that these freedoms could promote peace.

These ideological forces have been strengthened by several methodological errors. One is the tendency to see nations wholly in terms of their characteristics and behavior, and not in relation to each other. Thus the fact that democracies do not make war on each other, or that the less the democratic freedom in two nations, the more likely violence between them, is missed. Other errors are to view history selectively, without systematic comparison of all cases or wars; to seek correlations atheoretically, thus ignoring the necessarily low, but significant inverse relationships between freedom and violence; and to treat all wars as the same, no matter how different in the levels of violence.

The final words to such a paper as this should be left to our foremost student of war, Quincy Wright, and his monumental A Study of War:[26]

To sum up, it appears that absolutist states with geographically and functionally centralized governments under autocratic leadership are likely to be most belligerent, while constitutional states with geographically and functionally federalized governments under democratic leadership are likely to be most peaceful.


1. From the pre-publisher edited manuscript of R.J. Rummel, "Political Systems, Violence, and war," in Approaches to Peace: An Intellectual Map. Edited by W. Scott Thompson and Kenneth M. Jensen. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, 1991, pp. 347-370; and "The Politics of Cold Blood," Society, Vol. 27 (November/December,1989):32-40.

2. Howard, 1978, p.31.

3. In Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace I surveyed all the systematic studies on this question and concluded that they supported an hypothesized inverse relationship between libertarian systems and foreign violence; in "Libertarian Propositions on Violence Within and Between Nations: A Test Against Published Research Results" I redid this survey, adding several refinements and tests of significance, and confirmed the earlier results.

4. In previous professional work I have termed libertarian those nations that assure civil liberties and political rights, rather than democratic. For one, the latter term has become blurred by its use in the battle for people's minds, as in "democratic centralism" or "people's democracy," and thus sometimes now stands for what used to be its opposite--dictatorship. Moreover, democracy technically does not stand for civil rights and political liberties, but for majority rule, and such a majority within the historical meaning of democracy could eliminate minority rights and liberties. While there is not a one-to-one relationship between democracy on the one side and rights and liberties on the other, therefore, there is this identity for libertarian systems. A majority denying minority rights and liberties can still be democratic; it cannot be libertarian. And it is these very rights and liberties that create the conditions reducing the likelihood of collective violence.

However, in spite of these problems I must use the term democratic in this paper, understanding that it refers to libertarian systems. The reason is that it is the historically settled term for both the advocates and critics of such systems, the major subject matter here, and to replace it with libertarian would promote ambiguity and confusion.

5. Totalitarian and communist systems should not be confused. While most communist systems are totalitarian, not all are (e.g., Poland); also not all totalitarian systems are communist, such as Ayatollah's Iran and Hitler's Germany.

6. See Rummel ("War isn't this century's biggest killer,"; 1987) for these figures and related analysis [These figures are from the pilot study I conducted on democide, based on which I launched a full investigation of democide--the resulting case studies and overall ststistics are in Death By Government; the data and detailed analyses are in Statistics of Democide]

7. The words "enhance" and "foster" are carefully chosen to imply the use of the non-forceful, non-violent, arts of persuasion, facilitation, and encouragement. Any policy to forcefully spread democracy to impose democratic institutions on others would contradict the very essence of the policy, which is that people should be free to choose.

8. The ethical question whether this would be a socially just solution to violence is as important as to whether there is an empirical relationship. I cannot treat this issue here, but using the social contract approach to justice I have concluded elsewhere that promoting the freedom of individuals to choose their way of life, consistent with a like freedom for others, would minimize violence and maximize social justice. (Vol. 5: The Just Peace)

9. Kant, 1957, pp. 12-13.

10. Quoted in Howard, 1978, p. 29.

11. Of course, much of such writing was not self-consciously socialist or ideological, but the analyses and programs were in the socialist tradition. See for example, the World Order studies, and in particular Falk (1975) and Falk and Mendlovitz (1966).

12. Keep in mind that two kinds of freedom must now be distinguished. To the Marxist-Leninist, it is communist freedom (in effect, anarco-communism) that creates peace; to the classical liberal peace is fostered by individual freedom under a democratic government.

13. See Galtung (1964, 1969).

14. Based on Wright, 1965, Table 44, p. 650.

15. Hitler's Nazi Party was self-consciously socialist: Nazi stood for The National Socialist German Worker's Party. While not formally nationalized, big business was brought under complete Nazi government control and dictation; and the German economy was centrally directed by government ministries.

16. Published in 1954, by 1965 it had gone through six printings.

17. See, for example, Weed (1984) and Chan (1984)

18. Rummel, "Libertarian Propositions on Violence Within and Between Nations: A Test Against Published Research Results".

19. The theoretical assumption is not that the data points for the violence versus freedom coordinate axes would lie close around a downward sloping regression line, which is required for an high correlation, but that the data points lie in a right triangle, whose base is the horizontal axis (freedom) and whose right angle is at the origin.

20. Note that this is even the way the question I was to answer in this paper was phrased by the book conference organizers: "Can the relative bellicosity of states be measured and predicted as a function of their internal political system?" (italics added). Consider how different this monadic question becomes if "of" is replaced by "between", and "relative" is added after "their".

21. There are two minor exceptions to this. An "ephemeral republican France attacking an ephemeral republican Rome in 1849," (Small and Singer, 1976, p. 67), and barely democratic Finland joining Germany in fighting the Soviet Union in World War II. This put Finland formally at war with the democracies, but no actual hostilities occurred.

22. It has been alleged that the lack of war between democracies is due to chance or to lack of borders between most of them. Tests of significance show that both these possibilities are very improbable. See Rummel ("Libertarianism and International Violence").

23. Morgenthau, 1985, pp. 378-379.

24. Much of the accumulated evidence supporting the inverse relationship between democracy and violence comes from the empirical side-results of research on other, often quite unrelated, topics.

25. Johan Galtung, "Memo to friends and colleagues," and published exchange of communications between Henry Kariel and Johan Galtung, Political Science Department, University of Hawaii, April, 1988.

26. Wright,1965, pp. 847-848.


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