Nils Petter Gleditsch
Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
'Elective Government – A Force for Peace'. The title of Dean Babst's unassuming but pioneering 1964 article in Wisconsin Sociologist immediately established the political relevance of the theory of the democratic peace, as it eventually came to be called. This book reviews the history of the theory and its adoption as a political maxim particularly by presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. (Here, the author could easily have gone back to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.) While this may be familiar ground, the book offers a novel description of how the Israeli right adopted the 'rhetorical capital' of the democratic peace in its fight against various attempted settlements of the Israel-Palestine conflict. In the author's view, such politicization of theoretical constructs is essentially unpredictable, so theoreticians cannot be held accountable for the application of their theories in the real world and any resulting political harm. Thus, Ish-Shalom does not join those who would hold democratic peace theorists directly accountable for the 2003 Iraq War. Of course, democratic peace theorists held sharply contrasting views on that war, ranging from strong support (Rudolph Rummel) to equally strong opposition (Bruce Russett). But Ish-Shalom holds that theoreticians nevertheless have broader responsibilities than adhering to the rules of the scientific method. He coins the notion of 'task responsibility', the social responsibility for self-examination to see if the way social scientists have formulated their theories contributes to political use and abuse. At a time when 'democratic interventions', particularly in the Middle East, have reached an impasse, this dilemma is worth pondering, although I am not entirely convinced that theorists will find sufficient guidance in the notion of task responsibility.