Thursday, January 7, 2010


Rummel's Thesis

I was reading the opening of R.J. Rummel's Death By Government. I needed to get some stats on the crimes of communist countries, and Rummel's book came highly recommended.

I have no problems with his figures; he seemed extremely conscientious and acknowledged the limitations of the estimates. But I had trouble with his underlying thesis, which is that Power kills and absolute Power kills absolutely (I agree), and that is why we need more democracies (I don't necessarily agree).

Specifically, Rummel repeats the standard claim that no democracies have ever gone to war with each other, whereas non-democratic states start all kinds of wars. At this stage I have three questions:

(1) How would Rummel classify the U.S. War Between the States (aka the Civil War)? My historical knowledge is awful, but wouldn't you classify the Confederacy as a democracy? Jefferson Davis won an election, right? (Though it seems maybe after the war began?)

(2) Wasn't Hitler elected? (There is some controversy on this point, but even this Google-top critic site starts with, "Hitler never had more than 37 percent of the popular vote..." which is hardly reassuring about democracy's ability to keep the bad guys at bay.)

(3) Have any communist (fascist) countries started wars with other communist (fascist) countries?

Note that I'm not asking the above questions sarcastically, as if I already know the answers. I am genuinely asking.

1. Rummel would argue that he has dealt with that objection. In the Independent Review, he dismisses the Civil war as a counter-example and cites supporting evidence.

2. According to Rummel, Hiter was not elected. But I think he is engaging in sophistry here. He had a blog post explaining his position, but this was conveniently deleted.

3. Hard to say. I don't know. But Ted Carpenter of the Cato Institute whipped his butt in the Independent Review exchange above, so you don't even need this argument to make your case.
What about the war with Mexico in the early 19th century and the Spanish American war? The US started those. Of course we had "pretexts" that "justified" our beligerance.

Then there is WWII. We didn't start the wars, but Roosevelt goaded the Japanese and Germans into attacking us first so that we can feel justified in responding.

His strict claim was that no democracy starts a war with another democracy.

But I think more generally, he would say no democracy attacks a non-democracy unless it were first being threatened by it.
The Blackadder Says:

Have any communist (fascist) countries started wars with other communist (fascist) countries?

The Soviet Invasion of Hungary and Czechoslovakia (and possibly of Afghanistan) would be examples of one communist country invading another. Inter-fascist wars are a harder question, as they is no general agreement as to which countries were fascist (other than Germany and Italy). The Polish government in 1939 should probably be counted as fascist. And if you're going to count the Japanese as fascists, then there's not much reason not to count the Chinese nationalists as fascists as well.
Would I be correct to surmise that Rummel's entire career is just a large-scale version of the No True Scotsman Fallacy?
This lecture may be of interest to you
Have any communist (fascist) countries started wars with other communist (fascist) countries?

Didn't fascist Germany start a war with communist USSR in WW2? Or did I interpret your question incorrectly (not sure if fascist & communist can be mixed)?
And if you want to get technical about wars between democracies.


Before your questions can be answered, we must first identify what qualifies a state to be a "democracy" in the first place.

Does democracy mean universal suffrage? Then neither the C.S.A. nor the Weimar Republic apply. Does democracy mean the dictatorship of the proletariat because it serves the interest of the "people"? Or, is democracy simply the rule of the many rather than the rule of the one or the few?

Perhaps it is better to speak of democracies rather than democracy.
The Blackadder Says:

Regarding Hitler, true he was initially elected (by plurality). My understanding, however, is that by 1939 all other political parties had been banned, elections had been suspended, parliament had been stripped of all governing authority, etc. So I don't think Germany in WWII counts as a counter-example.
If democracy means universal suffrage then the United States doesn't count until the 1900s. And the US has gotten infinitely more belligerent since universal suffrage (no causal relationship claimed).

The prevalence of popular government is also coincident with the resurgence of total war.
What about Israel vs. Lebanon ?
What about Israel vs. Hamas ?
Does it matter if one side denies the state-hood of the other faction? As far as I know, Lincoln never recognized the independence of the C.S.A. That's why it's called The Civil War: by definition a war within a single state, no?

Although it is my understanding that at times the south was treated as legally seperate - for instance requirements were put in place on southern states before they were allowed to re-enter the union post-war of course, but at other times it was not - the blockade of southern ports would have been illegal according to international law if it had been an independent state.
I personally take the Hoppeian line when it comes to this issue.

When it is the case that the "people" identify themselves with their government, they are inherently more warlike to foreigners and more likely to treat all foreigners as the enemy.

So like in "Democracy: The God That Failed", he explains how the movement from the sort of personal wars were in relative terms fewer civilians were killed to the idea of mass democracy where wars became much more brutal.

To say it is democracy (having read this line) strikes me as just a bit narrow. It is much more accurate I believe to say: that when the people very heavily identify themselves as being part of their government that they become more warlike.

Make sense?
"So like in "Democracy: The God That Failed", he explains how the movement from the sort of personal wars were in relative terms fewer civilians were killed to the idea of mass democracy where wars became much more brutal"

Let's forget the increases in military equipment.

Where are the regressions anyway?

What about the ideology of universal suffrage whether it has been perectly realized or not?

Doesn't the notion "No taxation without representation" imply that no person or group should be without its elected representation for self-determination?

If universal suffrage is the necessary and sufficient principle that makes a state democratic, then I think a case can be made that the United States has always been a democracy.
So, Slim934,

Nationalism (or fascism), not democracy, is the real culprit?

It seems like any form of government could be extremely nationalist or fascistic depending on the sort of popularity it has.

Is that really Hoppe's position?
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