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Violence within the family presents a special case. The law retreats in this context not so much out of queasiness about brutality, but rather because of insensitivity toward the victims’ suffering. The duplicity at stake in this context is not just that society looks away from domestic abuse while it curiously looks on when violence takes elsewhere, but rather that it shows tolerance to the accused in this realm while treats defendants mercilessly in almost all other spheres. At any rate, the attitude of denial rides on, as well as propagates, considerable confusion and has generated intense criticism.

This paper will diagnose rather than criticize. It will identify a narrative, i.e., the Lockean account of individual rights, as a source of the temptation to neglect private violence and as a convenient ideological cover. It will point to a different story, inspired by Rousseau’s social contract, which not only blows the cover, but also depicts more plausibly, the relationship between citizen and state.


Paper presented in the panel on “Violence in Ordinary Life,” at SELA 2003, Violence, in Cuzco, Perú.