>Does democracy encourage violence?

>I’m sure you’ve all heard the idea that democratic nations are less likely to go to war with each other, but what about how long they’re likely to stay in a war? Think about Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and you will probably think democracy encourages the troops to come home. But what about war that’s a little closer to home such as total war? In the limited wars of the seventeenth century countries would sue for peace if casualties looked too bad, or victory seemed too difficult to achieve. So what changed between then and the two world wars? At the time of the First World War all European state leaders feared their people and what they would do. I have recently heard it voiced by top Professors that it was democracy and nationalism that made it so difficult to accept peace talks during WW1. Do you agree?

15 comments

  • >Please!Those Top Professors are trying to blame the continuation of WW1, which was a war started by the ruling classes, on the peasant population ?If the peasant classes were stupid enough to desire killing themselves pointlessly for the enrichment of the ruling classes, then it was only because of the propaganda spread by the ruling classes in the first place.

  • >I must admit it's a strange argument and one which I don't buy either.It is certainly true that at Versailles both Lloyd George and Clemenceau were concerned with public opinion, but this seems more electorally than anything else. So, I suppose, to that extent democracy and public opinion can make it harder to leave wars, in which case Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq etc did and will apply. From announcing his intention to scale back upon election in 1968, Nixon never saw complete withdrawal until the end of his presidency – American democracy and his accompanying doctrine of 'peace WITH HONOUR' put paid to that. However, I actually think the reverse of what these 'top professors' suggest is more likely; i.e. that democracy (as a political system or potential political power) often makes it more difficult to stay in a total war that is going badly. The Soviet Union, for example, had a very strong, centralised, powerful and popularly-regarded dictatorship in place between 1941 and 1943 when it really was on the ropes. This economic and military centralisation, coupled with the constant support of most Russians (there was certainly no organised disobedience or protest as there was in 1915-17), led to the ultimate success of Bagration.In 1917, neither of these things were in place. Russia was essentially a rather weak constitutional monarchy (albeit one where the Tsar held emergency wartime powers) and had been since 1906. The losses of the war, coupled with the ripple effects on the economy, society and politics (the extraordinary circumstances where the tsar took control of the front and, with it, military blame while salacious scandals and whiffs of corruption brewed back in Petrograd) meant massive mutinies, protests and demonstrations which, ultimately, included the soldiers by February 1917. It was the generals' lack of faith in the tsar which precipitated his abdication.Moreover, what really cost the interim provisional government (Feb-Oct 1917) was its unremitting support of the war as against the promises of peace and economic restructuring voiced by the Bolsheviks (which would have been not nearly so persuasive had the PG taken Russia out of war). From the seizure of power in late October 1917, it took Trotsky just 5 months (until March 1918) to secure the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which secured peace with the Germans and grossly unfavourabnle terms for the Russians. Democracy didn't hinder peace in this instance, it demanded it and, ultimately, it fought in the streets through two revolutions in 8 months to secure it.Similarly, Germany sued for peace in November 1918 – against all expectations and most military logic – because of the effects the naval blockades were having on the German people and the fear of a Marxist revolution in Germany, falling like a domino from Russia, on the back of disillusionment with total war brought on by economic duress. (For a while, at least, Lenin and Trotsky toyed with the idea of a 'revolutionary war' – securing a separate peace but aiming to induce mutiny among the 'proletariat' of Germany's infantry). Germany, militarily, had no need to surrender and, as far as I'm concerned, if the war had taken place 100 years earlier would not have done. Democracy again or, at least, fear of democratic potential (for Germany was even less a democracy then Russia at this stage), tended towards peace, not war.

  • >I imagine the professors might be looking at why, say, Britain or France didn't sue for peace in 1914-16 or 1939-42. Certainly, both Hitler and Churchill, in authorising bombing raids on civilians during the Second World War, hoped for irreperable damage to civilian morale to force a surrender. In neither case did this happen and, in fact, much evidence points to a strengthening of resolve and support for the war – the fabled Blitz Spirit.I think such an argument, while true enough, simultaneously overestimates total war in western Europe and underestimates it in the East. There was no effective rationing in Russia and by 1916 prices in Petrograd were outstripping growth in wages by a factor of four. By 1918 the combined naval power of Britain and the US, coupled with Germany's small Baltic coast, meant the naval blockade was much more successful there than the U-Boat attacks on merchant fleets were here – particularly with the advent of Q Ships and convoys. In short, the effects of warfare were much more 'total' (in both wars actually) in central and eastern Europe than they were in the west. Where there were unstable regimes with substantial democratic unrest (Russia in 1917, but not 1941) the tipping point of tolerance – which was usually economic more then military – was breached and, in such cases, democracy (or the fear of it) tended towards peace and not war.I'm not a military historian, nor do I take particular interest in military history, but that's my take on matters for what it's worth.

  • >Democracy does not universally tend toward peace or toward war. The majority of people are not pacifist. Hence whether people agree or disagree with war depends entirely on circumstances. This means that whether democracy is more or less likely to provoke violence depends on who is in power at the top. If that person is a pacifist then of course the people on whole will be more likely to encourage war than the leader. As you both imply historically it seems a rather ludicrous suggestion to make that any leaders in either WW1 or WW2 were anything near pacifist. So most of the time it seems logical to suggest that democracy keeps countries out of wars.Yet once in a war people's psyches change. Emotions run much higher, and there is little way of telling whether the death of a loved one will push people into despair and sorrow where all they want is an end to the madness, or towards a lust for vengeance. Indeed as Ross says what data we have about how citzens responded to the bombing raids suggests that seeing the effects of war first hand makes a person more likely to call for victory than withdrawal. I know your (Ross's) point was that the effects of war were worse in the east, but as you say the economic factors meant that people there simply couldn't fight on. Survival nearly always trumps victory, and the pro-war voice was strong even in Russia when the first signs of conflict were visible.Did most people look at their situation in Marxist terms as Sean suggests (i.e. seeing themselves as members of this or that class)? Or did more people look at their situation from a nationalistic perspective? I would argue that nationalism was stronger (even in Russia, where support of the 'Bolsheviks', which means minority, was very low). So these scholars from Berkeley (sorry I've forgotten their names, hence why I simply put "top Professors") do have a point. Nationalism was particularly strong in both World Wars, and as such it was a driving force pushing for victory. Admittedly when you start analysing primary data you see that more people were fighting for things other than nationalism such as family, a way of life, or some other such personal motivation. However nationalism was nevertheless an incredible force underlying other motivations, and any losing side would not think it could win a post-war election. Germany is a prime example, for after the war Germans felt humiliated and as if the Government had "stabbed them [the army] in the back". It's highly debatable what a referendum held during the war would have found. My guess is that at several points many nations would have chosen to withdraw. But it's almost irrelevent because no Government would have held a referendum at such a time, so it was perceptions that mattered most. And a combination of democracy and nationalism created the perception that no Government could get away with ending the war if they weren't on the winning side. The real question is that, because all sides kept the fight up for so long, and all sides refused to negotiate until things were going well for them, was it simply nationalism, and maybe people power, or did democracy mean that that nationalism was felt more keenly by those with a power to end the war? For me empirical data seems to suggest that it was nationalism and not democracy that was the primary force in prolonging the war, but that nationalism was not held merely by the elites, but all society. Hence perhaps not democracy but maybe 'people power'.

  • >For me empirical data seems to suggest that it was nationalism and not democracy that was the primary force in prolonging the war, but that nationalism was not held merely by the elites, but all society.—That's fair enough, to an extent. I agree that, in both wars, nationalism was a major cause and driving force that was shared, broadly across society. In Russia, for example, World War II is still known as 'the Great Fatherland War'; Churchill is still seen, in Britain, as one of its greatest leaders, pretty much exclusively on his wartime record and rhetoric of 'the Few' etc; the nationalism of Germany, Italy and Japan surely needs no reiteration here. Much the same can be said about the First World War in terms of causality (Weltpolitik, European-powerplay, new and emerging nations (Italy, Germany, the US) competing with established imperial powers (Britain, France, Austria etc) though, with hindsight, less in terms of continuing the war.In fact, such a view doesn't explain why the two main surrendering countries both did so relatively early and on the back of popular pressure, real (in the case of Russia) or imagined (possibly in the case of Germany, though remember the Nazi-amplified myth of the 'stab in the back' owes much to hindsight and the subsequent power of the NSDAP; One and a half decades and the greatest global economic catastrophe separated the end of the war and the emergence of Nazism as anything more than a very distant fringe party. Those who resented the end of the war were often more annoyed with the terms of the peace than the peace itself, something recognised with sympathy by European powers during the appeasement process up to the Anschluss in 1938). It doesn't explain why Russians (regardless of how many of them supported the Bolsheviks – and, 'minority' – a term dating to 1903 and sticking ever since; it means 'men of the majority' actually (Menshevik means 'minority') although, you are right, the Bolsheviks spent most of the period 1903-1917 as a small party – or not, they were the majority party in the all Soviets by September 1917, as well as holding the presidency in Petrograd, principally on an anti-war ticket with economic npolicies that depended on ending the war) were visibly and numerically opposed to the war from the winter of 1916-17 or why the Germans surrendered when there was no military need to do so. Your point about an absent German referendum is moot, but it is clear that the leadership certainly feared the consequences of continuing total war in terms of public response. In a sense, it doesn't matter so much what would have happened but how the elites responded to the perceived mood of the masses at the time (which, in a crude sense, is what democracy is). Furthermore, your suggestion that no government could get away with ending the war if they weren't on the winning side doesn't hold up in either the Russian (eventually Brest-Litovsk was revoked, but it was by no means certain that it would not have been permanent at its ratification) or German cases; the Russian case, in fact, suggests that the complete opposite is true, that the government (be it the Tsar or the PG) could survive by continuing the war. Both Russia and Germany sued for peace when they were losing and secured peace on hugely (in the German case, fatefully) unfavourable terms.

  • >So, in short, I agree that nationalism is aggressive and was a major cause and prolonging agent of both wars. This nationalism was popularly held across the entire continent in 1914 (there is a mildly-persuasive argument, actually, that suggests that given the wave of strikes and state repression in 1912 without the fanfare and patriotism of the Romanov tercentenary in 1913 and the outbreak of war a year later Tsarism might have been in severe trouble) and, to a more sober and defensive extent (except in Germany and Italy) in 1939. This nationalism played a part (limited and tempered by other factors) in keeping support for the war going in Germany and Britain, and a much bigger part in where the war was really won and lost, in the USSR and it's Great Fatherland War. However, while popularly held at times and in places it (Russia in 1914, but not in 1916-17) it was this rather than democracy or 'people power' that drove the war or made it harder to sue for peace; in fact, as I said, the shift to anti-war sentiment and civil disobedience in Russia and the threat of this in Germany hastened, in both cases, a premature peace. In the end, then, I think I agree with Rob's very first few sentences:Democracy does not universally tend toward peace or toward war. The majority of people are not pacifist. Hence whether people agree or disagree with war depends entirely on circumstances.Though nationalism, while maybe not having a 'universal' bellicose tendency, is more likely to cause war (and is more naturally aggressive) than democracy. While the people may be nationalists, they are not always or primarily itself. When they are (as in 1914) they facilitate war; where they are not, or this sentiment is trumped by other concerns (as in 1917-18) the opposite is true. A more convincing (if utterly commonplace) argument is, in fact, that nationalism is violent. Where nationalism (which is a generally – not necessarily totally – constant quality) influences democracy, or, more accurately, the popular or democratic spirit (which is generally inconstant) a democracy may lend towards war; where it does not, I don't necessarily think it will. So, I don't agree that democracies are violent, I think they can be made violent by the values (e.g. nationalism) that influence their spirit at a given time.

  • >the Russian case, in fact, suggests that the complete opposite is true, that the government (be it the Tsar or the PG) could NOT survive by continuing the war^^^Self-evident I hope. My mistake.

  • >How were the surrenders of Russia and Germany early on in the war? By the standards of the time the war had lasted an eternity. Remembering that military strategists of the time were still using the work of Jomini (the opposition of Clausewitz, who argued for the 'cult of the offensive'), the commonly held view was that the war would be over by the Christmas of 1914.Did Russia and Germany pull out of the war due to popular pressure? As you say it's more debatable in Germany's case but yes definitely with Russia. However you jump to the conclusion that this is because of human nature, and the peace loving nature of mankind. Yet this doesn't accord with other countries throughout history who wanted and even sought war. In fact Russia is a great example of this. Nearly every war that Russia launched throughout its imperial history was launched partly due to popular pressure at home and a desire to distract from growing problems at home. You said that after 1906 Russia was a "weak constitutional monarchy", yet that wasn't the case. The Dumas were weak, not the Tsar. A rapid success against Germany, which ended in 1914, could have given the Tsar huge public support and perhaps even allowed him to get rid of the Dumas (just as a more succesful war against the Japanese in 1905-6 could have prevented the need for the Dumas). I would argue that it wasn't the democratic will of the people that forced Russia out of the war but simply the fact that they had lost. The war crippled Russia economically, and left its people, and even its army, without any food. As I said before the desire to survive is usually greater than the desire to win (plus nationalism was far weaker in Russia than the rest of Europe). Besides the Bolshevik "revolution" was a coup (despite their support from the cities and parts of the armed forces they were always in the minority until a long way into the civil war; the greens, who are often forgotten in history, were the majority force in the civil war). And that coup was followed by one of the longest and bloodiest civil wars in human history (the last part of Russia was finally brought to heel only in 1924!). So it seems odd to argue that the Rusian people really wanted an end to conflict above all.My suggestion that no Goverment could get away with ending the war on the losing side absolutely does hold up. I'm not suggesting they could necessarily do better by staying in the war however. Basically, any people will feel strong resentment towards a government that lost them a war, whether that be because they literally stayed in till the end and lost, or because they sued for peace when losing. Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated in November 1918, and the Bolshevik government of Russia lost control of most of the country, and had to fight a bitter civil war for the next 7 years. The Tsar was killed for losing the war, and various nasty things happened to the members of the Provisional Government.I think we can come to a consensus on the question however as I completely agree with your last statement: "I don't agree that democracies are violent, I think they can be made violent by the values (e.g. nationalism) that influence their spirit at a given time."P.S. Thanks for pointing out the meaning of Bolshevik. It's actually quite embarrasing that I'd forgotten that as I did my dissertation on the causes of the Russian Civil War.P.P.S. Very interesting that you seem to agree with Oscar Wilde about nationalism and Patriotism ("Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious"). I just might have to make that the next debate.

  • >We do fundamentally agree, so I won't add too much.1) How were the surrenders of Russia and Germany early on in the war? I didn't say the surrenders were early on in the war; I said they were premature, in that neither Russia nor, particularly, Germany were close to a total military defeat in the same way that Germany was by May 1945 (where a nation did fight until the bitter end). My point was that there was no military imperative on either side to sue for peace and that public pressure was a major force acting in this regard. I maintain in both cases that if popular sentiment had been close to 1914 levels neither would have sued for peace.2) However you jump to the conclusion that this is because of human nature, and the peace loving nature of mankindIf I did, I didn't mean to! Russian workers, soldiers and peasants didn't love peace (though they were weary of war) so much as hate the socio-economic impact of war. Just as there would have been no peace without popular pressure, there wouldn't have been popular pressure without dwindling real wages. I am under no delusion that the Russian revolutions were in any sense pacifistic.3) Both Russian revolutions were coups (the first military, the second political), but the way the events of October 25 1917 were carried out does not necessarily mean the Bolsheviks and their anti-war platform (and it was anti-war in more ways than even appears on face value; only one quarter of the April Theses' appeal – broadly peace, bread, land and transfer of political power to the Soviets – was directly connected to ending the war, but a further two quarters were at least directly dependent on it) held only minority appeal. As I said, by September they were the largest and best-placed party in the institution that represented workers, peasants and the frontline military and thus controlled the social and economic levers across Russia. They were, in effect, the de facto opposition to the hugely unpopular (at least after the botched Kornilov affair in August) liberal consensus in the duma. If they and their ideas were as minority as you imply, they would have been put down; instead, Kerensky removed the Petrograd garrison from the city for fear that even the soldiers supported the Bolsheviks and would most likely honour Order #1 and act in the event of a Soviet action against the duma. This is a bit beside the point, but still. The point about the civil war is perfectly valid, but remember I never implied (or, at least, meant to imply) that Russians turned against the war because they were pacifists. In any case, workers and peasants (either those fighting with the Reds or Greens) were much more prepared to fight for 'bread and land' – especially land – than they were for abstract notions of imperial Russia.4) You have a point about the dumy being weak, especially gievn the June 1907 Reforms and the extraordinary powers of dissolution the tsar had (and twice used against left-leaning dumy in 1906 and 1907). Still, we have to remember that by signing the October 1905 Manifesto and instituting a state duma in March 1906 Nicholas was destroying centuries of tsarist autocracy at a stroke by subverting it to the rule of law, albeit still skewed to the institution of the tsar. The duma could (and did) criticise the government over, for example, land reform and the role of the Okhrana as well as technically needing to pass legislation outside of a decreed emergency; we need to remember that there was nothing even remotely similar in the autocracies of Austria, Turkey or Italy. In central and eastern Europe, Russia was by far the least autocratic state by 1914, though, I admit, my calling it a "weak constitutional monarchy" was a mistake to the point of being wrong. More accurate would have been a "strong constitutional monarchy" but, however you look at it, from October 1905 until its abolition in March 1917 this was a constitutional monarchy in a similar, if weaker, vein to the UK after 1689/1701.

  • >5) I made some points about the Russo-Japanese War but scrubbed them as they were getting beyond the point. Will debate these with you elsewhere if you want; just to let you know I have stuff to say as an when.6) Nicholas was not killed for losing the war. That's just not right at all and would have been farcical; the Bolsheviks were always an anti-war party, Trotsky secured a ghastly peace in terms of territory and the tsar was, arguably, removed for not doing the same. If anything he might have been removed for not ending the war sooner, or for getting involved in 'imperialist bloodshed' or whatever they chose to dress it up as, but he wasn't; he was killed at the outset of Civil War to deny the Whites a potential rallying point and figurehead if he or his family ever escaped. This was a mistake, in my eyes, but conscious of this the regime denied it for the duration of the war and beyond (if memory serves; pardon me if I'm wrong and they accepted responsibility before 1922).7) I'm not sure about the Wilde quote. I'll have a think. I don't like calling anyone 'vicious' and don't like absolutes like that anyway. It's not for me and it is dangerous, like a knife, but like knives I don't think it's entirely bad either. I'm going to butter some toast now (it's gone a bit cold) not stab someone. Some people take pride in their homelands in a productive, unifying way without being exclusive or aggressive. Anyway, whack it up for debate.And, after all that, much way beyond the point, we agree. We really do.

  • >October 1905 until its abolition in March 1917 this was a constitutional monarchy in a similar, if weaker, vein to the UK after 1689/1701.–By which I mean the hold of the constitution was relatively 'weak'; the monarchy was (relative to the UK) strong.

  • >I've seen plenty of anti-war marches by citizens in the streets.I've never seen a pro-war march by citizens in the street.Governments start wars.Direct democracy will reduce wars.direct democracy baby!

  • >There's a wonderful picture in Figes' A People's Tragedy of the sheer exhileration on ordinary people's faces seeing their troops being sent to war.Nothing on Google, but, pro-war marches do exist, sadly (usually to support continued involvement rather than advocate starting a new war, admittedly):http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/imh/101.2/images/lantzer_fig05b.jpg

  • >1) I suppose it's debatable whether Russia and Germany really did need to pull out of the war when they did. But I would argue that they both had lost the war already. It's like the Japanese decision to surrender in WW2 after the bombs had been dropped. There were important voices among Japan's decision makers arguing to keep on going until Japan was completely destroyed. They knew they had lost the war already, but also knew they could prolong the time until their defeat, so was their decision premature in your opinion? I would argue the same thing about Germany and Russia. They didn't make the decisions thinking it was most likely they were going to lose. They made the decisions thinking that they had already lost. By 1918 the average adult German was living on 1000 calories a day, less than half what's needed for a normal healthy diet. The troops were weak, and many were too old, ill or wounded to fight. Coal was running short, and because gas and electricity were made from coal there were widespread power cuts accross the country. Spanish influenza was sweeping accross Europe. The US had entered the war. And it was seen as impossible to gather the needed food resources from land won from Russia in the time they had before collapse. Their standing in 1918 was summed up by General Ludendorff in a speech to the Reichstag: "We can carry on the war for a substantial further period, we can cause the enemy heavy loss, we can lay waste his country as we retreat, but we cannot win the war […] We must make up our minds to abandon the war as hopeless. Every day brings the enemy nearer to his goal, and makes him less likely to conclude a reasonable peace with us."3. Honestly I'm having trouble remembering this stuff but the Bolsheviks weren't the largest party, and nor were they the party of the peasantry. In the election to the Constituent Assembly it was the SRs who received the largest share of the vote. You're right to say that it doesn't mean the Bolshevik's messages only held minority appeal. And as you say we agree in main so I'll try to be short. However it wasn't because of the size of their support that the Bolsheviks couldn't be put down; it was because of circumstances, and because their power was consolidated in few areas around the urbanised cities where power lay. That's why the SRs weren't able to capitalize on their large support base; because their support was too widely spread, un-coordinated, poor, and without the military resources possessed by the Reds, who as you say had more support from the armed forces.6. Yes the immediate reasons for the Tsar's execution were tactical at the time. But my point was that if Nicholas II hadn't lost the war the Bolsheviks would never have been a big power and the civil war never would have started. Remember Russia was the China of its day. Its economic growth and rate of industrialisation was phenomenal, and if WW1 had not taken place it's likely that Russia would have been a far greater force in the world today. And besides the point that reasons for revolution do arise in times of economic growth, they usually only spill out if something triggers the reverse of this growth, as the Tsar's failure to win WW1 did.P.S. Just type "pro-war" into google pictures and you'll see a few pro-war protests about the Iraq war. I remember seeing loads of pro-war protest pictures before and during the Russo-Japanese War too but sadly I can't find these. Anyway suffice it to say that democracy is neither inherently violent, nor is it an instant fix to war.

  • >Honestly I'm having trouble remembering this stuff but the Bolsheviks weren't the largest party, and nor were they the party of the peasantry—You are right that the SR were the strongest party in the Constituent Assembly elections; all I said was that by September the Bolsheviks controlled both the main soviets and had the Presidency of the Soviet in Petrograd (Trotsky). Further, the peasants did send deputies to the soviets and by July's Land Decree the Bolsheviks were gaining rural support from in suburban/subrural areas where the SR were less entrenched. It is true that the peasantry were not important, according to Marxism, but by April and certainly July Lenin recognised the need for their support if a revolution was to be successful in pre-industrial/industrialising Russia. By September this was having some success.This really makes no difference to the fact that we agree, I'm just saying.Remember Russia was the China of its day. Its economic growth and rate of industrialisation was phenomenal, and if WW1 had not taken place it's likely that Russia would have been a far greater force in the world todayThere is potential for a massive debate there. I won't go into it here (or for the next week – no Internet) but that's worth talking about.

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