Towards A Good Samaritan World

Monday, December 19, 2005


Niall Ferguson writes an article which concludes:

If the history of 20th-century Europe is anything to go by, all the ingredients are now in place for the biggest conflagration in Middle Eastern history. The only good news is that the first thing to go up in smoke will be the theory of a democratic peace.

Grrr. The last claim would be justified if Ferguson were talking about the scenario in which democratic Iraq attacks Israel. Instead, he has argued that:

what the democratic peace theory doesn't tell you is the number of countries that have plunged into civil war in the aftermath of democratisation...

...the scenario my ex-pupils really need to worry about [is that] democracy lays bare the deep differences between Shi'ites, Kurds and Sunnis. You end up not with a democratic peace but with a democratic war as the Kurds take up arms to fight for independence, and the Sunnis do likewise to reassert their traditional dominance over the more populous and oil-rich Shi'ite provinces.

Ferguson has highlighted the right danger. But this scenario is not a counter-example to the theory of democratic peace. Democratic peace predicts, not that democracies are always able to maintain civil peace, but that wars between (separate, sovereign) democracies never occur. Iraq could plunge into civil war without undermining the democratic peace at all. And Ferguson is a historian. He should know better than to misunderstand the democratic peace in such a basic way.

The worst part is not just that Ferguson falsely claims that the democratic peace is likely to "go up in smoke," but that he calls this "good news." Does Ferguson want democracies to go to war with each other? Surely he would say no if asked, but I think this may be a Freudian slip. Ferguson is a historian, and he likes his history to be exciting-- that's why he loves the British empire so much. And he may not be the only one. I'm always puzzled by why so many people want to dismiss the democratic peace, always with inadequate grounds. Is it because people find a democratc, peaceful future boring?


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