It's a precept that Americans have no difficulty believing -- that democracies are peaceful countries -- but in a fairly clear-eyed, if brief, analysis of the notion this week in the LA Times, author Mark Helprin says it ain't necessarily so.
"This claim, which has been advanced in the past in regard to Christianity, socialism, Islam and ethical culture, is the postulate on which the foreign policy of the United States now rests. Balance of power, deterrence and punitive action have been abandoned in favor of a scheme to recast the political cultures of broad regions, something that would be difficult enough even with a flawless rationale because the power of even the most powerful country in the world is not adequate to transform the world at will.
"Nor is the rationale flawless. It is possible to discover various statistical correlations among democracy and war and peace, depending on how they are defined and in what time frames. "
Helprin points out that Germany was a democracy when it instigated World War I, and the United States undertook the Mexican and Spanish-American wars without any overt threat to national or global security. Indeed, the Civil War itself hardly stands as a tribute to the peaceful nature of democracies.
OK, so maybe democracies aren't by definition peaceful. But are they more peaceful than other forms of government, such as communism or dictatorships? Helprin says:
"It isn't that democracies are too old or too young or too fat or too thin, but that none is perfect and that, therefore, all are subject to forces that may override the theoretical peacefulness of representative governments. Even perfect democracies, which have never been and will never be, cannot offer the kind of Pax Democratica [the U.S. imagines.]"
Fascinating essay on a myth that is guiding many modern decisions in America.