In English Voices From Spain

We forget about the force

Originally published in Spanish. Jorge Galindo. El País.

We have got used to political rivalry being a purely dialectic conflict. This is actually fantastic news. It means that one of the basic premises for a stable democracy was fulfilled, at least until now: that the use of force is out of the debate because it is always in the side of the state, which is by definition neutral and also encompasses everything; territorially, but also ideologically.

But what happens when someone wants to get out of this umbrella, defying the monopoly of violence? Then the state stops being neutral (it is not in its logic to be so if threatened). The use of force becomes an option again. Nevertheless this means a mismatch between reality and the expectations of those who take part in them, most of whom still expect that politics is restricted to the dialectical domain. The shadow of the use of force makes many uncomfortable, which means an opportunity for others.

The opportunity arrives for those who, while unwilling to actually cross the limit, decide to exploit the rejection that the majority feels with the return of the use of force to the political arena. They do so by asserting that in a democratic state conflicts “are resolved with more democracy, not coercion”.

But this is a false alternative. The true dilemma is that without the veiled threat of violence there is no authentic democracy, but without a democracy that restricts it the use of force gets out of control. Why are we more willing to live under a democracy without coercion than under coercion without democracy if neither of them works without the other? Eventually, in the first situation any group organized and resolute enough would be able to make use of the force freely. Exactly like in the second.

This equilibrium, which is hard to achieve, only takes place when the state is neutral and unquestioned. Up to now we have been able to ignore the dilemma precisely because we were in such equilibrium. But now that the state is being questioned, we are struggling at the edge of a cliff. And we are risking falling off.


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