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The Subjectivityo f the 66Dernocratic99 Peace Changing U.S. Perceptions of Imperial Germany 1 Id0 Oren ternational relations are as widely accepted as the claim of a democratic peace. Many scholars are convinced, along with President Clinton, that “democracies rarely wage war on one another.”’ This proposition provides an important rationale for promoting ”democratization” as a pillar of American foreign policy: ”ultimately the best strategy to insure our security and to build a durable peace is to support the advance of democracy elsewhere.”2 However, the search for a democratic peace, scientific though it may be, is not value-free.I argue that the democraticpeace claim is not about democracies per se as much as it is about countries that are ”America-like”or of “our kind.” The apparently objective coding rules by which democracy is defined in fact represent current American values. The democratic peace claim is ahistorical; it overlooks the fact that these values have changed over time. In no small part, this change has been influenced by changing international political realities. The values embodied in the current definition of democracy were historically shaped by the need to distance America from its adversaries. They are products, more than determinants , of America’s past foreign political relations. The reason we do not fight ”our kind” is not that “likeness”has a great effect on war propensity,but rather that we from time to time subtly redefine our kind to keep our self-image consistent with our friends’ attributes and inconsistent with those of our adversaries . Id0 Oren is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota. He is currently an SSRC-MacArthur Foundation Fellow on Peace and Security in a Changing World. I thank the following individuals (some of whom disagreed with my argument)for helpful counsel William Dixon, Geoff Eley, Scott Gates, Jeff Legro, Rhona Leibel, Yair Magen, John Mearsheimer, Andy Moravcsik, Dick Price, Diana Richards, Bruce Russett, Marc Trachtenberg, Stephen Van Evera, Bill Wohlforth, Amy Zegart, two anonymous referees, and especially Raymond Duvall and James Farr. Ethan Cherin and Luigi Cocci extended excellent research assistance. 1, William Clinton, Confronting the Challenges ofa Broader World (Washington, D.C.: US. Department of State, 1993). 2. President Clinton’s State of the Union Message, January 1994, quoted in John M. Owen, ”How Liberalism Produces Democratic Peace,” International Security, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Fall 1994),p. 87. International Security, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Fall 1995), pp. 147-184 0 1995 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 147 Infernational Security 20:2 1 148 In 1917 President Wilson denounced German autocracy, and declared war on Germany to “make the world safe for democracy.” Wilson’s legacy is embraced by the present proponents of the democratic peace the~ry.~ I show, however, that as a political scientist Wilson viewed Germany not as an autocracy , but as a most advanced constitutionalstate, and that he admired Prussia’s statism,administration, and its unequal suffrage.In the 1890sWilson’s political values were different from those currently associated with ”democracy,” and Germany as he perceived it was significantly more ”normal” by his standards at the time than it appears by present norms. Only after U.S.-German political rivalry developed did Wilson begin to differentiatea democraticAmerica from an autocratic Germany. Indeed, America’s very self-portrayal as a democracy and the norms by which it defines democracy were in part shaped by the conflict with Imperial Germany. These norms, I argue, came to be selected because the difference between America’s political system and its adversary’s was greatest when measured against them. In the following section I criticize the democratic peace literature and elaborate my argument. Then, I reconstruct the political theories and perceptions of Germany held by two prominent political scientists of the late nineteenth century: Woodrow Wilson, later U.S. president, and John Burgess, founder of the first graduate program in political science in the United States. I conclude with the theoretical and policy implications of the argument, especially that ”democratization”provides but a frail foundation for US. security policy. The democratic character of foreign countries depends on the peacefulness of their foreign policies...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4804
Print ISSN
0162-2889
Pages
pp. 147-184
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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