Democratic Peace: A Political Biography

Democratic Peace: A Political Biography

by Piki Ish-Shalom


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The Democratic Peace Thesis holds that democracies rarely make war on other democracies. Political scientists have advanced numerous theories attempting to identify precisely which elements of democracy promote this mutual peace, often hoping that Democratic Peace could be the final and ultimate antidote to war. However, as the theories were taken up by political figures, the immediate outcomes were war and the perpetuation of hostilities.

Political theorist Piki Ish-Shalom sketches the origins and early academic development of the Democratic Peace Thesis. He then focuses on the ways in which various Democratic Peace Theories were used by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both to shape and to justify U.S. foreign policy, particularly the U.S. stance on the Israeli-Palestinian situation and the War in Iraq. In the conclusion, Ish-Shalom boldly confronts the question of how much responsibility theoreticians must bear for the political uses—and misuses—of their ideas.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780472036295
Publisher: University of Michigan Press
Publication date: 06/28/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Piki Ish-Shalom is Associate Professor of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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Democratic Peace

A Political Biography

By Piki Ish-Shalom

The University of Michigan Press

Copyright © 2013 University of Michigan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-472-11876-2



A Theoretical Model

This chapter sets out the theoretical model for the book: a model explaining the conditioned power of theories. In order to establish my theory, I aim to use hermeneutics — though with a slight twist. Hermeneutics is usually understood as the art of reading and interpreting texts. I want to stress, however, the dual nature of hermeneutics. Although hermeneutics indeed interprets texts, it is also a more active intellectual endeavor of interpreting reality once reality is conceived as an unwritten text. That is not to say that reality is nothing but a text or even to claim it is a text at all. Rather, I wish to make the more modest assertion that the social and political reality studied by theoreticians encompasses narratives, practices, habits, rules of conduct, modes of behavior, norms, ideas, ideals, and so on. It is these social entities that can be envisaged as an unwritten text. Interpreting reality as an unwritten text involves attaching meaning to reality, which is effected through the use of concepts. In the realms of politics and international politics, it is political concepts that serve as the vehicle for attaching meaning.

To explain the power of theories, I will present a three-stage model in which theoretical constructions transform into public conventions and then into political convictions. Once we understand theory as the first stage of a three-stage hermeneutical mechanism, it becomes clear how the theories of democratic peace can influence decision makers, or at least their rhetoric. Moreover, it also becomes clear that it is not the academic theories per se that affect the shaping of the political agenda and its implementation. What affects the political agenda and its implementation are configured theories, and sometimes distorted configurations of theories: theories as the public conceives them — in other words, the public and political representations of these theories. An additional element of this process concerns interested political entrepreneurs who introduce theories to the public by trivializing and sometimes distorting them instrumentally.

Accepting the three-stage model may appear to undermine the force of theory, as it is neither theory nor theoreticians that affect politics. One ought to remember, however, that theories as theoretical constructions are the origins of the politically configured and reconfigured influential public conventions and political convictions, and as such play an important role in political campaigning when ideas are debated and communicated, and receive legitimation. Furthermore, the way politicians use academic theories is an indication of the theories' political capital, and no less important, it also shows the rhetorical capital of the theories.

There are two important reasons why politicians might use theories. The first is that theories persuade politicians so that their strategic thinking becomes framed by them — or more precisely, by the theories' political representation. As this book maintains, this is what happened in the case of the neoconservatives and their advocacy of grand strategies of forced democratization for the Middle East. In the neoconservatives' case, the theories were powerful drivers of the politicization process that the theories themselves underwent later, resulting in political convictions which were the framers of strategic thinking.

The second reason politicians might turn to theories is that they believe theories carry rhetorical capital and are powerful mechanisms for political persuasion. So, the politicians' reasoning continues, it is politically expedient to utilize theories to legitimize what they perceive ideologically as warranted policies. As I argue later, this was the case with prominent Israeli right-wing politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky, who, from the mid-1990s, used the democratic peace thesis' rhetorical capital to convey their ideological objectives of safeguarding Israel against territorial concessions to the Palestinians.

The theoretical framework offered here fits in well within the extensive theoretical International Relations (IR) literature that studies the role of ideas, concepts, norms, and meanings in effecting change, and mainly with the constructivist literature and constructivist assertion that knowledge is a foundation for the social construction of reality (see, e.g., Adler 1992; Adler and Haas 1992; Checkel 1997; Finnemore and Sikkink 1998; Guzzini 2000, 2001; Haas 1992; Keck and Sikkink 1998; Klotz 1995; Kratochwil 1989; Price 1995; Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink 1999). However, this book's interest and aims are broader than the existing literature, at least in one sense — that I do not limit myself to exploring how ideas and theories influence reality — I also explore how reality impacts on ideas and theories. I take both mundane factors such as power and political considerations and ideal factors such as ideology very seriously. All these factors interact with theories and their public acceptance and ability to affect reality. In other words, theories do not affect reality on their own terms, through their original formulations, or even according to their theoreticians' intentions. The process of affecting reality is much more complex and involves the theories being tainted by power, politics, and ideology. Or, stated differently, it is their socially and politically altered configurations, their representations (and misrepresentation) as public conventions and political convictions, which affect reality. Both theories and reality change on encounter. And it is that reciprocal change which warrants a political biography of theory and the study of the political life cycle of theory — in this case, a political biography of the democratic peace theories — the most salient IR theories of the post–Cold War era.

Theoretical Overview and Framework

The purpose of the theoretical chapter is to explore two theoretical approaches and use them to construct a single, coherent framework for understanding theory as a hermeneutical mechanism for attaching meaning to political concepts. The first approach is Michael Freeden's view of ideology as political thought (1996). This approach informs the first stage of the model — theoretical construction. The second approach involves a Gramscian-inspired modification of constructivism. This chapter discusses certain shortcomings of constructivism, focusing on constructivism's underestimation of the mechanisms of politics. It then reconstructs constructivism into a Gramscian-inspired sociopolitical theory, which supports this book's conceptualization of public conventions. This new approach to constructivism is helpful in depicting how public conventions are transformed into political convictions that subsequently drive political action.

Theory as Theoretical Constructions

Freeden, who draws on the literature of essentially contested concepts propounded in the 1950s by W. B. Gallie (1956), defines ideology as "configurations of decontested meanings of political concepts, when such meanings are ascribed by methods at least partly foreign to those employed in currently predominant approaches of scientists, philosophers, linguists, or political theorists" (1996:7). This definition encapsulates Freeden's discussion of the essence of ideology. For Freeden, ideology is one form of political thought, and political thoughts are the assembling together of political concepts; the latter being the basic building blocks of every mode of political thought, such as political philosophy, political theory, and ideology (1996:2).

The core of Freeden's analysis is functionality: what is the function of political thought, and how does political thought perform this function. The implication is that the function of any political thought is to persuade people and motivate them to political action, by assigning meaning to political concepts. Political concepts are by their very nature contested; they embody manifold flexibility of meaning, which needs to undergo a process of interpretation (1996:4). For example, freedom can be conceived as freedom from compulsion, or, alternatively, freedom to aspire, act, and achieve. Likewise, equality can mean, for example, equality of outcomes or opportunities, political equalities, or economic equalities. Each of these meanings provides a different menu of political praxis. Hence, persuading people to accept one meaning rather than another leads them into one political practice rather than another. For example, if by equality we mean an economic egalitarianism based on equal results, we will strive politically for a somewhat socialist organization of society. Conversely, if by equality we mean political equality that ensures equal opportunity, we will strive for a somewhat liberal organization of the state.

As Freeden points out, there is yet another important issue to understand: no single political concept has a viable meaning in itself. It gains meaning, viability, and political significance only in the context of a complete configuration of political concepts (1996:75–91). That is precisely what political thought offer us: a configuration of decontested political concepts that are being arranged together so that each concept confers meaning on the others and receives meaning from them in return. Thus, political thought such as ideologies, political philosophy, and social science theories (the focus of this book), present us with meaningful political concepts whose function — explicitly or implicitly, originally or derivatively, primarily or secondary, predominantly or partially — is to motivate us to political action.

Following Freeden's discussion of ideologies, I suggest understanding theories in a much more holistic sense than usual. Theories as political thoughts offer much more than mere explanations: they offer comprehensive readings of the phenomena under investigation, an entire worldview of political phenomena. Like any other form of political thought, theories take the political concepts investigated and used in the process of theorization, and decontest and endow them with meanings. However, it should be stressed that even though theories are a kind of political thought, it does not make them ideologies. As political thought, theories and ideologies indeed share various features. However, they also diverge on certain critical points, making them two distinct idea entities. Both decontest concepts, though they do that differently — as I argue and demonstrate, both decontest concepts based among other things on normative groundwork. But, unlike ideologies, theories are constrained by methodological and epistemological rules (later described as the four requisites for sound theorizing), and it is those rules which differentiate theory from ideology.

Since theories are configurations of political concepts endowed with meanings, I identify and conceptualize them as theoretical constructions, which stresses their complex structure and intricate function. By presenting us with meaningful political concepts, theories act as the preliminary stage of the hermeneutical mechanism. But before the theoretical concepts can actually motivate political action and function effectively in the world of politics, they need to migrate outside academe and into the public sphere — in other words, they must be transformed into public conventions. This brings us to the second approach — the Gramscian-inspired modification of constructivism.

Theory as Public Conventions and Political Convictions

It is more than a decade since — with a touch of irony — Stefano Guzzini declared constructivism to be a success story and "the officially accredited contender to the established core of the discipline" (2000:147). Guzzini went on to describe a situation whereby "'The social construction of ...' is littering the title pages of our books, articles, and student assignments" (2000:147). Yet, after all these years and many more contributions to the constructivist literature, it seems that, as a whole, constructivism cannot free itself from the accusation that by focusing on the social construction of reality (or the construction of social reality), it ignores the harsh facts of political reality, and is therefore idealist, utopist, or simply too "soft." Indeed, by concentrating on the deep causes of social processes and by claiming to be a theory of the "constructing of social reality" (2000:149), constructivism exposes itself to these charges by undervaluing the shorter-term processes in which mundane politics; that is, politics with its own sets of reasons, interests, and maneuvers, play a major role.

Related to this problem are other shortcomings of the constructivist school. First is the inadequate analysis of the agent and, in the case of the political world, the political entrepreneur. Second, there is an inbuilt weakness in studying plural societies, which, for example, modern democratic societies are. In such societies it is difficult to identify a common meaning that can provide a foundation for constructing a social reality. I try to address these shortcomings by introducing the political dimension into constructivism, and thus converting it from being simply a social theory of the constructing of social reality to being a political theory of the constructing of sociopolitical reality as well.

The departure point is the same as for constructivism: it is the dual interest in the "social construction of meaning (including knowledge), and of the construction of social reality" (2000:149). It is a view of the social as being governed by meaningful action constituted by the shared and intersubjective knowledge of reality. It is the claim that material factors also play a fundamental part in constructing sociopolitical reality as they both constrain and enable the production of knowledge that in turn endows the material world with the meaning on which actions are based. From this is derived the constructivist contention of the constitutional nexus between ideal and material factors, and the role this nexus plays in constructing social reality. Positioning themselves between positivists and postmodernists, the constructivist "middle ground" (Adler 1997) maintains that our knowledge is about something that is real, yet requires our interpretation of it to really matter.

What is important to explicate, and mostly is unappreciated, is that this intersubjective knowledge is mostly unreflective and unaware of itself. Consequently, those who know (and the Greek term doxa may be more appropriate here) barely engage in evaluating and criticizing the validity and sources of their knowledge. By stressing the unreflective nature of shared knowledge (i.e., the constitutive foundation of the sociopolitical world), I introduce the Gramscian notion of hegemony into constructivism, albeit in a very cautious manner (See also Weldes 1996). Bringing Gramsci into constructivism will also help me introduce politics into it, as the Gramscian program, which is ideological, is also — more importantly for present purposes — political in essence (Gramsci 1957, 1971, 1992, 1996, 2007; for secondary sources, see Adamson 1980; Bates 1975; Boggs 1976; Cammett 1967; Davidson 1977; Femia 1981; Ghosh 2001; Ives 2006; Nemeth 1980).

Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937) was one of the leading Marxist thinkers of the interwar years. Orthodox Marxism of the period offered a deterministic and somewhat vulgar interpretation of Marx, stressing the materialistic aspects of his thought and highlighting the brutal mechanisms by which capitalism protected its financial interests. According to this orthodox Marxism, the capitalist bourgeoisie use political society — the state's institutions — and its monopoly on coercion to forcefully subdue the proletariat and safeguard its own sectarian interests. Gramsci took a different course, stressing the less material aspects of Marxism. At the center of political and social inquiry, he placed what might today be termed "soft power." While not ignoring the use of force in society, Gramsci claimed that the key to protecting the capitalist economy and bourgeois society from collapse lies elsewhere — in the domain of civil, rather than political society. In other words, brute force is not what maintains the social order, but rather sophisticated control over the proletariat's thinking, by using the uncritical common sense with which the proletarians think about their world. The social institutions of civil society — such as schools, churches, cultural establishments, and other modes of socialization — easily construct the proletariat's uncritical and unreflective thought. In this process, common sense is manipulated into accepting the social order as given, as a natural law, and as safeguarding the common interest. This mechanism is called hegemony; that is, soft power over the common people's way of thinking, and thence their behavior — it "stupidifies" them into a horde that does not question the capitalist economy and bourgeoisie order. This is the perfect mechanism by which social stability is almost effortlessly maintained.


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

A Note to the Reader xiii

Introduction 1

1 Theory as a Hermeneutical Mechanism: A Theoretical Model 14

2 Democratic Peace as Theoretical Constructions 39

3 Democratic Peace as a Public Convention 68

4 Word-Lords: The Israeli Right s Mobilization of the Rhetorical Capital of Democratic Peace 85

5 The Civilization of Clashes: The Neoconservative Reading of Democratic Peace 112

6 The Three Free World Theories 142

7 Theorizing and Responsibility 171

Conclusions: Zooming In, Zooming Out 204

Notes 219

References 231

Index 259

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