Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but his inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. Reinhold Niebuhr
An interesting observation about modern democracies is that rarely have any gone to war against another. For this reason, some world leaders embrace the idea of democracy as the remedy for the problem of armed conflicts.
With the exception of a few Queens, it has been male chiefs, war-lords, kings, emperors, dictators, and tyrants who have mobilized warriors in the service of conquest (Hand 2003, pp. 99-105). All-male oligarchies of one form or another have done the same. Historically, patriarchies have been the governing systems of the world’s dominant cultures and wars have been an overwhelmingly male phenomenon (Fukuyama 1992; Goldstein 2001; Hand 2014; Potts & Hayden 2008. The current world social order we see around us is the creation of patriarchy—governing systems dominated by men.
In his book, The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama calls men driven by a strong desire to dominate or conquer megalothymic males. The names of the most famous megalothymic males are well-known: Alexander, Caesar, Attila, Saladin, Napoleon, Hitler. A simpler term for such men in this essay and in Hand 2003 and 2014 is hyper-alpha male. There are hyper-alpha males on all sides of the current world social scene, willing, sometimes even eager, to mobilize their military in support of their dominance.
And a warning is in order. No form of human-devised government can eliminate the biologically innate male inclination to seek dominance using aggression (“Differences between Men and Women with Respect to Aggression and Social Stability”). As a consequence, even in a democratic/republican form of government, if the leadership is overwhelmingly male and a hyper-alpha male or group of males is/are at the head, the potential to initiate a war will persist (Hand 2018). For example, the United States of America is a several hundred year old democracy/republic that in 2003 was still governed at the national level by what was functionally a male body (14 women, 86 men). In that year it launched an unprovoked war on the country of Iraq.
Democracy and War
Democracy—used broadly here to refer to all manner of governments in which citizens determine leadership by voting, including republics—democracy has proved to be one of the most, if not the most, effective cultural mechanism we’ve thus far invented having genuine potential to put brakes on any one individual’s ability to initiate conquests whenever he, or she, might please. A democracy’s potential to restrain urges to make war lies in the fact that, potentially, it diffuses power. In theory, heads of democratic states (defined below) cannot launch a war without the permission of others.
Many theorists and politicians who champion the spread of democracy frequently emphasize the benefits of the personal freedom it provides. Freedom, after all, is a highly attractive state to most people and its propagation a worthy goal—as a general concept, most humans long to be free.
In contrast to simple democracy, a liberal democracy is a form of government in which representative democracy operates under the principles of liberalism, i.e. protecting the rights of the individual, which are generally enshrined in law. A liberal democracy must include many features beyond the vote, among them the rule of law protected by a constitution, a separation of powers into different branches of government, independent and impartial courts, separation of state from religions, a free press, equal protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties, and political freedoms for all persons (men and women) under the law, protection of property rights, and freedom of speech and association. In a fully mature liberal democracy women would be represented in government approaching, at, or even exceeding a 50 percent level.
In his book The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad journalist and author Fareed Zakaria described the several differences between democracy and what he called illiberal democracy (Zakaria 2003). Illiberal democracy (“partial democracy” or “empty democracy”) is defined by Wikipedia as a “governing system in which although elections take place citizens are cut off from knowing about the activities of those who exercise real power because of the lack of civil liberties (of speech, religion etc.)”
The inability to eliminate or completely contain male inclinations for dominance that leads to war is a profound problem for illiberal democracies. Consider that in all existing illiberal democracies the percentage of women in deciding positions of power is either zero or too small to be of any meaningful consequence when it comes to decisions about how best to defend the nation; the governing bodies are functionally patriarchies.
Giving members of any population little more than the ability to vote will not produce a nation able to restrain hyper-alpha males (e.g. Iraq (1995), Iran (2005), Afghanistan (2014). People can, and have, used their vote to freely elect authoritarian (patriarchal) leaders (e.g., Hitler’s Germany, Russia, Philippines (2016), United States (2016), Turkey (2018), Brazil (2018). Many illiberal democracies, governed by men alone, have gone to war against each other.
In contrast, the observation is generally true for liberal democracies around the world that they have not made war on each other. It is for that reason that spreading liberal democracy throughout the world is one cornerstone of a future without war.
Liberal Democracy vs. Fully Mature Liberal Democracy
The word “mature” in the phrase “fully mature liberal democracy” does not refer to length of existence. A “fully mature” liberal democracy would be one in which all of the characteristics of liberal democracy mentioned above are fully developed and functioning. Most notably that would mean that all subsets of the population have a share in representation that is roughly proportional to their numbers. Significantly with respect to war, it means that men and women are represented in roughly equal numbers in governing bodies.
As of 2018, no democracies on Earth, including liberal democracies, are yet fully mature, possessing all the traits enumerated above. The Nordic countries, with their constitutional governments, strong social welfare states, universal suffrage, and percentage of women in government all exceeding 40% are arguably coming closest [data on percent representation from the International Parliamentary Union]. Iceland with government leadership of 38% women and New Zealand, which granted universal suffrage and 38% of women leading in government, are also strong contenders. All of these countries, however, have notably homogeneous populations; they are not yet having to deal with a staggering panoply of ethnic, cultural, and religious differences.
The evolving steps the United States has made toward maturity have inarguably been slowed due to the astounding heterogeneity of a population composed of immigrants from many cultures, races, and religions. It is the world’s greatest experiment ever in democracy in which “the many are united as one.” E pluribus unum. Although it is a relatively old democracy (Constitution signed in 1787), as of the date of this book’s first edition (2006) it fell far behind any of the nations mentioned above in progress toward maturity in representation; with only 19% of women in its lower house and 23% of women in the upper house it was functionally still a patriarchy.
In 2018, arguably in response to 2016 election of a President that was a demonstrably sexist male autocrat, a backlash occurred. An historically unprecedented number of energized, even angry, women ran for election to the House of Representatives and won. Nevertheless, this still brought the percentage of women in that body to only 23%; the Senate remained at 23%.
There have been a number of studies of the percentage of independent individuals needed to change the deciding “chemistry” of any social body: the “critical mass” that substantially changes the body’s orientation on issues. The percentages generally range from 10% to 33%. The percentages of women now in the US Congress, although not impressive, are likely large enough to begin to tip the orientation in that national body toward maturity in ways that may influence decisions about making war. [Notably, two of the women were Muslim and two were Native American. In the country’s local, state, and national contests, LGBT individuals (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) were elected in the highest numbers ever, outcomes that are a move the nation itself toward maturity.]
Thus the United States continues to evolve, albeit slowly, toward full maturity—working to extend and enforce full rights of all kinds to its many constituents. This is a tribute to the insight and foresight of the Constitution created by its founders, and to succeeding generations of leaders and citizens who embraced the goals and guidelines embodied in that document. The continuing progress, however slow, provides encouragement that it is possible, with sufficient will and vision, for the Earth’s global, multifaceted community to eventually embrace and begin to resolve our conflicts not by force but by mutually agreed upon rule of law.
How Democracies that are Not Fully Mature Get Into Wars
When powerholders are able to manipulate information on which decisions of lawmakers or the populace will be based, either through controlling the sources of information or the media that broadcast it, those at the top in immature/not fully mature democracies can still convince a sufficient number of decision-makers to accept the “need” to go to war. Prime examples are the United State’s second Iraq war and Russia’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine.
When serious conflicts erupt over the distribution of essential or highly valued resources, democracies can turn on each other. The world holds its breath whenever immature democracies like India and Pakistan lock horns. “Democratic” Russia and the “democratic” United States of America, given their current governments, could very well take up arms in the future over oil, water, rare metals, or some other resource they deem essential.
The absence of women’s input in decision-making bodies is a likely contributing factor to explain why modern attempts to abolish war, such as the League of Nations and the United Nations, failed to achieve that most fundamental goal. Both organizations were established as fundamentally all-male endeavors. The United Nations, the current body tasked with the goal of ending war, continues in 2019 to be dominated by men; of the fifteen members of the UN Security council only two are women.
The world needs not just more democracies. It needs fully matured, liberal democracies. If we settle for less, history will surely record that we failed—as Athens and Rome failed before us—to achieve long-term stability without war (Hand 2018).
The antithesis to patriarchy, the cure for it, is not matriarchy. It’s fully mature, liberal democracy. Judith Hand War and Sex and Human Destiny
The Best-laid Plans: Refugees, Brexit, and the 2016 Presidential Election in the United States
One final, brief reflection on where the global community may be heading.
Refugees. Refugees fleeing war and violence. Refugees whose livelihoods are destroyed by climate change: floods, droughts, hurricanes, fires.
Massive human migrations powerfully documented in Ai Weiwei’s movie “Human Flow” now, and into our immediate future, bring enormous pressures to communities where they seek refuge. There will be unavoidable social disruption and conflicts between haves and have nots for many decades to come. Integrating this human flood into the world’s societies with compassion will require creativity and substantial financial commitment.
A strong case can be made that Brexit—the decision of slightly over half of the people in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, thus weakening the union—was triggered by pressures associated with this human dispersal. A similar argument can be made that the 2016 US election of an authoritarian man who promised to build a big, beautiful concrete wall along the entire southern border of the United States to wall the country off from Mexico was due in part to a small minority of US citizens encouraged by that President to fear immigrants.
Creation of the European Union combined with the economic and military strength of the United States post the destruction of the Second World War provided a stabilizing force on the global community. That both entities within two years as of this writing have lurched toward entrenchment, isolation, and nationalism—essentially weakening that stabilizing force—is troubling when contemplating the potential for future wars.
Francis Fukuyama wrote in 1992 that the rise of democracies would inevitably put an end to war. To update that thought, he could perhaps write now that the rise of fully mature liberal democracies, which will include the empowerment of women, at least has the potential to put an end to war. In War and Sex and Human Destiny I wrote: “History is now sorting out a battle between two titans of human governing: Patriarchy vs. Liberal Democracy.” Only time will reveal how the battle gets resolved…and how the resolution affects human hopes for a future without war.
Fukuyama, Francis. 1992. The End of History and the Last Man. NewYork: Free Press. Goldstein, Joshua. 2001. War and Gender. Cambridge, U: Cambridge University Press. Hand, Judith L. 2003. Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace. San Diego, California: Questpath Publishing. This books is available as a FREE download at www.jhand.com. Hand, Judith L. 2014. Shift: The Beginning of War, The Ending of War. San Diego, California: Questpath Publishing. Hand, Judith L. 2018. War and Sex and Human Destiny. San Diego, California: Questpath Publishing. Zakaria, Fareed. 2003. The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. New York: Norton.