Document Type

Conference Paper

Peer Reviewed


Publication Date


Journal/Book/Conference Title

ECPR Standing Group on International Relations 6th Pan-European Conference on International Relations

Conference Location

Turin, Italy

DOI of Published Version


Total Pages

22 pages


In a path-breaking article, Wade Huntley (1996) reinterpreted Immanuel Kant’s pacific union as a systemic phenomenon. Huntley’s argument spawned a new wave of inquiry into the evolutionary expansion of the democratic peace, with several empirical studies finding a positive relationship between global democracy and systemic peace (e.g. Crescenzi and Enterline 1999; Gleditsch and Hegre 1997; Kadera, Crescenzi, and Shannon 2003; Mitchell, Gates, and Hegre 1999). Yet, there are many possible theoretical explanations of this aggregate relationship. In this paper, we compare two broad theoretical tales of the systemic democratic peace. The first approach, “might makes right”, emphasizes the importance of authority for creating liberal peace, especially the role played by a democratic hegemon and liberal major powers. The second approach, “right makes might”, traces the evolution of the systemic democratic peace to shifts in morality and liberal norms, drawing from work by Rawls (1999) and Wendt (1999). We compare and contrast these two broad theoretical tales, and argue that both “might” and “right” are important to the dynamic spread of the democratic peace. We then consider possible tensions between “might” and “right” based arguments highlighted by the recent Iraq War. We argue that it is grossly over-simplistic to equate the theoretical arguments being put forward by systemic democratic peace theory with the policy prescriptions put forward by the current US administration. As an alternative to both the assertion of a general right to coercive intervention by liberal states and blanket opposition to democracy as a universal project, we present the case for a middle ground, advocating the prudent use of material levers of power by liberal states to promote democracy overseas.


Copyright © 2007 Ewan Harrison and Sara Mitchell