Was Kant Wrong to Argue that Democracy Brings Peace Between States? Essay

October 14, 2020 by Essay Writer

Democracy and Peace between States

Kant was a world-renowned political philosopher who among his greatest concepts of peace advocated that democracy could actually create lasting peace between nations. Firstly, he notes that for peace to be realized, a world of constitutional democracies, established by political units, ought to be established. Secondly, Kant’s philosophy greatly relies on the doctrine of the power of the state to protect its citizens; a concept which was largely borrowed from German jurisprudence (Ostrwoski 2010, p. 13).

A reliance on this concept is further affirmed by Kant’s reliance on the supremacy of the constitution. According to Kant’s reasoning, the constitution should guarantee the right of the citizens to be happy and peaceful. From this analysis, Kant’s philosophy was heavily reliant on constitutionalism and the power of constitutional governments to establish peace within given regions.

To a large extent, it can be analyzed that Kant had formulated the problem of constitutionalism by stating that “The constitution of a state is eventually based on the morals of its citizens, which in its turns, is based on the goodness of the constitution” (Lane 1996, p. 58).

The constitutional theory of the 21st century can even be traced to Kant’s’ development of constitutionalism because he states that: “The task of establishing a universal and permanent peaceful life is not only a part of theory of law within the framework of pure reason, but per se an absolute and ultimate goal.

To achieve this goal, a state must become the community of a large number of people, living provided with legislative guarantees of their property rights secured by a common constitution. The supremacy of the constitution… must be derived a priori from the considerations for achievement of the absolute ideal in the most just and fair organization of people’s life under the aegis of public law” (Joerges 2004, p. 67).

This means that citizen rights stipulated in the 21st century concept of constitutionalism stems from the constitution itself. Nonetheless, many scholars have identified shortcomings in Kant’s philosophy and many have made reference to the European Union (EU) as ill equipped to face the challenges on the non-Kantian world outside the EU because it largely bases its policies on Kantian philosophies (Weiler 2003, p. 207).

One of the biggest criticisms to Kantian philosophy stems from the fact that direct democracies means a prevalence of majority rule and this may limit individual liberties. To affirm this opinion (Thompson 1992, p. 58) notes that:

“…democracy is, properly speaking, necessarily a despotism, because it establishes an executive power in which “all” decide for or even against one who does not agree; that is, “all”, who are not quite all, decide, and this is a contradiction of the general will with itself and with freedom”. (p. 58)

In this regard, various forms of government have emerged and they include aristocracy, democracies and monarchs but the classical form of this democracy lies in a mixed from of government which encompasses all the above types of government.

This study acknowledges the fact that democracies rarely go to war or take part in it in first place, but in the same context, it identifies that this concept distorts the realistic form of interstate relations and a support of this concept is bound to make political scholars too sanguine about the ability of democratic nations to deliver world peace. These factors withstanding, this study advances the fact that Kant was wrong to argue that democracy brings peace in today’s world.

Conceptual Analysis

When analyzing the biggest threat to the emergence of war between nations in the 21st century, we can deduce three most significant possible causes of war. They are nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and ethnic or religious conflicts (Ostrwoski 2010, p. 7).

For instance the conflict between India and Pakistan had been the closest the world had come to a nuclear war and this can be traced to the first concept described above (nuclear proliferation) (Ostrwoski 2010, p. 3). Interestingly, the United States (US) which is the world’s biggest democracy has in the recent past waged a war against Afghanistan which manifests the two possible causes of war (terrorism and religious conflicts) also discussed above (Tinnevelt 2010, p. 86).

Contrary to Kant’s philosophy of democracy and peace, the recent September 11th attacks in the US, as alleged by terrorist groups, was a reactions to US’s democratic interventions in religious conflicts on the terrorist’s part of the world. From this analogy, it can be said that democracy is a great contributor to the three causes of war discussed above; meaning that the vaulted political machinery of democracy has consistently failed to work (Ostrwoski 2010, p. 8).

Nuclear Wars

Inevitably, nuclear proliferation which is a big threat to world peace has the potential of increasing conflicts between nations. In relative terms, the threat of nuclear weapons to the realization of world peace increases from an increase in nation-states that posses them. Equally, the risk of nuclear weapons also increases with an increase in the number of nuclear weapons but the same risk is also evident in establishing world peace, when terrorists get hold of such weapons.

Interestingly, some of the world’s biggest democracies have shown the worst examples by possessing these nuclear weapons. It is also very interesting to note that of the eight countries alleged to have (or have) nuclear weapons (US, Russia, China, France, UK, India, Pakistan and Israel) are majorly democratic states. In detail, six of the states are democracies and only two are dictatorships (Ostrwoski 2010, p. 8).

The US which is the biggest democracy in the world, started developing such weapons when it was quickly rising to be one of the world’s superpower. In this regard, nuclear bombs have been synonymously associated with world power and unfortunately, nations such as the US have used them in causing massive destruction to people through wars, as can be evidenced from the Hiroshima bombings in Japan.

When the US started developing these weapons, nations across the globe went ahead and started developing the weapons as well. This led to an arms race and inevitably the cold war. Regardless, maybe these states would have possessed the weapons anyway, but the root of the arms race stems from the fact that the US, which is arguably the biggest democracy in the world started the movement and set precedent for other nations across the globe to follow.

The pursuit for nuclear weapons across the globe was therefore inevitable. The rush to have these weapons has been characterized by a flurry of excuses, with the US claiming that it first developed the weapons to stop Hitler but the production of such weapons never ceased even after Hitler was defeated (Ostrwoski 2010, p. 8).

Later, the US claimed it needed the weapons to protect the state from the Soviet Union. However, it apparently became clear that the nation used the weapons to wage war against Japan. In fact, after Japan was defeated, the production of these weapons increased tremendously (Ostrwoski 2010, p. 18).

From this analysis, it can be seen that democratic states not only develop nuclear weapons to protect themselves against their enemies, but to advance their power in global politics and sometimes even wage war against other nations. All in all, this is the coin of political realm, even though democracies are supposed to protect its citizens against the danger of war in today’s society (as purported by Kant); but it is hard to ignore the fact that democracies are a great part of the problem.


Terrorism is another good example of the failure by democracies to establish world peace. It had been evidently clear from the terror campaign that the UK and the US invaded Afghanistan, thus increasing anxiety amid India and Pakistan, which were on the brink of a fully blown nuclear conflict (Tinnevelt 2010, p. 5). It is also interesting to note that the biggest targets of terrorism activities are majorly democratic nations and they include the US, UK, Germany, France, Israel, Italy, Turkey and Peru (Tinnevelt 2010, p. 5).

The leading reason advanced by most terrorist organizations for targeting these democracies is the fact that democratic countries have consistently adopted unfavorable foreign and domestic policies (Ostrwoski 2010, p. 8).

It is also interesting to note that democratic regimes which have noninterventionist foreign policies are seldom targeted by terrorists; meaning that the issue here is not a moral evaluation of terrorism and its antecedents but rather the exploration of the question about whether democracies provoke or discourage terrorism (which is also a big threat to world peace). Undoubtedly, democracies provoke terrorism acts.

Ethnic and Religious Conflicts

Ethnic and religious conflicts are probably among the leading cause of organized conflicts and a big threat to world peace. Though a significant portion of these conflicts have been largely characterized by dictatorships and oppressive regimes, a significant portion of the conflicts have also been perpetrated under democratic regimes.

For instance, religious and ethnic conflicts evidenced in Turkey, Yugoslavia, Spain, Philippines, Russia, Peru, Namibia, Mexico, India, Georgia, and Colombia have all happened under democratic regimes (Tinnevelt 2010, p. 5).

Research studies show that about 25 of the most recent intrastate conflicts have been either religious or ethnically instigated and a staggering 23 out of the 25 intrastate conflicts have prevailed under democratic regimes, either partially or fully (Ostrwoski 2010, p. 17). In fact, in some cases, democratic regimes have been successfully overthrown because a significant minority of the population has felt neglected by such regimes.

Empirical evidences have shown that democratic states have promoted ethnic conflicts but a close scrutiny of the process of democratization explains this phenomenon. Even in the biggest democracies across the globe, people have since immemorial voted along ethnic or religious lines although these two parameters (ethnicity and religion) can be closely analyzed together.

In close analysis, people hailing from one ethnic subgroup have always voted for a candidate coming from their ethnic group or sometimes the same people have been seen to vote for candidates they believe best represent their own interests.

This kind of scenario also inevitably brews controversy among voters because voters who fail to propel their candidate into office always harbor some form of resentment on voters who prevented their candidate from entering office in the first place. Even an increase in the population of another subgroup may potentially seem threatening to a specific ethnic group since they may feel like other ethnic groups are a potential threat to advancing their own interests.

The nature of democracy therefore leads to the thriving of such animosities because it gives one vote to a single person and this means that it is easy for one candidate from the majority ethnic groups to capture office; thereby sidelining the wishes of other ethnic or religious groups. Thus, it can be said that democracy, from its own inherent nature possesses the seed of ethnic conflict.

Theoretical Critique

The theory of democratic pacifism is usually advocated by academicians, politicians, diplomats and a significant population of the general citizenry; however; the biggest question we should ask ourselves is: are democratic states really peaceful? In another context, we should majorly ask ourselves is the world’s biggest democracy (US) peaceful?

History affirms that these states are not peaceful and in fact, some of the world’s deadliest conflicts have been instigated by democratic states. Affirmatively, the two bloodiest wars in the past ten decades have been the two world wars plus the American civil war which led to more than 620,000 deaths (Ostrwoski 2010, p. 16).

However, theorists of democracy as a facilitator of peace, such as Rummel, argue that democratic states have a lesser frequency of war when compared to dictatorships but the truth of the matter is that these theories ignore many other potential influencing factors of peace (Tinnevelt 2010, p. 5). These theorists tend to incline towards the classical liberal state which defines states with limited powers but the truth of the matter is that there are very few states in the world which are classical liberal today.

Also, from the analysis of the democratic liberalist states, it is evidently clear that democracies bestow a lot of power on governments and this essentially becomes very dangerous in the upheaval of citizens’ rights. In other contexts, it can be viewed from the dangers of power that power essentially kills; meaning this is a contravention of democratic pacifism theories advocated by scholars such as Spencer Weart (Ostrwoski 2010, p. 19).

However, there’s no doubt that democracies lead to a number of positive outcomes such as the fact that: democracies rarely, if ever, go to war with each other; democracies tend to be more peaceful than each other; democracies have a less internal voice and democracies have relative peace; however, it is still hard to ignore the fact some of the biggest democracies like the UK and the US have been the biggest instigators of war. It can therefore be seen that the realization of peace happens from structural make up and not by coincidence or accident (Joerges 2004, p. 207).


Kant’s assertion that democracies lead to the attainment of world peace is a misplaced argument because contrary to his philosophy, democratic states have constantly destabilized world peace because some of the biggest world conflicts have been instigated by some of the world’s biggest democracies.

The US and the UK in particular are singled out in this study as the biggest democracies although in many instances, they have been fighting with many nations; considering the fact that they have taken part in some of the world’s bloodiest conflicts. These countries are also at the forefront in the war against terror by carrying out invasions even though they are supposed to uphold world peace through their constitutions (as purported by Kant).

Also, this study identifies that democratic governance by the virtue of its own structure is ethnically motivated to brew conflict. This arises out of the fact that democracies encompass a “one man one vote” policy where the majority rule and the minority lose. This kind of policy has brewed conflicts of a civil nature.

Religious conflicts have also majorly occurred under democratic regimes and the kind of conflicts which have either been provoked or occurred under democratic regimes are still endless. These issues withstanding, it becomes clear that democracy in its own nature brews conflict and Kant’s argument of democracy as a facilitator of peace is definitely wrong.


Joerges, C. (2004) Transnational Governance and Constitutionalism. London: Hart Publishing.

Lane, J. (1996) Constitutions and Political Theory. Manchester: Manchester University Press ND.

Ostrwoski, J. (2010) The Myth of Democratic Peace. Web.

Thompson, J. (1992) Justice and World Order: A Philosophical Inquiry. London: Routledge.

Tinnevelt, R. (2010) Global Democracy and Exclusion. London: John Wiley and Sons.

Weiler, J. (2003) European Constitutionalism beyond the State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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