The Democratic Peace Theory (perhaps that should be ‘representative democratic’) says that democracies are loathe to go to war with one another. But the truth of the claim is far more broad than a simple democratic constant. And of course, democracies have been far more likely to go to war with other governmental types historically, and more importantly, have done so with greater purpose and destructive desire than non-ideological government forms.
The obvious example was Athens, which, under the Peisistratid tyranny (no pejorative connotations, please, we’re Greeks) wasn’t particularly bellicose. This was in part because the infrastructure was still recovering from the Dark Ages started centuries before by the still mysterious Sea People, but also because the lack of a centralised state. Peisistratos had little interest in military endeavours: he was far more likely to lose something than gain it in the privatised form that government was in. He installed a friend in Naxos, and he established an outpost in the Thracian Chersonese. This was somewhat less belligerent than his old days, when he rabble roused the δέμος into attacking Salamis after Solon recited a poem under guise of insanity (to get around a law against discussing Salamis. It was something of a sore issue. It’s all in Plut. Sol. 8.2-10.4 for those playing at home). At any rate he presided well, instituting a coin that would eventually inspire the Athenian ‘Owl’ Tetradrachm, that would remained quite possibly the most sound currency of the next 300-400 years, holding its value long after Athens had lost hers. Fine Attic pottery started disseminating widely, he built the first aqueduct and instituted the Great Panathenaia, one of the most important Athenian festivals.
The archetypal Athenian Tetradrachm
Then the tyrannicides came along and ruined everything. Peisistratos was followed by Hippias to the de facto throne, and he also ruled competently for 13 years, a period of culture and writing. But he made the mistake of falling in love with Harmodios, and spurned, denied Harmodios’ sister the right to serve in the Panathenaic procession. So Harmodios and his lover Aristogeiton killed Hipparchos (Hippias’ brother) at the festival, believing their plot betrayed.
The Alkmeonidoi eventually deposed Hippias after four long, paranoid years, and brought in the democracy. Sadly, of course, this proved to be far less beneficial to Athens, but it certainly seemed beneficial to them. Extolling the virtue of the tyrannicides, the aristocracy gladly embraced the greater position they gained in the democracy than the one that saw their positions eroded by Peisistratid rule.
As aristocratic norms were quickly replaced by democratic aspiration, especially in the maritime Athens (manly virtue was definitionally hoplite virtue), it became necessary to prove your bravery, not in terms of deeds on the battlefield, but support for wars in the Βουλή. ἀρετή became democratised, with disastrous, bellicose results. In the 5th century BC, Athens was at war at least two in every three years. Following the massive population reduction of the Peloponnesian War, with the plague that swept the city, in the 4th century she was at war three in every four years. Public orations for the war dead reinforced the failed notion of Athenian (political) freedom, and guaranteed the decline of the city.
Louis XIV was a literal man, but not without flair
War, when applied properly, is the ultima ratio regum, not entered into lightly, not designed to inflict massive losses on the people, or burden them unduly, but to resolve a dispute over territory, or succession, or some other matter. It was not, and should not be used to conquer equal neighbours, or to demolish their governmental system. It is not to proselytise ideology as the Athenians (and Americans) sought to in their Empire, or infringe upon your neighbour’s lawful property. And it is certainly not for its own sake, as with the Spartans and Italian Futurists.
Modern democracies go to war to spread their faith, be it over the relative monarchy of Germany in the First World War or against the Ba’athist Iraq in 2003 (and, speaking of Ba’athists, watch out, Bashar). Finding a pretext, they declare war, pump up the rhetoric of democratic freedom, and then either destabilise the country so much that they are forced to amend they governmental form, or they hunt down the dissenter in chief, hold a trial and put a noose around his neck. In both cases, the result was the same. The Weimar Republic disintegrated into the hideous National Socialist regime, and the Iraqi government is rapidly falling to Islamic State, and both will take a total war to dismantle followed by indefinite occupation. Incidentally, I really think that old Ibrahim’s regime is far more brutal than Israel ever has been or would be even in one of Avigdor Lieberman’s wet dreams, but apparently the minorities there don’t rate a protest from the trots and their Islamist buddies. It’s bloody fortunate for the Caliph that he isn’t Jewish; the outcry would be deafening.
This brings me well enough to my first real point, which is about this Democratic Peace Theory. It’s certainly true that democratic government are unlikely to go to war with other democracies, and are marginally less likely to declare war overall (today at least, which is probably a function of the number of democracies). But riddle me this: when was the last time you heard of a fascist state declaring war on another fascist state? Perhaps there was a Ba’athist state that invaded another Ba’athist state? Or how about a communist one declaring war on another communist one, since there were more of them and they were longer lived? Hard, isn’t it?
The one example that a friend of mine was able to find was the invasion Cambodia by Vietnam (with its following, simmering war) between 1977-1991. But I don’t really accept this as a true example of two communist states fighting. When Cambodia was colonised by the French in 1863, they had endured four centuries of progressive territory losses, Siam on one side, Vietnam on the other. Vietnam had been flooding the area with migrants over the first half of the 19th century, and had the French not guaranteed Cambodia’s independence as a part of French Indochina, it almost certainly would have been annexed before they were taken over by communists. The war between those two states seems to me to be little more than continuation of the pre-colonial status quo.
This seems like an simpler solution.
There is nothing magically stopping democratic England attacking democratic France that is intrinsic to democracy. Were they both fascist, they wouldn’t war with each other either. A similar governmental structure is an instant builder of common ground. England and France, fascist brothers, spreading the peace of mutual fascism and supporting fascism around the world. In this fascist world, where that idea became the Whiggery of choice, there is just as strong a rationale to underpin the Fascist Peace Theory as there is in our world where democracy is de rigueur.
Substitute the word ‘fascist’ for ‘communist’, and the identical principle applies.
So this becomes instead The Whiggish Ideology Peace Theory. Any two governments that hold the same ideology are significantly less likely to go to war with one another than two governments that hold differing ideologies. But this raises a significant question: since fascism is derivative of socialism and socialism is derivative of Marxism, as is communism, why did the fascists fight the communists (and vice versa) instead of getting together to destroy the democracies?
My short answer is that the border decided that it would be sooner rather than later, and the underpinning reason was similarity requiring animosity as a form of distinction trending to elimination. Modern Australian politics has both sides closer than they ever have been historically, and so the Coalition and Labor are forced to fight dirty over every tiny inch of difference. Equally, when you put forward two, big government, authoritarian, no-one gets out ideologies next to each other, a fight becomes inevitable. If Stalin had been able to bridge the last few gaps and become a Hitlerist, or Hitler a Stalinist, that’s the thousand year Reich right there.
It is true, historically, that monarchies fought, and viciously, over territory, right to rule and so on, as another friend pointed out. But there is no reason to think that this would have persisted. War has become hugely and prohibitively expensive, not just in terms of the ordinance, but in terms of the destruction wrought by war on the human population. Remember that thing about not harming civilians? The traditional Greek war between the poleis was to inflict tokenistic damage on some part of your enemy’s land to draw them out, fight them in a pitched battle, and then not run down your enemy’s hoplites when one side fled the battle. Blood was expensive, crops were expensive. So everyone minimised losses. As the 5th century progressed, the experience of the Persian Wars changed the mindset of the Greeks towards more destruction, and Athens’ war with Sparta was as close to total war as the ancient world came (Sparta’s terms for Athens were pretty humiliating too, not unlike Versailles).
At some point, there would have been a war between the monarchs, and a big one too. But I would dispute the notion that it would have been as destructive as the First World War, let alone the Second. If classical international law had been respected, peace would always have come faster. There certainly would not have been the spiralling situation of that ushered in the First World War. Pan-Slavicism was not sufficient cause for Russia to prevent Austria punishing Serbia, and Germany marching through Belgium was not a violation of sovereignty as long as they did no harm to the Belgian people. For anyone who hasn’t read the latest issue of Radish Magazine, you are missing out greatly.
And the reality is that after rebuilding even a small part of your country, dealing with internal unrest that comes with hundreds of thousands of body bags in the absence of a galvanising ideology, and the cost of mobilisation and movement to a war economy, the monarchs would have realised that trade and settlement was a much better idea.
The second point that I would like to make is one that Moldbug came extremely close to, but as far as I can tell, never actually stated. Ideology is the death of good government. Democracy requires ideology. Therefore democracy is the death of good government.
Prior to Whiggery’s advent, governments were not ideological. They didn’t say ‘this is the right way to do things, because our very smart reasoners have said so.’ Rather, they considered problems, and tried to solve them without much interest beyond fixing it. People had ideas that were not part of a coherent platform, and His Majesty decided which was best, in conversation with his Privy Council.
The Whigs came along, and broke that down. Tories are quite by definition not ideological, and Whigs sought to move to dialectic forms of government where the totality of ideology would eventually mean the death of Tory philosophy. As an aside, modern conservatives like to claim non-ideological status too, especially if they have read Oakeshott. At this point, they invariably become wholly useless to their preferred disposition unless they can embrace reaction (and even then, their traditionalism generally prevents neo-reaction). Alas. And so we end up here, where many ideologies that are all cladistically Whiggish fight viciously for primacy. Of course, agreeing with Bryce, that in the memeplex of modernism, left-est is best-est, the most socialist platform wins eventually. From Calvin to Žižek to I shudder to think what.
The true beauty of neo-cameralism is the dual effect of removing ideological government structures, and preventing them devolving once again into ochlocratic ‘progress’. Exit and competition kill ideology, and this is why neo-reaction is far greater than throne and altar reaction, which has never solved the problem of how to prevent the patient’s cancer from coming back.
Democracy weakens countries, replacing the values of its people with new ones that are accessible to the masses. It fights and fights to force democracy on others, and creates a mythology around itself that in so doing, it will someone forge a lasting peace. But of course, that mythology is just as applicable to any of the other ideologies, none of whom are inclined to war internally. And worst of all, democracy forges and galvanises the primacy of ideology, which proceeds to ruin government. But, at least for now, we get to point that out.