Considering the ‘Democratic Peace’ Assumption in Rawls’ Law of Peoples
Since its publication, Michael Doyle’s article Kant, Liberal Legacies and Foreign Affairs (1983) has been influential both for political science and for political theory. The basic hypothesis here expressed is that the apparent (quasi) absence of wars between democratic states which was the focus of an ever-increasing literature could be explained on the basis of their liberal legacy. This includes both democratic institutions and liberal principles, which together concur to the shaping of a ‘liberal’ foreign policy, which has two sides. Thus, whereas democracies are peaceful and cooperative towards fellow democratic states, they are suspicious and unnecessarily aggressive towards non-democracies. Doyle’s idea, based on a philosophical intuition, eventually came back to political theory. As a matter of fact, liberal theorists assumed an interpretation of it as a mainstay for their normative proposals for rethinking international order (Rawls 1999; Archibugi 2008). In doing so, they transformed an explanatory hypothesis into a general law, and the so-called ‘democratic peace’ phenomenon was presented as a fundamental feature of the current international system. In this paper I will argue that the ‘democratic peace assumption’ in current liberal projects for global order is not heuristically fruitful, because it reveals an oversimplification of Doyle’s original hypothesis and at the same time it inherits the flaws which characterize the literature on democratic peace. Firstly, relying on the literature, I will clarify some of the terms of the debate about democratic peace and I will provide the reader with a preliminary distinction between Doyle’s ‘separate peace’ hypothesis and the ‘democratic peace’ vulgata. Secondly, I will briefly summarize the main features of Doyle’s proposed explanation of the absence of intra-liberal wars, the ‘separate peace’. Thirdly, I will sketch the Kantian project for perpetual peace as it is revived in John Rawls’s The Law of Peoples (1999), paying particular attention to the assumption of the ‘basic fact’ of ‘democratic peace’. Finally, I will present four concluding remarks on the possible problems deriving for Rawls’ project for perpetual peace from this assumption of ‘democratic peace’ as a ‘basic fact’ of the international system.