[Extract from] Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 1998. 1:27-46 on


James Lee Ray
Department of Political Science, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee


The most often cited classical source of the idea that democracy is an important force for peace is Immanuel Kant's 1795 essay, "Perpetual Peace." Kant was, however, no admirer of democracy. According to him, perpetual peace would occur only when states had civil constitutions establishing republics. According to Doyle (1983a, p. 226), for Kant a republic was a regime that respected private property and established a legal equality among citizens as subjects "on the basis of a representative government with a separation of powers."

More recent influences have come into play, of course, among them Woodrow Wilson. "President Wilson became the world's most influential statesmen in the aftermath of the First World War. His arguments dominated the new utopian discipline of International Relations" (Knutsen 1994, pp. 196–97).


Although in the 1920s this new American discipline was dominated by Wilsonian ideas and ideals, this was a brief preliminary phase that was beginning to end by the 1930s and was buried completely by the Second World War. "Realism" or "neorealism" came to dominate the field during that time—or such is the oft-repeated consensus.


But the consensus is not universal. One of the best-known and most influential realists in the field, Henry Kissinger, has an expansive view of the extent to which "Wilsonianism" dominates American thought on international politics. According to Kissinger's recent volume on diplomacy,


Woodrow Wilson was the embodiment of the tradition of American exceptionalism, and originated what would become the dominant intellectual school of American foreign policy.... The idea that peace depends above all on promoting democratic institutions has remained a staple of American thought to the present day. Conventional American wisdom has consistently maintained that democracies do not make war against each other. (Kissinger 1994, pp. 33, 44)


Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 1998. 1:27-46
Copyright 1998 by Annual Reviews Inc. All rights reserved


James I Ray comments: 'I think Kissinger is guilty of a kind of historical inaccuracy in that passage I quote.    I don't believe analysts in Wilson's day, or that Wilson himself, ever put much emphasis on the idea that democratic states are peaceful in their relationships with EACH OTHER.  That, I believe, is a more or less contemporary idea.  Wilson believed that democratic states are more peaceful, less warlike, period, in their relationships with all other states in general, and not just in their relationships with EACH OTHER. In short, I think in that quote Kissinger picks up a modern, current notion and imputes it all the way back to the Wilsonian era in a manner which is at least a little bit misleading.'