Bringing the Leviathan Back In: Classical Versus Contemporary Studies of the Liberal Peace

September 1, 2006

International Studies Review,  8:3 (Sept. 2006), pp. 425-440

Abstract: There are crucial differences between classical and contemporary conceptions of the liberal peace thesis, or the proposition that liberally constituted states tend to be more peaceful in domestic affairs, in their relations with other states, or both. Classical liberals such as Locke and Kant believed that peace depended not only on liberal political and economic arrangements but also on a functioning state apparatus, capable of upholding the rule of law and containing societal competition within peaceful bounds. By contrast, modern liberal peace scholars have tended to treat functioning state institutions as a given, focusing instead on the relationship between violent conflict and different types of (already constituted) regimes. As a result, findings from modern scholarship do not necessarily apply to states just emerging from civil wars with damaged, dysfunctional, or nonexistent governmental institutions. Given the abundance of post-conflict peacebuilding operations and failed or failing states in the world today, liberal peace scholars would do well to revisit classical liberalism’s dual emphasis on building liberal and effective states as a foundation for peace.

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Roland Paris
Graduate School of Public and International Affairs

University of Ottawa

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