Summary Post: China and the Logic of the Democratic Peace Thesis

I realized after posting my first update that most people were not dumping entire sections of their papers onto this blog like I was and were instead doing reflections. If I had realized this sooner, I would probably not have started posting so late. (see my abstract, first update, and second update). Since this is my summary post, I will give a reflection of my entire research experience.

This project was a good exercise for me, a person with very little research experience and an aversion to writing long and detailed papers (though I must say I was very surprised by the quality of the working paper I produced). When I picked this topic, I did not think it would be hard to accomplish what I had planned, which was to find a few explanations for the Democratic Peace and compare the People’s Republic of China’s political system with the characteristics of the states prescribed in each. After all, how many explanations for the DPT could there be? My initial impression was that there were only 3 main schools of thought: audience cost (because we had talked about it in class), normative-structural (because it was popular), and something to do with alliances (because it made sense). Of course, I knew there was also a monadic branch of the DPT, which claims that democracies are more peaceful than non-democracies in general, but I dismissed it as ridiculous from the start since it was inconsistent with history and was no longer discussed in the academic world because of the overwhelming evidence against it.

After I started looking, I realized how dangerous my assumption had been. I had vastly underestimated the amount of interest Western scholars had in the DPT. There was simply too much existing literature to be read and analyzed. Each relevant article I found either raised original ideas or tested the ideas of more well-known theorists. Each important work pointed to at least 5 more important works. Aside from the 3 schools of thought that I knew existed previously, I found selectorate theory, public constraints, mutual economic dependency, NATO conspiracy, neo-imperialism, complete denial, constructivist perspectives, freedom theory, and capitalist peace theory, among others. The files piled up in my computer, and I eventually admitted that I would not be able to read it all during the time allotted for this project, much less produce anything of value from it. I eventually managed to organize the information by changing my methodology. This was after I read an article by Mearsheimer arguing why the shift to “simple hypothesis testing” was devaluing theory itself, which reminded me that logical analysis and process tracing were valid ways to test theories. Quantitative analysis was never my strongpoint to begin with, which is why I did not start out with a plan to do any form of theory testing; but logic was feasible.

I had an equally frustrating, though different experience with researching Chinese politics, which I had never officially learned about but was always interested in. In this case, relevant information was hard to pick out, partially because I cannot speedread Chinese and partially because there was too much information to take in. On my desk, there is a pile of books and papers on democratic centralism, Chinese politics, and “Socialist Core Values” that I collected from the Politics and Marxist Philosophy archives of my local library and bookstore (I have been in China for the entire summer, which I may have forgotten to mention). Thinking back, I may have collected so much just because I wanted an excuse to read it, since books on socialist core values are not something one typically wants to be caught reading unless one happens to major in Marxist Philosophy. As interesting as Marxist philosophy may be, it was not very helpful for progressing my project. As it turned out, I did not need to do the amount of research I had done on China’s political structure or democratic centralism. The question of whether China is a state that could be treated as a democracy for the DPT (a smurf) proved to be a rather simple one after I finished writing the first portion of my working paper. (I should not complain though; I learned a lot about Chinese politics.)

After that long and confusing process of data collection, organization, and shift in methodology, I was able to find some interesting things that made logical sense. My most important conclusion, by far, was that the peace between mature representative democracies is likely constructed, though public opinion constraints may play a role in maintaining that peace. China is unfortunately not a “smurf”, but this is mainly because China is not in a military security alliance with any of the recognized democracies, though the likelihood for any polity that is not a “mature representative democracy” to be recognized as a peaceful state is slight. Turkey, for example, is a NATO nation that is not a “mature representative democracy” and there are thinktanks calling for Turkey to be removed from NATO for that reason.

Anyway, this is a very awkward place to end, but I have no more to say. This project turned out better than I thought it would and revealed a number of topics I need to learn more about. I hope to use my findings here in my future research.

And that’s a wrap, comrades.