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Rhetoric & Public Affairs 4.2 (2001) 309-322

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Review Essay

Democratizing for Peace

Robert L. Ivie

Ballots and Bullets: The Elusive Democratic Peace. By Joanne S. Gowa. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999. pp. xii + 136. $29.95 cloth.

Expanding the Zone of Peace? Democratization and International Security. By Alexander V. Kozhemiakin. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. pp. ix + 190. $65.00 cloth.

Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? Great-Power Realism, Democratic Peace, and Democratic Internationalism. By Alan Gilbert. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999. pp. xvii + 424. $18.95 paper.

Never at War: Why Democracies Will Not Fight One Another. By Spencer R. Weart. New Haven, Conn.:: Yale University Press, 1998. pp. xi + 528. $29.95 paper.

Paths to Peace: Is Democracy the Answer? Edited by Miriam Fendius Elman. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997. pp. xi + 528. $29.95 paper.

Power Kills: Democracy as a Method of Nonviolence. By R. J. Rummel. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1997. $34.95 cloth.

Locating democracy at the intersection of the politics of war and peace is a rhetorical expression of U.S. security interests that takes the form of a universal law of international relations grounded in the authority of science. That, at least, is the strong and troublesome tendency of a post-Cold War discourse of democratic peace shared by scholars and political leaders alike. The unintended irony of this discourse, which would expand the domain of liberal democracy in order to dispel international anarchy and tame the forces of chaos, is that it rehearses an attitude of [End Page 309] insecurity, including a fear of domestic as well as foreign Others. Thus, the rhetoric of democratization, or democratic expansion, transposes rather than supplants the Cold War discourse of containment. As before, protective boundaries are drawn and redrawn in the name of freedom, consistent with the aims and privileges of liberal elites to keep virulent outside sources of ideological contamination from infecting and inflaming latent inside tendencies toward distempered democratic egalitarianism. The delicate ecology of liberal democracy inside the polity is maintained by reducing its exposure to alien influences, in this case by pushing back the frontiers of liberal democracy in order to confine ideological foes within an ever-diminishing circumference. Just as liberalism contains democracy, democratization expands the size of the liberal container to promote a pristine and peaceful community of nation-states sharing a single regime type. Or so the theory of a democratic peace prescribes.

The continuity of liberal or republican fear achieved in the transition from containing communism to democratizing for peace is remarkable but largely obscured by a discourse that conflates science with politics, or more specifically that advances an appeal to the universal in circumstances that require an ability to cope with the diversity of particulars. Confounding the universal with the particular not only exacerbates a disposition of insecurity but also suggests, I believe, a serious difficulty with the very model of political communication that constitutes democracy as a dangerous activity. The need to rethink democratic communication itself as a way of addressing the problem of republican fear is a point that lurks around and about the scholarly literature on democratic peace theory, but it can be teased out of the shadows by considering three recent books (R. J. Rummel, Power Kills; Miriam Fendius Elman, ed., Paths to Peace; and Alan Gilbert, Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?) in relation to one another and within the context of other current works in the field (Spencer Weart, Never at War; Alexander Kozhemiakin, Expanding the Zone of Peace?; and Joanne Gowa, Ballots and Bullets). A number of other important and somewhat earlier works, such as Bruce Russett's Grasping the Democratic Peace, necessarily inform my discussion of the books most directly under review and the challenge most immediately at hand. 1

My analysis of how this literature reveals an underlying distrust of democracy proceeds in three steps. First, I chart the movement of the theory toward universal truth and away from democratic practice. Second, I examine how privileging the universal over the particular promotes war in the...


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