Over the last two decades, there has been a 'democratic turn' in peace and conflict research, that is, the peculiar impact of democratic politics on a wide range of security issues has attracted more and more attention. Many of these studies are inspired by Immanuel Kant's famous essay on 'Perpetual Peace'. In this article, we present a critical discussion of the 'democratic distinctiveness programme' that emerged from the Democratic Peace debate and soon spread to cover a wider range of foreign policy issues. The bulk of this research has to date been based on an overly optimistic reading of a 'Kantian peace'. In particular, the manifold forms of violence that democracies have exerted, have been treated either as a challenge to the Democratic Peace proposition or as an undemocratic contaminant and pre-democratic relict. In contrast, we argue that forms of 'democratic violence' should no longer be kept at arm's length from the democratic distinctiveness programme but instead should be elevated to a main field of study. While we acknowledge the benefits of this expanding research programme, we also address a number of normative pitfalls implied in this scholarship such as lending legitimacy to highly questionable foreign policy practices by Western democracies. We conclude with suggestions for a more self-reflexive and 'critical' research agenda of a 'democratically turned' peace and conflict studies, inspired by the Frankfurt school tradition. © 2010 British International Studies Association.