Many Americans, on both the left and the right, are questioning the value of democracy. The left opposed America’s attempts to export democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq. The right looks at the election of Barack Obama and wonders if perhaps American voters are no longer capable of making informed voting decisions.

Historically, both groups can look back and see that Adolph Hitler, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Hugo Chavez were all elected by somewhat democratic processes.

Our founding fathers were far from being fans of democracy. Thomas Jefferson, the most eloquent of our founding fathers, wrote, “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” This is why the United States is a constitutional republic — to protect the rights of individuals against a democractic majority.

Democracy, however, does have one significant advantage: It tends to lead to peace.

Democracies very seldom go to war with one another. There is no hard and fast rule which says that two democracies cannot wage war on each other, but in practice it very seldom happens. Democracies also exhibit extremely low rates of militarized interstate disputes, terrorism, politicide, democide, and genocide.

Democracy has other benefits, of course. Democracy tends to increase individual freedom and liberty. As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1848, “Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom; socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”

Democracy, in turn, has demands of it’s own. For example, real participatory democracy cannot exist without free markets. As Milton Friedman wrote in the Introduction to the Fiftieth Anniversary Edition of The Road to Serfdom, “The free market is the only mechanism that has ever been discovered for achieving participatory democracy.” Friedrich Hayek stated the case slightly differently when he wrote “To be controlled in our economic pursuits means to be controlled in everything.” Political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom.

Peace then, largely depends upon participatory democracy, which in turn rests upon economic freedom. This can all be summed up in a general statement that respect leads to peace and lack of respect leads to conflict. Governments which do not respect the property of individuals will also not respect the lives of individuals. Socialism is a gateway drug to war.