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democracy; Immanuel Kant; international institutions; international security; peace; trade; War


Over the last two decades or so, there has been a democratic turn in peace and conflict research, i.e. the peculiar impact of democratic politics on a wide range of security issues has attracted more and more attention. Many of these studies are inspired by Immanuel Kant's famous essay on Perpetual Peace. In this article, we present a critical discussion of the democratic distinctiveness programme that emerged from the Democratic Peace debate and soon spread to cover, among other issues, institutionalized cooperation, trade relations, and arms control. As our review makes clear, research so far has been based on an overly naive reading of a Kantian peace. In particular, the manifold forms of violence that democracies have exerted, have been treated either as a challenge to the Democratic Peace proposition or as an undemocratic contaminant and pre-democratic relict. In contrast, we argue that forms of democratic violence should no longer be kept at arm's length from the democratic distinctiveness programme but instead should be elevated to a main field of study. While we acknowledge the benefits of this expanding research programme, we also address a number of normative pitfalls implied in this scholarship such as lending legitimacy to highly questionable foreign policy practices by Western democracies. We conclude with suggestions for a somewhat more self-reflective and critical research agenda of a democratically turned peace and conflict studies. IR research in this field might benefit from drawing on the Frankfurt school tradition and from incorporating insights from democratic theory and empirical studies on the crisis of democracy.