Institutions over Norms: Reevaluating the Literature on the Democratic Peace

Date Published:

Jan 1, 1998


In reviewing the last 15 years of political science literature on this subject, I argue that scholars have correctly identified the central theoretical debate, for the contest between the institutional and normative approaches is of great practical and theoretical importance. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the intensity of debate, I argue that the proponents of the institutional approach have failed to make a strong case for it. First, their efforts to show that democracies fight fewer wars in general have largely failed. Despite many years of intense scrutiny, the initial empirical puzzle remains valid; the evidence still indicates that democracies frequently fight wars, but rarely against each other. Second, supporters of the institutional approach have too quickly abandoned theoretical development and innovation.


Working Paper 98–12, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, 1998. 

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