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Democratic Peace: A Political Biography, Piki Ish-Shalom

Reviewed by Joseph M. Parent



Never mind the title, this book is not political biography. Biographies generally follow a fairytale format: from humble circumstance, a hero of distinguished ancestry goes on adventures—some wins, some losses—dies a remarkable death, and teaches us valuable morals. Yet in this case, exploits are not chronicled comprehensively across time and space, and the life cycle of the protagonist is obscure. The examples examined are almost exclusively negative, within the last 20 years, involve the United States and Israel, and do not track the intellectual, institutional, and material forces that impacted democratic peace theory’s (DPT) success. The moral is also hazy.

Instead, Piki Ish‐Shalom’s book is something much more interesting. It is essentially a meditation on how theory injures people and how to ameliorate that. He argues that DPT led to deleterious outcomes (for example, debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq) because the theory has strong rhetorical capital, poli­ticians misused it, and theorists let them get away with it. Rhetorical capital, by the way, is “the structural duality of accessibility and incomprehensibility overlaid with the prestige of objectivity, as well as other features specific to partic

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