The domestic analogy is a central idea in the Liberal Internationalist approach to International Relations. It is a theory which pretty much does what it says on the tin, i.e. draw comparisons between the way domestic politics functions and the way international politics functions. It is best described in Hedley Bull’s Anarchical Society (which actually critiques the domestic analogy) as:

The conditions of an orderly life… are the same among states as they are within them…they require that the institutions of domestic society be reproduced on a universal scale.

However simple this may sound on the face of it, there are many different facets to the domestic analogy, and the way it can lead policy. It is closely connected with the idea of ‘democratic peace’, as well as in favour of a form of world government or organisation.

History of the Idea

The idea of democratic peace has origins in Immanuel Kant’s essay, Perpetual Peace, where he argues that,

If the consent of the citizens is required to decide whether or not war is to be declared, it is very natural that they will have great hesitation in embarking on so dangerous an enterprise

Of course, this is under the presumption that if governments are accountable, the public will be given accurate and full information on a situation, which as history has proved, has not been the case on many occasions. The idea of democratic peace was one which appealed to Woodrow Wilson after the First World War, which in part led to his aim to create a league of ‘liberal democracies’ in order to keep peace in Europe (of course, the inclusion of some states which did not match this description and exclusion of some which did is a curious one).

The idea of the domestic analogy stemmed from this concept of democratic peace, but not entirely, and many liberal internationalists, especially after both the First and Second World Wars argued that it should be applied.

The Idea Itself

The domestic analogy starts off with the basic premise that states are like citizens and the world is like one huge state in itself. This is, of course, a controversial premise and has many critics, which I will come to.

It is based on the idea that the formation of states regulated and enforced peace within domestic society, so the same could be replicated on an international scale, through an international organisation. This is the basic principle behind organisations such as the League of Nations or the United Nations, although it is important to note that both granted states themselves rights, in the same fashion citizens have rights within states.

This of course, relies on the international organisation having a ‘monopoly of violence’, or being the only ones capable of using military power to deter aggression, in the same way that states themselves, if they have full sovereignty and not quasi-sovereignty (like states such as Somalia and the Sudan), have control of their territory, through being the only ones who hold the means to enforce laws.

This is rather difficult to enforce on an international scale, especially when in organisations such as the League of Nations, half the countries of the world were not members, and members themselves, being states, will not want to surrender the right to self defence, they will not easily surrender their security to a collective, for fear of losing a part of their sovereignty. However, it is important to mention that Liberal Internationalism had a habit of theorising about what should be, not the entire practicalities of it (hence the opposing theory being called ‘realism’).

Another aspect of the domestic analogy is perhaps one closer to democratic peace theory, the idea that the domestic politics of a state will reflect on the way it acts in the international arena. An autocratic state will have little concern for the rights and sovereignty of its neighbours, in the same way it will have little concern for the rights of its own citizens, whereas a democratic state will be much more prepared to negotiate, discuss and work through collective security. After all, there have been very few cases of democratic states declaring war on each other.


The main criticism of the domestic analogy doesn’t necessarily come from Realist thinkers, in fact, one of the main critiques is that of Hedley Bull’s in The Anarchical Society, where he points out that International Politics is a distinct discipline of politics, and requires distinct solutions. Domestic solutions cannot be applied because it is nigh on impossible to hold the ‘monopoly of violence’ on an international scale, and raises the issue of who decides what conduct is acceptable and what conduct isn’t in the world? And then there’s the issue of how it is enforced.

Realism’s main critique is that the domestic analogy is idealistic, and that states would never agree to surrender some of their rights as states to a higher authority, or even if they did, there would be a constant conflict of interests in how that authority acted, as when it comes down to it, each state will still look out for its own interest first, not that of the collective whole.

A general criticism of the democratic peace theory and how it links in to the domestic analogy is that the evidence of democratic states not declaring war on each other, thus democracy = peace, is every post hoc, ergo propter hoc in its approach. It also doesn’t take into account, or it even validates, the use of war by democratic states against non-democratic states.


Bull, H. The Anarchical Society

Dunne, T ‘Liberalism’ in Globalisation of World Politics, eds. Baylis and Smith.

Kant, I. Perpetual Peace

‘Wilson’ in Griffiths, M. Fifty Key Thinkers in International Relations.

The lectures of Professor Ian Clark, Aberystwyth University.

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