The Violence of Democracy
This paper seeks to examine the relation between democracy and violence. It will first offer an historical overview of the emergence of democracy in relation to three major political events: the English civil war from 1640-1660; the American war of independence and the drafting of the Bill of Rights; and the French Revolution. It will propose that, apart from the fact that each of these struggles was marked by large-scale and protracted violence, they also shared a common discourse – the discourse of rights, understood proprietorially. The paper will argue that the emergence of democracy as articulated through this discourse of proprietorial rights was, in turn, closely related to the emergence of the contemporary form of the nation-state, and that, consequently, it is founded on a paradox: the discourse of the nation (or nationalism) has been historically an exclusivist one, while the discourse of democracy seeks, by definition, to be inclusive. It will argue that the colonial moment served on the one hand, to disseminate the discourses of nationalism and democracy; while on the other, it complicated the paradoxical relation between them further, when the discourse of rights (integral to both) often emphasized community rights over individual rights, at least in colonial South Asia. The contours of community, then and since, have been overwhelmingly determined by the personal law system and the communal patriarchates. Given that, this paper will argue that the tensions between the exclusivism of such communalisms and the inclusivism of the democratic discourse leads inevitably to the production of cultures of violence. It will conclude by questioning the sustainability of a rights-based understanding of democracy.