To identify results in these terms, I inspected the political history of each country after the troop withdrawal. I looked for events betokening the collapse of democratic rule, including the suppression of opposition leaders or parties, major infringements of freedoms of speech, press, and assembly, violent transfers of power, murder of political leaders by other leaders, and significant civil war. I required large and multiple failures along these lines as evidence of democratic failure. A few arrests of opposition leaders were not be enough to disqualify the country as a democracy nor a few assassinations of ambiguous meaning nor a simple military coup nor the resignation of an executive in the face of massive street demonstrations. If numerous free and fair elections were held, this was taken as strong evidence that democracy survived. Elections that were one-sided and to some degree rigged by the incumbents were taken as a negative sign, but they did not, in themselves, disqualify the country as democratic.

The results of applying these principles to the political outcomes in the 51 cases of intervention are shown in the following table. Overall, the results indicate that military intervention succeeded in leaving behind democracies in 14 cases—27 percent of the time. The conclusion, then, is that nation building by force is generally unsuccessful. A president who went around the world invading countries to make them democratic would fail most of the time. One group of countries that seem especially resistant to democracy-building efforts are the Arab lands. There have been are nine interventions in Arab countries in the past century. In no case did stable democracy follow the military occupation. ~James Payne, The American Conservative

Mr. Payne’s article is well-timed, at least for me, since I recently discovered Mark Pietrzyk’s International Order and Individual Liberty, a thorough critique of the theory of “democratic peace” that at least indirectly informs that democratic nation-building projects of the 1990s and today. At the moment, I have no time to delve into the matter at length, but I do hope to return to more regular posting next week once my qualifying exams are over (and, let us hope, successful). Mr. Pietrzyk’s sound criticisms of the “democratic peace,” a theory which I have frequently excoriated as something between ignorant utopianism and lunacy, are all the more important for repudiating this theory. The criticisms are coming from someone who seems to be a conventional and genuine believer in the virtues of contemporary liberal democracy in the managerial states in the West. If anything, I believe that his effective repudiation of the idea that democratic institutions and practices produce international peace is too generous to the “democratic peace” theory in some respects, particularly when it insists on ascribing the liberal-democratic designation to modern Italy while denying it to the very real constitutional, representative systems of Germany and Austria prior to 1914. His alternative argument that it is a stable and peaceful international order that allows democratic institutions to flourish, and thus it is periods of instability that encourage authoritarian and consolidated government (rather than wars being, say, the result of the existence of despotic regimes), is essentially right.

Where the entire analysis in Pietrzyk’s book may be weakest is in the historical caricaturing of the rival systems of government as they have developed in the West. Thus “democratic” Britain avoids excessive centralisation, and “autocratic” pre-WWI Germany suffers from it, when any observer of modern British and German histories could see immediately the intensive centralisation of all political power in London generally and Whitehall specifically, whereas Imperial Germany was, much as Federal Germany is today, a relatively decentralised political and administrative structure owing to its unique process of unification.

Arguably, while Bismarck’s wars did produce centripetal forces that created a united Germany, and the basic association of war and consolidated power is correct, British history since 1746 shows an increasing centralisation of power quite separate from the sort of strategic vulnerabilities that supposedly forged “autocratic” governments in Europe. The memory of Napoleonic invasions did inform the drive to unite the German states, but the persistent vulnerability of German states to invasion did not spur them to actual unification for half a century. At the same time, liberalisation has almost always resulted in centralisation whenver it has occurred (e.g., Switzerland in 1848, Austria in 1867).