Argument: Majority rule in democracies does not promote peace

Issue Report: Democratic peace theory


James Ostrowski. “Does Democracy Promote Peace?”. Ludwig Von Mises Institute. 26 Apr. 2001 – “Does democracy promote peace? We are told continually that it does. Let’s compare the rhetoric to the reality.

Not to be confused with a republic, a democracy is a system in which, theoretically, what the majority says goes. The reality, however, is more complex and much uglier. In a democracy, various political elites struggle for control of the state apparatus by appealing to the material interests of large voting blocks with promises of legalized graft.

Thus, we may modify our definition of democracy to mean a system in which our rulers are chosen by a majority of those who bother to show up on election day, exclusive of those who lack the minimal mental skills required to cast a lawful ballot.

In modern democracies, individuals allegedly retain certain rights that cannot be overridden by the majority. Who defines and enforces those rights? Officials chosen by the majority. So much for individual rights in a democracy. Probably the most salient feature of modern democracy is the bizarre notion that whatever the majority says constitutes sublime moral principle.

In truth, democracy is nothing more than the numerous bullying the less numerous. It is an elaborate rationalization for the strong in numbers to impose their will on the electorally weak by means of centralized state coercion. What a formula for peace! If democratic states can impose their will on their own minority populations, why not impose their will on other countries, states, and peoples, particularly if they are not democratic? Strange it is, though, that pugnacious democrats always forget the principle of majority rule when war comes. They have never sought the prior consent of the majority of the inhabitants of the nations they seek to conquer, subdue, and rule.

James Ostrowski. “The Myth of Democratic Peace: Why Democracy Cannot Deliver Peace in the 21st Century”. LewRockwell. Spring 2002 – Ideological and other civil wars. Though ethnic conflict is the primary instigator of intrastate war, democracy also fails to deter ideological civil war. Ironically, democracy was supposed to avoid just such wars by allowing people to resolve their disputes through elections. Evidently, this works better in theory than in reality.

American Civil War. The primordial example is the American Civil War (War Between the States). It is not well known that the democratic idea led to the most destructive war ever fought in the Western Hemisphere. Why did Lincoln order armies into Virginia, which had not been involved in the attack on Fort Sumter? Let him speak for himself:

“[W]e divide upon [all our constitutional controversies] into majorities and minorities. If a minority . . . will secede rather than acquiesce [to the majority], they make a precedent which, in turn, will divide and ruin them; for a minority of their own will secede from them, whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such minority . . . the central idea of secession, is the essence of anarchy.”22

Thus, a substantial motive for Lincoln’s invasion of the South was to preserve the principle of majority rule, that is, the ability of the majority to impose its will on the minority. The War Between the States revealed the true nature of democracy as bullying. It just so happens that people usually put up with it, and the bullied minority is scattered throughout the nation. In the War Between the States, however, the bullied minority was clustered together and willing to fight. Democracy, ultimately, is majority rule at gunpoint. Such a philosophy is perfectly consistent with a tendency to fight wars.