What is Democracy? (15): The Willingness to Live Together

Democracy is impossible when there is fundamental hostility between large groups in the state, when one group fears that a political victory of another group will harm its fundamental interests and when, as a consequence, groups are unwilling to live together. The tensions between communities resulting from this kind of situation makes the functioning of democratic procedures impossible and can lead to rights violations and even to civil war.

To some extent, national unity is a prerequisite for the preservation of any form of government, although an authoritarian state is undoubtedly better equipped to suppress communal hostility. The ability to survive in a situation of communal hostility and to maintain communal peace is a classic argument in favor of authoritarian forms of government. Indeed, these forms of government seem to be able to separate warring factions, to avoid chaos, violence, separation and disintegration and to focus attention on loyalty, patriotism and the community. They limit the use of rights because rights are a means to incite or aggravate divisions. These regimes are able to violate rights if this is deemed necessary in order to keep antagonists apart.

However, what is the cost of authoritarian peace? Grave violations of human rights in the first place, and more violence than before. Rights violations often create more violence than the violence which was the initial reason to violate rights. If you hit me, I will hit you back and if I hit you back, you will hit me back again, and so on. Violating rights in order to suppress communal tensions is counterproductive in the long run. A strong hand always causes revolt and violence, the opposite therefore of what is intended. Rights violations, which are deemed necessary for the preservation of communal peace, cause violent opposition and revolt. They can lead to violent revolt even when they do not imply the use of violence. Without human rights, it is impossible to express claims and people who cannot claim something will resort to more extreme means in order to get what is theirs. Authoritarianism promotes the evil it wants to combat, although in the short run rights limitations and the use of violence may seem the only alternative.

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