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Democratic Peace: Progress and Crisis

  • Christopher Hobson

When work on the democratic peace first emerged it contributed to the revitalization of liberal thought and represented an important contribution to International Relations (IR). Yet innovation has been replaced by stagnation. Coding and correlation are debated ad infinitum, while little attention is given to growing economic inequality, voter alienation, a decline in traditional parties, rising populism and a wide array of related trends that raise serious doubts about the health of democracies at the center of the zone of peace. Yet if democratic institutions are not functioning as they are meant to, and norms of compromise are disappearing domestically, what hope can there be that these will facilitate cooperative behavior between democracies? Rather than promoting peace, could it be that capitalism in its contemporary neoliberal form is undermining or hollowing out democracy? The static understanding of democracy adopted by this research means that such questions have been largely overlooked. In response, I focus on two major changes impacting established democracies and consider their significance for democratic peace arguments: the decline of democratic institutions and culture, as well as how neoliberalism is reshaping the relationship between democracy and capitalism. In developing this argument, I propose that the template that the democratic peace research program offers for studying the world is emblematic of—and contributing to—a troubling contracting of our political vision. An excessive concern with methodological rigor, combined with a narrow understanding of what qualifies as valid research, has resulted in a body of scholarship that is remarkably sophisticated but has surprisingly little to say about democracy and its place in the world.

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