The Democratic and Liberal Peace Hypothesis – Essay Example

The paper "The Democratic and Liberal Peace Hypothesis" is an exceptional example of a politics essay.
The democratic peace theory or liberal peace theory hypothesizes that nations with democratic governments are unlikely to go to war with each other. Inspired by the theoretical precepts by Immanuel Kant, the democratic peace theory tends to cater to the idealist and classical liberalist traditions. The theory of realism in international relations has a contradictory view regarding democratic nations. Dr. Hans J. Morgenthau, adhering to his strong realist convictions, refutes the possibility of a peaceful state of affairs emerging out of democratic governments by the sheer goodwill they are supposed to exhibit for one another. Kenneth N. Waltz points out that “Morgenthau…thought of the “rational” statesmen as ever striving to accumulate more and more power. He viewed power as an end in itself”1. The concept of the evil nature of those who try to grasp power is disputed by Morgenthau with this stance, and it questions the democratic peace theory’s hypothesis that the rational aspects of democratic governments make war among them impossible.

In his lecture titled “The Nature and Use of Power and its Influence Upon State Goals and Strategies”, Morgenthau compares the nature of power in the political and military strategy. He states that it is a strange illusion that “a nation – even a great nation – had a choice between what is called power politics and a foreign policy which is free from the taint of power”2. The wishful thinking of democratic peace theorists can only lead to unpleasant surprises. The realist theory based on the existing state of affairs and the speculation that the desire for power is ingrained in individuals and nations no matter what the circumstances be is capable of foreseeing and addressing disruptions of peace.
Waltz describes the neorealist responses to the realist theory, as exemplified by Morgenthau’s observations. He points out that “neorealism rejects the assumption that man’s innate lust for power constitutes a sufficient cause of war in the absence of any other”3. According to Waltz, the seeds of discord are to found both at the unit-level and structural level. He also refers to the systems theory of international politics which considers the international political scenario in a state of anarchy, though not necessarily implying a state of chaos, lacking in a unifying ruling force to control the system. He observes that “in an anarchic domain, the source of one’s own comfort is the source of another’s worry’ and goes on to state that “in an anarchic domain, a state of war exists if all parties lust for power. But so too will a state of war exist if all states seek only to ensure their own safety”4. Morgenthau contrasts the pre-nuclear world’s reactions to instances of conflict with other nations with the nuclear world’s reactions to the same. He refutes the democratic peace theory that glorifies the rational element of democratic states to detain from war. The rationality is based on a fear of psychosis and the state of peace can only be a variation of the cold war. Neorealists have a similar view on this, and Waltz refers to the “fear of other states” 5 that leads to common interests among nations that are bent on the flexibility of alignment.
Morgenthau and Waltz deal with the issues related to the anarchical international political system in a similar manner through their realist and neorealist views vary on the cause and effect exegesis. Drawing on the historical aspects of the Wars through the last century, Morgenthau emphasizes the need for strategic analysis and the realist perspective with regard to international relations when it comes to instances of disruptions of peace. Waltz problematises Morgenthau’s basic presumption that the desire for power is innate in human beings and can similarly be analyzed in the case of democratic nations. He suggests a larger, complex layer of the structural and systemic basis for the desire for power, which can be evil by nature. However, both agree that the democratic hypothesis is not sufficient to analyze the contemporary international system which is anarchic.



1 Waltz, Kenneth N. “The Origins of War in Neorealist Theory”, Journal of

Interdisciplinary History. Vol 18, No.4 (spring 1988) 86-7

2 Morgenthau, Hans J. “The Nature and Use of Power and its Influence Upon State

Goals and Strategies”. Naval War College Review, (Feb.1964, Vol. XVI, No.6,

pp. 18-30).

3 Waltz, 88.

4 Ibid, 89.

5 Ibid, 90.

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