There is no single universally accepted definition of the term democracy. Nevertheless, any clear definition of the term must take into account the key principles of freedom and equality. In a democratic society, all the citizens are seen as equal before the rule of law, are entitled to equal access to power, and their freedom is safeguarded by certain legitimized rights and liberties which are normally cosseted in a constitution. As such, democracy may be defined as a political government that is run directly by the people or by means of politically elected individuals who represent the rest of the people.
On the other hand, violence may be defined as an expression of verbal or physical coercion either against one’s self or against other people, which usually compels an action against an individual’s will on the pain of being harmed. Globally, many people use violence as a way of manipulating events or other people. Violence is a major issue of concern for law and culture which usually work hard to repress and end it. The term violence covers a very wide continuum. It may vary from between a physical disagreement between two people where a trivial grievance may lead to a war or a genocide that kills millions of people (Gad, 23-30).Violence and DemocracyFor democracy to thrive there has to be the existence of trust among all the stakeholders and the readiness to stop violence and accept negotiation and compromise.
However, negotiation and compromise are sometimes corrupted by the desire to attain power and use appearances to obtain specific ends. Nevertheless, even with violence and manipulation, it is democracy and its ideals that usually triumph in the end. This paper is going to look at the role of violence in the development of America’s political arena. It examines the role of violence in democracy and more particularly in dealing with the issues of race and inequality. It also examines the relationship between violence and power and how civil rights movements are associated with this larger history.It is worth mentioning that violence is an issue that many people hold strong and different opinions about, sometimes even violent ones.
An example of such a strong opinion about the relationship between violence and democracy is that the contemporary Western democracy is an advanced substitute for violence which is generally incompatible with any other form of violence. Generally speaking, historians have reached a consensus that the United States of America has continually been an exceedingly violent nation. However, they have been so intolerant in their treatment of violence in the US. At the same time, since 1950’s, they have provided the Americans with very limited essential information concerning their culture and society (Gad, 43-50).Until the 1990’s, the historians who directed their focus on violence in the US mainly looked at collective social violence rather than other forms of violence.
Some of the overlooked forms of violence include interpersonal violence such as domestic violence and criminal violence, and the outcome of wars. A great majority of American historians do not discuss, write about or even study America’s highly violent environment. This is not because they have little hard information or knowledge with regard to the regular and prevalent use of violence in the US, but rather because of their reluctance to deal with the reality that the American culture is inextricably entwined with violence.The most impressive idea about American violence is its unusual frequency, its pure commonplaceness throughout the American history, its endurance into the modern day and its rapid contrast with the American’s pretense of having a solitary national virtue. American violence is not a matter of accident or genetics. Rather, it emerges from someplace deep in the personalities of the American people.
In the US, crime has become an essential part of the cost of liberation. The past three and a half centuries have seen American people resorting to violence as a means of reaching their otherwise unattainable goals (Paul, 1963).For instance, the path towards America’s modern democracy brought about the American Revolution which incorporated the use of violence. Of course, the initial step in the pursuit for American democracy was the pronouncement of America’s independence in the year 1776. The American forefathers like Thomas Jefferson had realized the fact that all men are created equal by God. Jefferson also held the opinion that it is the right of all men to take up action against the government if it did not respect the rights of the people.
The growing success of democracy in America became more and more after independence. Nevertheless, some American citizens, especially the blacks and the coloreds continued to be discriminated such that they were not even allowed to participate in carrying out public duties, jury duties, to work as police officers or even hold any public office. This idea motivated the nineteenth century abolitionists such as David Walker and Robert Alexander Young to incite the black people and the coloreds to rise up and fight against the existing white supremacy in the US. David Walker for instance published a book titled ‘Walker’s Appeal’ in which he encouraged all slaves to kill their masters so as to set them selves free. The works of David Walker and other abolitionists provided an inspiration for American slaves who decided to organize slave rebellions that included the Nat Turner rebellion which was very violent (Steven, 100-105).There is no doubt that progressive minded people have also participated in political violence in the US.
For instance, the Civil War, the revolutionary War and World War II were all fronted by progressives. In the 1850’s, people like John Brown deemed and fought for a violent slave rebellion. It is definitely true that there has been a virulent and dangerous streak of fascism and violence in the US conservatism throughout history and even in the present day. Conservatives who emerged from the South fervently and violently fought for slavery rights. The tale of race relations in the South has been lengthy and unbelievably bloody.
For instance, there was the bloody civil war, killing of freed slaves during the reconstruction era, killing of the African Americans after the Civil War of 1860’s and other atrocious acts of violence during the civil rights campaigns in 1950’s and 60’s.On the other hand, the North also perpetuated racial discrimination. For instance, there was a mass killing of black people in Tulsa in the year 1921and a stone throwing mob to a crowd of people listening to a greeting from Martin Luther King in Chicago. It is quite clear that racial violence has not been the only form of political violence that has often been inflicted to the minorities in the US. This is because most of America’s labor leaders have also been assassinated and many women revolutionaries and other progressive reformers violently hassled in their quest for liberation.
As aforementioned, for democracy to thrive, there has to be the existence of trust among all the stakeholders and the readiness to stop violence and accept negotiation and compromise. However, negotiation and compromise are sometimes corrupted by the desire to attain power and use appearances to obtain specific ends. Barry Levinson seeks to illustrate this situation in his movie ‘Wag the Dog’ in which a firefly girl accuses the president of sexual delinquency less than a fortnight before a major general election. The president becomes so worried and so he calls in Conrad Beam to fabricate a situation that would shift people’s minds from this incident and therefore increase his chances of being reelected. Conrad goes ahead to formulate a non-existent conflict with Albania so as to detract people’s attention from the sex saga. Nevertheless, CIA discovers this plot but the president’s men succeed in creating a new story line.
They lie to the people that one of the American soldiers was left behind the enemy lines and that the president has vowed to search for him and return him home. This act of political expediency by the president is not democratic and therefore seeks to undermine it (Steven, 110-115).Another film ‘Amistad’, seeks to illustrate how innocent African slaves travelling to the US from Cuba in 1839 are treated with a lot of discrimination when they reach the US. As the ship they were travelling in crosses from Cuba to the US, a tribal African leader referred to as Cinque leads a rebellion and takes over the control of the ship. They become very hopeful that when they reach the US they would find some help, but all was in vain. They become imprisoned by the US government which claims that they are fugitive slaves.
The US government blames them for killing their captors and they are promised death. Nevertheless, their case is taken to the Supreme Court where an abolitionist lawyer decides to defend them because they were actually free citizens of a different country and not slaves. In the end, John Quincy Adams pleas on their behalf and they are released.On the other hand, Hoffa is an amazing film based on a true story that describes the spectacular rise and fall of the late Teamster president who worked as a labor leader. The movie summarizes Teamster’s violent trials, successful victories and his mysterious disappearance.
Hoffa gradually rises to the position of a controversial figure because of his hard work during the era of the Great American Depression. He was the founder of the Teamsters union and a very bold man who challenged even president Kennedy in public. He was imprisoned in the 1960’s but after being pardoned by President Richard Nixon, he disappeared mysteriously (Steven, 123-130).These three movies portray that negotiation and compromise can be corrupted especially by leaders for their own political expediency and this is why violence has often been the closest means of the people for seeking liberation. Nevertheless, it is important to note that violence is not a better way of seeking for democracy even though it seems to produce good results.
Leaders and their governments should be ready to enhance free discussions regarding violence from all aspects of life in order to achieve greater goals and objectives.