Liberal Peace, Liberal War: American Politics and International Security

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Liberal Peace, Liberal War: American Politics and International Security

By John M. Owen IV
Cornell University Press, 1997
246 pp. $32.50
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This illuminating work, by a political scientist at the University of Virginia, seeks to explain why liberal states (those with free speech and competitive elections) avoid war with one another but not with illiberal states. Owen sees a symbiotic relationship between these phenomena: "Liberals," he argues, "need illiberals in order to identify one another . . . we need enemies in order to know who our friends are." Owen examines ten war- threatening crises involving the United States from the 1790s to the 1890s, focusing on perceptions of liberality or illiberality among the participants. Oddly, the author says little about the Civil War, although he does note that the war between the states constitutes an exception to the rule that liberal states (as he defines them) do not fight one another. One may go even further: it is the existence of the United States itself (or themselves) that stands in profound tension with the hypothesis of the democratic peace. In 1787, it was the Antifederalists who laid claim to the view that democracies are inherently peaceful and the Federalists who insisted that the American states would fight frequent wars with one another if they lacked a superintending authority to arbitrate their differences.