In the shadow of war: The effects of conflict on liberal democracy

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Events of and since 11 September 2001 have renewed interest in age-old questions about liberal-democratic governance in the shadow of insecurity, crisis, and war. Academic lawyers in particular have engaged in a vigorous debate about how liberal polities can confront security threats while maintaining their commitment to the rule of law. Yet few empirical political scientists, and even fewer scholars of international relations, have weighed in. The short- and especially long-run effects of international conflict on liberal-democratic institutions and processes remain an underexplored aspect of the second-image-reversed. Prompted by recent research in law, this article finds that prominent arguments often rest on shaky theoretical and empirical foundations. It argues that the two most notable traditions of thought on war and democracy are complementary, not competing; that small wars may also have substantial consequences; and that analysts must distinguish clearly among three distinct causal phenomenathreat, mobilization, and warfarewhen considering conflict's impact on democracy. The article critically reviews the effects of conflict on both participation and contestation; identifies the salient outstanding questions and suggests hypotheses addressing them; and explores the implications for contemporary normative debates over executive authority and emergency powers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)177-210
Number of pages34
JournalInternational Organization
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009


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