Theory as a hermeneutical mechanism: The democratic-peace thesis and the politics of democratization

Piki Ish-Shalom*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


This article seeks to explain the influence of the democratic-peace thesis on politics by offering a new understanding of theory: as a hermeneutical mechanism of attaching meaning to political concepts. The hermeneutical mechanism is understood as a three-stage model in which theoretical constructions transform into public conventions and then into political convictions. By using discourse-tracing - analyzing the process in which the theoretical discourse was transformed into political discourse - the article explores two case studies in which the democratic-peace thesis played a political role: the Israeli Right and its criticism of the Oslo accords, and the American neoconservatives and their policies in the Middle East. En route, I will apply Antonio Gramsci's theory of hegemony to reconstruct constructivism from a purely social theory to a sociopolitical theory that considers seriously the political dimension of social reality. The model that is developed here advances our metatheoretical understanding of theory as offering a holistic understanding of reality, rather than a mere limited explanation of specific phenomena; highlights theory's involvement in real-world politics; and emphasizes theory's political capital, with the resulting moral responsibility of theoreticians.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)565-598
Number of pages34
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Earlier versions of this article were presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, on 3 September 2005, and at the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, on 3 October 2005. I would like to thank Nikolaos Biziouras, Fotini Christia, Michael Fleck, Davis Geerdes, Kelly M. Greenhill, Stefano Guzzini, Katty Ish-Shalom, Shuhei Kurizaki, Sean M. Lynn-Jones, Paul MacDonald, Omar S. McDoom, Steven E. Miller, Assaf Moghadam, Lien-Hang Nguyen, Rodger A. Payne, Stephen Peter Rosen, Daniel Sargent, Mark Sheetz, Erin Simpson, Tony Smith, Alexander Statiev, Judie Taylor, Monica Duffy Toft, the journal editors, and especially the two anonymous reviewers for their most useful comments. I also benefited from the financial support and the intellectual communities of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, and the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University.


  • Antonio Gramsci
  • Constructivism
  • Democratic peace
  • Hermeneutical mechanism
  • Metatheory
  • Neoconservatism
  • Theory


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