Democracy and War: A Review of The Literature

It has long been believed in politics that a democracy is the best form of government. Whether a nation enjoys democratic rule or suffer from dictatorship, the risk of getting involved in wars is the same (Weede 1984). Due to a democracy normally being a more advanced society we find that less democracies go to war, and virtually no two democracies go to war against each other. Due to the low rate of democracies involved in wars it is imperative to look at the question, Why are countries that are democracies less violent than non-democracies? This necessary for many reasons, and the more we study the benefits of a democracy, it can create a interest in non-democracies to possibly change their own type of government.

If democracies are in fact hardwired to treat each other benignly and if we can devise nonviolent means of encouraging democratic rule, we may have finally discovered a recipe for lasting peace (Walt 1999). This leads to the prediction that democracies are less violent than countries that are non-democracies.

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Many politicians and most political scientist base their devotion to democracy on the belief that liberal democracy brings with it at least three important virtues: freedom,prosperity, and peace (Reiter & Stam 2002). There has been a extensive amount of research in political science about why democracies are less inclined to go to war with other democracies, and with other nations. According to Rummel (1983) he finds that democracies tend to be involved in war less often than other states is entirely due to his period of observation (Gleditsch 2008).

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In the post-World War II period, Americans, British, French, Belgians, Israelis, and Indians were fairly often involved in interstate or extrasystemic or colonial wars, while simultaneously enjoying reasonably good democratic performance (Weede 1984). In the late seventies, however, all of these democracies succeeded in avoiding involvement in interstate wars surpassing the Singer and Small (1972, 1982) casualty threshold, and most of them also succeeded in in avoid involvement in lesser military conflicts (Weede 1984). What we have seen through the research of many political scientists is that the best way to study democracies, and peace is to look at history, and the list of wars between democracies, and the list of wars democracies are involved in. Most of the time if there is a democracy involved in a war it is a civil conflict.

When it comes to whether democracies are more peaceful there is a overwhelming evidence, and theories that they are more peaceful. A prevalent theory in political science is the democratic peace theory. This democratic peace proposition not only challenges the validity of other political systems (i.e., fascism, communism, authoritarianism, totalitarianism), but also the prevailing realist account of international relations, which emphasises balance-of-power calculations and common strategic interests in order to explain the peace and stability that characterises relations between liberal democracies (Placek 2012). An important reason why the democratic peace theory works is because in a democracy, the elected leaders, and decision makers are held accountable by the people who voted for them. If a decision maker decides to go to war, or do something violent then the people who voted for them are going to vote them out of office when the time comes. Political ideology, therefore, determines how democracies distinguish allies from adversaries: democracies that represent and act in their citizens’ interests are treated with respect and consideration, whereas non-democracies that use violence and oppression against their own people are regarded with mistrust and suspicion (Placek 2012).

I theorize that nations that are democracies are less violent, and less likely to go to war, due to the reasoning that liberal democracy brings with it at least three important virtues: freedom,prosperity, and peace. I am interested in this topic, because living in the most advanced democracy in the history of the world we have been generally conflict free for most of my lifetime. Issues with the United States going to war in Iraq was to “fight the war on terrorism”, and for other natural resources. When we went to war in World War II it was to stop Hitler, and Nazi Germany. This shows that a democracy can go to war, but only if the reasons are justifiable.

Democracy and violence are not correlated. Looking through the past history of wars, and violence from democracies there is sufficient evidence that democracies are least likely to go to war than non-democracies. Due to the advanced society that is usually democracies. The word “democracy” means “rule by the people.” While this definition tells us that the citizens of a democracy govern their nation, it omits essential parts of the idea of democracy as practiced in countries around the world. The principal purposes for which the People establish democratic government are the protection and promotion of their rights, interests, and welfare. Democracy requires that each individual be free to participate in the political community’s self-government. Thus political freedom lies at the heart of the concept of democracy. The overall concept of modern democracy has three principal parts: “democracy,” “constitutionalism,” and “liberalism.” Each must exist in a political system for it to be a genuine democracy (Bahmueller 2007).


  1. Bahmueller, Charles F., et al. Elements of Democracy: the Fundamental Principles, Concepts, Social Foundations, and Processes of Democracy. Center for Civic Education, 2007.
  2. Gleditsch, Nils Petter. “Peace and Democracy.” Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace, & Conflict, 2008, pp. 1430–1437., doi:10.1016/b978-012373985-8.00121-5.
  3. Placek, Kevin. “The Democratic Peace Theory.” The Democratic Peace Theory, 18 Feb. 2012.
  4. Reiter, Dan, and Allan C. Stam. Democracies at War. Princeton University Press, 2008.
  5. Walt, Stephen M. “Never Say Never.” Wishful Thinking on Democracy and War, Jan. 1999.
  6. Weede, Erich. “Democracy and War Involvement.” Democratic Participation in Armed Conflict, 1984, doi:10.1057/9781137386519.0005.

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Democracy and War: A Review of The Literature. (2022, Jun 05). Retrieved from

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