Democracy In Danger? Political Violence, Peaceful Transition, and Threats to Democracy

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West Point Press
Many claim that political violence1 (PV) threatens democracy. These claims often rest on the grounds that PV toxifies political discourse, fosters polarization, and constrains a government’s capacity to honor citizens’ policy preferences. There is a distinction, however, between PV that diminishes a democracy’s ability to do desirable things and PV that jeopardizes democracy itself. This paper argues that PV that threatens the peaceful transition of power does endanger democracy itself, while most other forms of PV do not. Accordingly, democratic governments are morally obligated to prioritize threats to peaceful transitions of power over threats that do not endanger democracy. Establishing a hierarchy of moral priorities does not give governments license to ignore certain threats, but rather, helps clarify which security measure a government is morally obligated to take if two are in conflict or how to proportionally allocate resources when those resources are limited. This paper proceeds in three parts. The first section offers a definition of democracy. The second section argues, based on this definition, that many types of PV do not threaten democracy itself, and consequently come second to peaceful transition threats on the list of a democratic government’s moral priorities. The final section considers the implications for present-day American security policy.
Marcus Ellinas is a student at the University of Chicago, pursuing a BA in political science and quantitative research methods. His interests broadly include normative political theory, constitutional law, and quantitative social science, with a particular focus on determining the proper role of statistical evidence in answering moral and legal questions.
Political Science and Security Studies
Ellinas, Marcus. “Democracy In Danger? Political Violence, Peaceful Transition, and Threats to Democracy.” West Point Journal of Politics and Security 1, no. 2 (2023): 19-27.