In Latin America beginning 200 years ago people started looking to national governments as the arbiters of justice and the guarantors of democracy. Now we commonly assume that government courts of law have jurisdiction over just about every kind of grievance — from murder to fraud to jaywalking — and have the sole legitimate authority to dispense justice (even when that is terribly unjust, as in the case of mass incarceration in the USA). Similarly, democracy in our time has become nearly synonymous with elections; the more expansive meanings of the term — like participatory democracy — have been largely lost to the representative model. Feminists, indigenous activists, and others who see these executions of democracy and justice as impoverished and insufficient have proposed numerous alternative, radical ideas of what democracy and justice really should look like.
One of the questions we must think about this semester is whether governments (national governments in particular) truly can and should be the foundations of democracy and justice. In the present, our lives are integrated into communities both smaller and larger than the nation: from Rutgers University to Amazon.com. In such a world, on what levels is democracy most important and what institutions ought to mete justice? Should democracy mean voting once every four years, or could it mean something much vital and integral to our lives? Are fines and jail time levied by a government true justice? What if the injustice is perpetrated by the government itself?
We will not be able to answer these and other important questions. Nonetheless, we need to contemplate them in order to understand how the past was different from the present and what we can learn from this difference.
For now, discuss with your peers your present thoughts about about the fit between democracy and justice and a world divided into national governments.