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The so-called ivory tower is not—and never has been—isolated from real-world politics

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The Democratic Peace Thesis holds that democracies rarely make war on other democracies. Political scientists have advanced numerous theories attempting to identify precisely which elements of democracy promote this mutual peace, often hoping that Democratic Peace could be the final and ultimate antidote to war. However, as the theories were taken up by political figures, the immediate outcomes were war and the perpetuation of hostilities.

Political theorist Piki Ish-Shalom sketches the origins and early academic development of the Democratic Peace Thesis. He then focuses on the ways in which various Democratic Peace Theories were used by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both to shape and to justify U.S. foreign policy, particularly the U.S. stance on the Israeli-Palestinian situation and the War in Iraq. In the conclusion, Ish-Shalom boldly confronts the question of how much responsibility theoreticians must bear for the political uses—and misuses—of their ideas.

Piki Ish-Shalom is Associate Professor of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.