Please tell me, dear friends, why you are predisposed to criticize democracies. What is there about it that irritates you so? To me, there is no higher project than the support of political freedom around the world. I wonder how anyone could possibly wish for anything less than that.
The current flap involves a question from a Science for Peace friend who asks:
“Is the US a democracy? It has made war on quite a number of nations in my lifetime, with horrendous violence (Agent Orange in Vietnam, for example). Does it matter so much that democracies in theory don't make war on other democracies, if they do make war on other nations?”
Let me take her comments in sequence.
“Is the US a democracy?” Answer: Yes, insofar as any society is. Perhaps a few countries are more democratic than the US but the main point is that democracy is everywhere a work-in-progress. One can say that some societies are more democratic than others, but no society is 100 percent democratic. It’s like going East. You can keep going East for the rest of your life and there will still be plenty of East left for you to go toward. We can (and should) keep improving our form of governance forever, but in the end more progress will still be possible. Almost certainly this last presidential election in the US was more democratic than the previous two.
Even more obviously, political freedom varies from one country to another. Does anyone need to be told that it is more unpleasant to live as a citizen of Burma or China or Darfur than the United States or Norway or Canada?
It is widely accepted that global democratization took place in three successive waves. The first began in the early 19th century; at its peak there were 29 countries that can be counted as democratic. With the rise of fascism, the number declined to 12. The second wave followed World War II and crested twenty years later with 36 recognized democracies in the world, then declined in around 1970. The third wave began in 1974 and reached about sixty before beginning to decline. We are now in the slump after that third wave.
There is a clear causal connection between economic development and democracy, though this has seemed more obscure lately, especially since China has developed economically quite rapidly without democratizing. According to Amartya Sen and others, the causal connection runs in both directions, with democracy being especially favorable to economic development.
Scholars of democracy take certain criteria as definitive, and I accept the standards used by Freedom House. It rates each of the 193 countries on two factors: political rights and civil liberties, based on the relevant sections of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Basically, democracies are countries in which there are free and fair competitive elections, a rule of law (including protections for the rights of all citizens), access to a free press, academic freedom in educational institutions, and the right to assemble and discuss public affairs freely without intimidation. There also must be freedom for nongovernmental organizations.
To qualify as an electoral democracy, a state must have, inter alia, the following traits:
- A competitive, multiparty political system;
- Universal adult suffrage for all citizens (with exceptions for restrictions that states may legitimately place on citizens as sanctions for criminal offenses);
- Regularly contested elections conducted in conditions of ballot secrecy, reasonable ballot security, and in the absence of massive voter fraud, and that yield results that are representative of the public will;
- Significant public access of major political parties to the electorate through the media and through generally open political campaigning.
If you are interested in the methodology of Freedom House’s research, it is described well at this site: http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=351&ana_page=341&year=2008
Freedom House’s list of countries in 2008 is as follows:
Saint Kitts and Nevis
St. Vincent and the
Antigua and Barbuda
Sao Tome and
Trinidad and Tobago
Papua New Guinea
Central African Republic
United Arab Emirates
Next, my friend asks: “It [the United States] has made war on quite a number of nations in my lifetime, with horrendous violence (Agent Orange in Vietnam, for example).” Of course, I criticize American militarism as strongly as she does. The Vietnam War is a fitting example.
My friend continues: “Does it matter so much that democracies in theory don't make war on other democracies, if they do make war on other nations?”
Yes, it matters immensely. And it is not merely “in theory” that democracies don’t make war on other democracies. It is an empirical fact. There is an immense and growing body of research on this linkage, which is called “the democratic peace.” I will refer you here to only one book that addresses the subject, but its bibliography is substantial: Paul K. Huth and Todd L. Allee, The Democratic Peace and Territorial Conflict in the Twentieth Century. It attempts to explain the phenomenon.
The democratic peace research shows that democracies do make war. However, the point is this: A well-established democracy virtually never goes to war against another well-established democracy. This record is incontrovertible — but only if one measures war and democracy consistently. To be well-established, a country must have been a democracy for several years (less than ten, but I don’t remember the exact cut-off figure that peace researchers have used). They classify an armed struggle as a war only if it has resulted in at least 1,000 deaths. Be sure you have ascertained the duration and degree of a country’s democracy and the number of deaths before you dispute the generalization. (I have spent too much time doing the research for friends who haven't checked before challenging me. Look it up for yourself, pal!)
But obviously the consequences of this finding are astounding. If it holds up (and it has for quite a few years now), then all we would have to do to establish international peace would be to convert all countries into democracies. Voila!
And indeed, while the recent third wave of democratization was on the upswing, the number of deaths in warfare around the world declined considerably. According to SIPRI, “In 2007, 14 major armed conflicts were active in 13 locations around the world. Over the past decade the global number of active major armed conflicts has declined overall, but the decline has been very uneven...” (See http://yearbook2008.sipri.org/02/02A)
But so far I have only discussed the impact of democracy on inter-state wars, whereas most of the struggles going on in the world recently have been internal wars. Even here, democracy confers benefits on a country’s citizens, and it is Rudolph Rummel’s great contribution to have explicated the inverse association between democracy and what he calls “democide” — the murder of people by their own state. (See his web site: http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/). He gives us this introduction:
“It is true that democratic freedom is an engine of national and individual wealth and prosperity. Hardly known, however, is that freedom also saves millions of lives from famine, disease, war, collective violence, and democide (genocide and mass murder). That is, the more freedom, the greater the human security and the less the violence. Conversely, the more power governments have, the more human insecurity and violence. In short: to our realization that power impoverishes we must also add that power kills.
Through theoretical analysis, historical case studies, empirical data, and quantitative analyses, this web site shows that:
- Freedom is a basic human right recognized by the United Nations and international treaties, and is the heart of social justice.
- Freedom is an engine of economic and human development, and scientific and technological advancement.
- Freedom ameliorates the problem of mass poverty.
- Free people do not suffer from and never have had famines, and by theory, should not. Freedom is therefore a solution to hunger and famine.
- Free people have the least internal violence, turmoil, and political instability.
- Free people have virtually no government genocide and mass murder, and for good theoretical reasons. Freedom is therefore a solution to genocide and mass murder; the only practical means of making sure that "Never again!"
- Free people do not make war on each other, and the greater the freedom within two nations, the less violence between them.
- Freedom is a method of nonviolence--the most peaceful nations are those whose people are free.
The purpose of this web site, then, is to make as widely available as possible the theories, work, results, and data that empirically and historically, quantitatively and qualitatively, support these conclusions about freedom. This is to invite their use, replication, and critical evaluation, and thereby to advance our knowledge of and confidence in freedom--in liberal democracy. It is to foster freedom.
Pray tell, my brother,
Why do dictators kill
and make war?
Is it for glory; for things,
for beliefs, for hatred,
Yes, but more,
because they can.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Among all the democide estimates appearing on this website, some have been revised upward. I have changed that for Mao's famine, 1958-1962, from zero to 38,000,000. And thus I have had to change the overall democide for the PRC (1928-1987) from 38,702,000 to 76,702,000. Details here.
I have changed my estimate for colonial democide from 870,000 to an additional 50,000,000. Details here.
Thus, the new world total: old total 1900-1999 = 174,000,000. New World total = 174,000,000 + 38,000,000 (new for China) + 50,000,000 (new for Colonies) = 262,000,000.
Just to give perspective on this incredible murder by government, if all these bodies were laid head to toe, with the average height being 5', then they would circle the earth ten times. Also, this democide murdered 6 times more people than died in combat in all the foreign and internal wars of the century. Finally, given popular estimates of the dead in a major nuclear war, this total democide is as though such a war did occur, but with its dead spread over a century.”
I recommend Rummel’s web site. I just wish that his observations were recognized and valued by my left and left-liberal friends.