Democracy proposes the impossible: that each citizen makes community with those they consider opponents or foes. In the increasingly embittered partisan environment animating so many democracies, this paradoxical demand justifies more attention. This article explores the challenges of democracy among polarized and divided groups by engaging the political theory of Bhimrao Ambedkar’s Navayana pragmatism. Ambedkar, an Indian political figure and thinker who felt the crushing oppression of caste discrimination, reshapes the pragmatism of John Dewey to better encapsulate the importance of overcoming divisions and injustices while forging a community of shared interests. Using Ambedkar’s merging of the values of liberty, equality, and fraternity into a pragmatist vision of democracy as a habit or way of life, this article demonstrates that justice can be usefully taken as a balancing of values among agreeing and disagreeing citizens. This also leads to a recognition of the tragedy of democracy, or the fact that attending to the end and means of fraternity places limits on what one group can do to their opponents in the pursuit of freedom or equality.

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