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20210228 – Democracies at War




The main idea of this book is to use statistical analysis of historical data about wars in order to prove that democracies actually do win wars by far more often than lose, then demonstrate that usual reasons applied to this fact are often deficient, or just plain incorrect, and finally present authors’ suggested reasons for this historical phenomenon for which they want to “show that, in fact, democracies do not win wars because of some sense of international democratic community. Nor do they win because they are generally richer or typically better able to extract resources from their economies. Instead, as we shall see, the power of democracies lies not in the leaders or political elite, but instead in the people themselves—ultimately, power lies in the governed, not in the governors. “


One: Democracy’s Fourth Virtue
Authors start by stating that object of this book is the fourth virtue of democracy that is rarely mentioned unlike usual 3 virtues: freedom, prosperity, and peace. This 4th virtue is the martial effectiveness of democracies. Authors then present their main thesis:” Our central argument is that democracies win wars because of the offshoots of public consent and leaders’ accountability to the voters. Regardless of the particular permutation, at the core of democracy is the notion that those who govern are accountable in some way to the consent of the people. In democracies, leaders who act without the consent of the voters do so at considerable political risk of removal from office.”  After that authors identify four perspectives that from which they will be looking to analyze their central argument:

Perspective 1: Political Structures

Perspective 2: Political Culture

Perspective 3: International Community

Perspective 4: Economic Might

Authors conclude this chapter by reducing all prospective to one key conclusion. They also discuss here the statistical methods they use to test their hypothesis.

Two: Democracy, War Initiation, and Victory

This chapter reviews relation between initiation of war, type of society, and results.

Authors analyze two propositions:

Proposition 2.1: Among war initiators, the more democratic a state is, the more likely it is to win.

Proposition 2.2: Among war initiators, democracies are most likely to win, dictatorships are next most likely to win, and mixed regimes are least likely to win.

They also provide table with summary of historical outcomes:

They also analyse a number of specific conflicts, which generallly support these propositions.

Three: Democracy and Battlefield Success
Here authors move from war outcomes to battles and comparative analysis of behavior of armies and soldiers depending on type of society. Here author also presents and test these propositions:

Proposition 3.1: Democratic soldiers fight with higher levels of morale than other soldiers.

Proposition 3.1a: The later in a war a battle takes place, the lower will be the morale for democratic soldiers.

Proposition 3.2: Democratic soldiers will demonstrate higher levels of initiative on the battlefield.

Proposition 3.3: Soldiers are more likely to surrender to democratic armies than to authoritarian armies.

Proposition 3.4: Democratic armies enjoy superior levels of leadership.

Authors then provide statistical analysis supporting validity of these propositions.

Four: Balancers or Bystanders? The Lack of Fraternal Democratic Assistance
In this chapter authors analyze and generally reject common misconception that democracies support each other at the time of military need. They provide tabulation for defender interventions, then analyze historical record, and conclude that type of society does not play significant role in attracting externa; support:

Five: Winning Wars on Factory Floors? The Myth of the Democratic Arsenals of Victory
In this chapter authors reject another the myth about economic and technological military advantages of democracy. Actually, they seem to accept idea that democracies are doing better in economic and technological development overall, but they demonstrate that it does not apply to resource mobilization at the time of war. Generally, whatever levels of economic and technology exist, it will be used to conduct war and non-democracies are as good or even better in mobilizing such resources.

Six: Democracy, Consent, and the Path to War
Here authors look at important parameter impacting war-time morals of population and army: consent to initiate war. This parameter is quite important for democracies because freedom of expression guaranties the expression of opposition leading to more careful approach to initiation of war and more serios analysis of potential consequences. It however does not prevent democratic elites from initiating unreasonable actions, it just makes it quite a bit more difficult than in dictatorships.

Seven: The Declining Advantages of Democracy: When Consent erodes
In this chapter authors address situations when advantages of Democracies decline. They offer these propositions:

Proposition 7.1: The longer a war continues, democracies will be more likely than autocracies to seek an end to the war.

Proposition 7.1a: Democracies will be more likely to accept draws than will autocracies, which will seek victory.

Proposition 7.2: The longer a war continues, the more likely autocracies are to win.

Proposition 7.3: Wars involving two autocracies are less likely to end in draws but last longer than wars involving democracies.

They make an interesting point that Democracies are less resilient in the case of prolonged war because consent of people tend to decay over time and so does resolve to win. Here is graph demonstrating this trend:

Eight: Why Democracies Win Wars

In the last chapter authors summarize their finding the following way:” WE NOW KNOW why democracies win wars. The two key dimensions of the democratic character that best explain democratic victory are the skeleton of democracy, those political institutions that hold democratic leaders accountable to the consent of the people, and the spirit of democracy, with its emphasis on the development of individual rights, responsibility, and initiative.” They also provide combined table of statements they made in this book with reference to its chapters:


I think that authors’ approach is outstanding and it provides very good support for idea that democracies are better at war than it is usually thought. Authors also provide pretty good analysis of reasons for this. I do agree with authors inferences, especially the one about high dependency of Democracy’s military advantages on continuing consent of population. In think that one thing here that is missing, it is dependency of consent on scope of democracy. In normal environment the wide scope of democratic freedoms inevitably produce opposition to any war, as well as to any other action of government. However, depending on core nature of war, whether it is perceived as existential or optional, the scope of freedom could be diminished in order to suppress opposition and assure continuity of consent. Good example would be WWII when Sir Oswald Mosley – Nazi supporter in UK was arrested in1940 and imprisoned until 1943 when victory was pretty much assured and war start losing its existential character. Similarly, in USA German American Bund – Nazi supporting organization was suppressed and its leaders arrested under various accusations, not necessarily related to politics. However, during Vietnam War, which was considered as optional by just about everybody, opponents were marching on the street under Vietnamese communist banners without slightest fear that they would be treated as enemy collaborators and put into POW camp, which would happen to similar group of young people marching under these banners in South Vietnam. I guess lesson for leaders of democracy should be: if you participate in war – make it either really quick or existential if you really want to win. Actually, American founding fathers seem to understood this well, so they included in Constitution requirement for Congress declare war. Unfortunately, even since the second half of XX century American politicians in power just ignore these requirements of Constitution, similarly to quite a few other requirements and with similarly dismal results.

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