Skip to main content

Powerful Pacifists: Democratic States and War

  • David A. Lake (a1)

Democracies are less likely to fight wars with each other. They are also more likely to prevail in wars with autocratic states. I offer an explanation of this syndrome of powerful pacifism drawn from the microeconomic theory of the state. State rent seeking creates an imperialist bias in a country's foreign policy. This bias is smallest in democracies, where the costs to society of controlling the state are relatively low, and greatest in autocracies, where the costs are higher. As a result of this bias, autocracies will be more expansionist and, in turn, war-prone. In their relations with each other, where the absence of this imperialist bias is manifest, the relative pacifism of democracies appears. In addition, democracies, constrained by their societies from earning rents, will devote greater absolute resources to security, enjoy greater societal support for their policies, and tend to form overwhelming countercoalitions against expansionist autocracies. It follows that democracies will be more likely to win wars.

Hide All
Ames, Edward, and Rapp, Richard T.. 1977. “The Birth and Death of Taxes: A Hypothesis.” Journal of Economic History 37:161178.
Auster, Richard D., and Silver, Morris. 1979. The State As Firm: Economic Forces in Political Development. Boston: Martinus Nijhoff.
Bates, Robert H., and Lien, Da-hsiang Donald. 1985. “A Note on Taxation, Development, and Representative Government.” Politics and Society 14:5370.
Buchanan, James M. 1968. The Demand and Supply of Public Goods. Chicago: Rand McNally.
Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce. 1981. The War Trap. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce, and Lalman, David. 1992. War and Reason: A Confrontation between Domestic and International Imperatives. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Chan, Steve. 1984. “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall …: Are the Freer Countries More Pacific?Journal of Conflict Resolution 28:617–48.
Crozier, Michael J., Huntington, Samuel P., and Watanuki, Joji. 1975. The Crisis of Democracy. New York: New York University Press.
Doyle, Michael W. 1983a. “Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 12:205–35.
Doyle, Michael W. 1983b. “Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs, Part 2.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 12:323–53.
Doyle, Michael W. 1986. “Liberalism and World Politics.” American Political Science Review 80:1151–69.
Ekelund, Robert B., and Tollison, Robert D.. 1981. Mercantilism As a Rent-seeking Society: Economic Regulation in Historical Perspective. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.
Ember, Carol R., Ember, Melvin, and Russett, Bruce. 1992. “Peace between Participatory Polities: A Cross-Cultural Test of the ‘Democracies Rarely Fight Each Other’ Hypothesis.” World Politics 44:4.
Emmerson, Richard M. 1983. “Charismatic Kingship: A Study of State-Formation and Authority in Baltistan.” Politics and Society 12:413–44.
Evans, Peter. 1979. Dependent Development: The Alliance of Multinational, State, and Local Capital in Brazil. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Fama, Eugene F. 1980. “Agency Problems and the Theory of the Firm.” Journal of Political Economy 88:288307.
Fama, Eugene F., and Jensen, Michael C.. 1983a. “Separation of Ownership and Control.” Journal of Law and Economics 26:301–25.
Fama, Eugene F., and Jensen, Michael C.. 1983b. “Agency Problems and Residual Claims.” Journal of Law and Economics 26:327–49.
Feldman, Gerald D. 1966. Army, Industry, and Labor in Germany, 1914–1918. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Friedrich, Carl, Curtis, Michael, and Benjamin, Barbara. 1969. Totalitarianism in Perspective: Three Views. New York: Praeger.
Gurr, Ted Robert, ed. 1990. Polity II: Political Structures and Regime Change, 1800–1986. Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research no. 9263. Ann Arbor.
Hirschman, Albert O. 1970. Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Jensen, Michael C., and Meckling, William H.. 1976. “Theory of the Firm: Managerial Behavior, Agency Cost, and Ownership Structure.” Journal of Financial Economics 3:305–60.
Jervis, Robert. 1978. “Cooperation under the Security Dilemma.” World Politics 30:167214.
Lake, David A. 1990. “The State and the Production of International Security: A Microeconomic Theory of Grand Strategy.” Presented to the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, San Francisco.
Lake, David A. 1991. “Superpower Strategies: the State and the Production of Security.” University of California, Los Angeles. Typescript.
Lamborn, Alan C. 1983. “Power and the Politics of Extraction.” International Studies Quarterly 27:125–46.
Lamborn, Alan C. 1991. The Price of Power: Risk and Foreign Policy in Britain, France, and Germany. Boston: Unwin Hyman.
Lane, Frederic C. 1979. Profits from Power: Readings in Protection Rent and Violence-controlling Enterprises. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Levi, Margaret. 1983. “The Predatory Theory of Rule.” In The Microfoundations of Macrososciology, ed. Heckter, Michael. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Levi, Margaret. 1988. Of Rule and Revenue. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Levy, Jack S. 1989. “The Causes of War: A Review of Theories and Evidence.” In Behavior, Society, and Nuclear War, vol. 1, ed. Tetlock, Philip E., Husbands, Jo L., Jervis, Robert, Stern, Paul C., Tilly, Charles. New York: Oxford University Press.
Lowi, Theodore J. 1967. “Making Democracy Safe for the World.” In Domestic Sources of Foreign Policy, ed. Rosenau, James N.. New York: Free Press.
McCagg, William O. Jr., 1978. Stalin Embattled, 1943–1948. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
Maoz, Zeev, and Abdolali, Nasrin. 1989. “Regime Types and International Conflict.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 33:335.
Morgan, T. Clifton, and Campbell, Sally Howard. 1991. “Domestic Structure, Decisional Constraints, and War: So Why Kant Democracies Fight?Journal of Conflict Resolution 35:187211.
North, Douglas C. 1981. Structure and Change in Economic History. New York: Norton.
Olson, Mancur. 1982. The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Olson, Mancur. 1991. “Autocracy, Democracy, and Prosperity.” Presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington.
Ross, Stephen A. 1973. “The Economic Theory of Agency: The Principal's Problem.” American Economic Review 12:134–39.
Rummel, R. J. 1983. “Libertarianism and International Violence.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 27:2771.
Russett, Bruce. 1990. Controlling the Sword: The Democratic Governance of National Security. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Russett, Bruce, and Antholis, William. 1991. “Democracies Rarely Fight Each Other? Evidence from the Peloponnesian War.” Yale University. Typescript.
Singer, J. David. 1991. “Peace in the Global System: Displacement, Interregnum, or Transformation?” In The Long Postwar Peace, ed. Kegley, Charles W. Jr., New York: Harper Collins.
Siverson, Randolph M., and Emmons, Juliann. 1991. “Birds of a Feather: Democratic Political Systems and Alliance Choices in the Twentieth Century.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 35:285306.
Small, Melvin, and Singer, J. David. 1976. “The Warproneness of Democratic Regimes, 1816–1965.” The Jerusalem Journal of International Relations 1:5769.
Small, Melvin, and Singer, J. David. 1982. Resort to Arms: International and Civil Wars, 1816–1980. Beverly Hills: Sage.
Snyder, Jack. 1991. Myths of Empire: Domestic Politics and International Ambition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Starr, Harvey. 1991. “Democratic Dominoes: Diffusion Approaches to the Spread of Democracy in the International System.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 35:356–81.
Stein, Arthur A. 1978. The Nation at War. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Tiebout, C. M. 1956. “A Pure Theory of Local Expenditures.” Journal of Political Economy 64:416–24.
Tilly, Charles. 1985. “War Making and State Making As Organized Crime.” In Bringing the State Back In, ed. Evans, Peter B., Rueschemeyer, Dietrich, and Skocpol, Theda. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Tullock, Gordon. 1980. “Rent Seeking As a Negative Sum Game.” In Toward a Theory of the Rentseeking Society, ed. Buchanan, James, Tollison, Robert D., and Tullock, Gordon. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.
Walt, Stephen M. 1987. The Origins of Alliances. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Waltz, Kenneth. 1979. Theory of International Politics. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Weber, Max. 1978. Economy and Society. 2 vols. Ed. Roth, Guenther and Wittich, Claus. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Weede, Erich. 1984. “Democracy and War Involvement.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 28:649–64.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed