rachel maddow will not bring peace
Andrew Sullivan’s blog excerpted a passage from Rachel Maddow’s recent book. Understandably, Maddow’s book urges Congress to take a stand against war:
When we go to war, we should raise taxes to pay for it. We should get rid of the secret military. The reserves should go back to being reserves. We should cut way back on the contractors and let troops peel their own potatoes. And above all, Congress should start throwing its weight around again…
I agree in principle, but disagree on practice. Rules and institutions that end war are ineffective for two reasons. First, if you really want war, you can always vote to have a new rule for war or to make an exception. Also, most rules have wiggle room in them, which makes it easy to wage war under other guises. Secondly, there’s a consistent “rally around the leader effect.” It is incredibly hard for anyone to oppose leaders during war time. Elected leaders are in a particularly weak position. Simply put, legislatures can’t be trusted to assert their restraining role in most cases.
So what actually ends war? Well, there’s a body of research in political science called “the democratic peace” literature, which was discussed in Steven Pinker’s new book. The idea is simple – for whatever reason, democracies almost never fight each other. Of course, democracies go to war against non-democracies. But for some reason, democracies just don’t fight each other.
What’s the policy implication of all this? First, the sorts of rules that Maddow proposes are useless. People will just ignore the rules when they want to when they want war. Second, you have to reduce the population of non-democracies. Thus, if the Federal government wants to protect the United States by preventing war, the best, and cheapest, way to do it is to provide support and assistance for indigenous movements for democracy and tolerance. Once people have a genuine democracy at work, they just don’t want to fight with each other. They just don’t.