This article examines the concept of violence in contemporary political theory focusing in particular on the possibility of rethinking the relationship between violence and democracy. Rather than seeing democracy and violence as contrasting concepts, it argues that democratic societies have always been founded on the basis of violent engagement at some level. And, of course, the modern state has always claimed the legitimate use of force as a key ingredient in its authority. The article contends that many contemporary democratic discourses have lost sight of the integral relationship between democracy and violence. Indeed it is frequently the case that discourses of democracy are couched in ethical terms as the obverse of violence. Ironically, this trend is often most apparent where societies are either making a transition to democracy or where a process of conflict transformation is taking place. The limitations of these approaches for our understanding of violence and democracy will be outlined in this article through an examination of contemporary political developments in Northern Ireland.