Pluralism is Dead

“Why is there such division in America these days?”

That’s  a question a good many people are asking.  And the answers are legion.Per Commentary Magazine’s Nicholas Eberstadt, the problem is the absent connection between the intellectual and policy elites and the average American.  The former is awed by the amount of wealth America produces each year and dropping unemployment rates.  Surely the country is on the right track.  The latter sees fewer job opportunities, more neighbors on welfare than in the labor force, and a rising drug epidemic.  Turn on the TV and you’ll be hard pressed not to find a news channel which is either trying to catch the President in a lie or hosting a guest speaker pontificating if the Trump Administration is fascist and bigoted.  Many times, you get both.

And there are the nearly constant riots across the country (be honest, people who set garbage cans on fire, shouting for violent actions, and destroying property are not protesters) and the virtue signaling among celebrities.  For them, the country has been hijacked by the phantoms of America’s and Earth’s ugly past.  Their detractors find them paranoid and see their behaviors a threat to what little civil stability and dialogue 21st century America has to offer.

Sadly, none of these views provide a satisfying answer.  They are ultimately viewpoints, each with their own set of studies, anecdotes, and hard held principles.  No side is willing to concede mistakes or to suggest a palatable compromise for move forward.  Each feels the truth favors them, but not the others.  And that is the problem with America today.

To be clear, I’m not declaring a lack of compromise or give-and-take is the reason for our nation’s woes.  Drug addicts have a myriad of reasons for their vice, and government policy is generally not one of them.  (This is not to say policies do not affect them.)  President Trump does fib on occasion; though not to the extent or intent as he is often portrayed.  Rather, the mindset behind these views has eliminated the possibility of compromise because the views are presented as competing truth claims.

Consider abortion.  For the pro-choice faction, the embryo, fetus, or whatever is ultimately of lesser value or sovereign status than the mother.  The pro-life faction sees the unborn as life with a value and sovereignty equal to the mother’s and both ought to be protected and aided.  It is feasible two people, one from each faction, to develop a mutual friendship despite their differences of opinion on the subject.  At some point, however, the difference will come to a head because the viewpoints are mutually exclusive to the other.  The outcome will be either be a weakened relationship that will break later, the dominance of the one, or the apathetic submission of the other.  Neither can compromise because doing so would mean changing what they knew to be true.

This is what is happening at the national scale.  Everyone is clinging to competing truth claims which will not tolerate the others, despite the declaration that we have entered a post-truth world.  Yes, there have been factions and differences of opinion since the founding of the country.  Hamilton and Jefferson are good examples of this.  However, many of these disagreements could be at least contained by the principle of pluralism.  Not plural relativism, but the idea many people with different thoughts and views can coexist.  That was the political experiment of the Constitution.  That is why power is so diffused in each of the federal branches.  That is why freedoms of the press, religion, and speech are protected: to facilitate a free exchange of thought.

But that concept is fundamentally flawed.  A pluralist state, to function properly,  must deny and stamp out the concept of the truth.  The current division and polarization are proofs of what happens when it does not.  And unless something changes to show otherwise, pluralism as a political theory is dead.


4 thoughts on “Pluralism is Dead

  1. What would you think of a pro-life and pro-choice group working together to ensure less lives (no matter which life you choose to focus on) are lost in women/infant/fetus health care? From what research I can gather, more lives across the board are saved when there is easy access to women health services of ALL kinds. Another example is sex education. My understanding is that is almost a direct correlation between how strict the sex education and abortion, teenage pregnancy, etc. Evidence based practices can go a long way if ideological rigidity can take second place to reality. I wonder also about pluralism. I don’t think there is ANY philosophical reason to abandon it – zero. One can argue that science is a pluralistic endeavor of opinions and procedures slicing at teach other until Truth is agreed upon – often to be upturned by a less stubborn new generation. And just think of historical understanding . . . I can’t imagine being well trained as a historian and NOT thinking in pluralistic ways – history is complicated beyond belief and as soon as you think you have “Truth” . . .you are done with history and moved on to dogma. Anyway . . . I wonder if our refusal to embrace pluralism has anything to do with philosophy, theology, and even . . . religious totalitarianism. I wonder if it’s not another struggle of globalization. In other words, sociology (yes, Marx). It’s the economy stupid comes to mind, lol (I’m not calling you stupid! just using the expression). The racism, the anger, the anti-this, anti-that . . . I wonder if it’s not all some middle class fear that we’re all about to be bought out by the corporation – but since we can’t rebel against our overlords (lol), blame the Muslim or the Hispanic. I’m getting silly now . . . but I struggle with this a lot. It seems to be that folks who can’t embrace pluralism are folks who can’t get rid of their own ideological totalitarianism. In other words, when bold, seemingly uncompromising Islam arrives at our back door . . . we fear that they won’t embrace the pluralistic world that we thought we were growing up in, so instead of being patient that they too will find a way to be “slightly” pluralistic . . or pluralistic enough . . . we imitate them! Thanks for writing.

    • A Doorway,

      You have hit on a lot of important points! First, I would like to see more research in the medical field to reduce the number of instances where either the lives of the mother, the unborn, or both are at risk. Second, I would agree that abstinence-only methods are not effectively conveying the risks and responsibilities of sexual behaviors. But I would argue neither do “safe sex” talks. And third, I do believe there are a group of Americans (middle class, blue collar, however you want to define it) are indeed scared and angry that the nation is going in the wrong direction and the policy wonks and cultural elites aren’t listening to them. Hence the outcome of the 2016 elections.

      However, a pluralist state by its nature requires competing truth claims to coexist. And truth, by its nature, cannot have two opposing claims be correct. Take the abortion issue. Is the fetus a human being? The answer is either “yes” or “no.” It cannot be “both,” “maybe,” or “something else” as well as “yes.” And this doesn’t even include the dilemma of whether we are morally obligated to take the life of the fetus if the answer is “yes.” And the methods and mindsets by which we come to these answers are so vastly different, that coexistence would be tenuous at best and abhorrent at worst. Even in situations where a life is not on the line, (e.g. Christian bakers and gay couples), we see that one truth claim is not allowed equal coexistence.

      As much as I would like to see pluralism as envisioned by the Founding Fathers and J.S. Mill employed today, I doubt it would ever succeed. During their lives, they experienced a rather comprehensive homogeneity and unity of the world. Sharp differences existed, of course, but not so different as they are now.

      • You had me at “like to see more research” . . . lol. You are already ahead of the game, though research shows we apes have a tendency to hold on to our opinions even stronger if slapped head on with “evidence” and . . . to use your word – Truth (capital T). And if religion (and job? Lol) are involved, forget about it! I lost my job over being willing to “see more research” in Christian ministry.
        Sex talks. To be healthy, is to be open, to engage in non-judgmental conversation (I know, I know – what about the pedophiles . . . we can talk about that if you like. Lol) I think we can find some bible verses for open communication, lol. To expose to the “light” . . . though in my sense, it means being open and honest, open and honest. You try that in most churches? You out (ok, maybe not some black churches and pentecostal, lol). So yeah . . open and honest when it comes to sex, as opposed to – Youth Ministry, which is often . . . . mmmmmm . . . how can we try and make it work THIS time (adults are thinking, remembering ALL their sexual adventures and “screw ups”
        Truth by its nature CANNOT?? . . .mmm . . . once again, ideology about truth . . .. . . read any modern psychology book, they pretty much are agreeing with Buddha (not in all things) when it comes to human perceptions of truth – a lot of it is in the mind. Again, go as Hard Science as you want, and you find competing claims, yet Truth has gotten us to write across the country and send us to space . . . .so yeah, pretty good.
        It’s not really about truth, it’s about HOW one argues about what truth is – methodology NOT theology if you want to get all religious (Jesus seems to divide sheeps and goats based on this!) .
        Take this example – I can observe, I can measure beetle figures . . . . I can present the evidence, but I don’t have to act Totalitarian. I don’t have to act like . . . well, I’m god. I simply present evidence. Competing evidences would be really, really, really . . . nice. But no . . . . we’d rather form parties and factions (Jefferson hated parties, he thought politics should coalesce around issues, but he soon found out how tribal humans are – just don’t work on large scale).
        Again, NO ONE wants abortions . . . . NO ONE is like lining up, hey, give me one . . . there are SO MANY ways to lesson them . . . but whatever.
        I’m blabbering and humans like bubbles . . . so I’ll leave you with imagination. Why can’t one imagine a world of competing truth claims working out differences for the betterment of Earth? (Gene Roddenbury did, misspell? Star Trek?).
        Everything you and I are involved in – almost – is based on human imagination. It’s a powerful thing, but to have groups claiming this or that – well, that’s just imaginary boundaries erected. It’s difficult. I feel ya.
        Lastly . . . pluralism made this country and we can’t lose that imagination! Waring Protestants came here. There were so angry and possibly violent toward each other we HAD to excise religion from our government. Protestant Pluralism! Then . . . the Catholics were like, hey man, what about us?? Christian Pluralism! Then the Jews . . . then I think a secular Jew . . . and jeez . . . 1978 or something until we officially recognized Native American religion as legit . . . but again, expanding. And INDIA? I here they are a MESS, but they keep plodding along the road of democracy. I think we’re letting some hiccups along the road of globalization get the best of us . . . and as usual, MAINSTREAM religion is right there with CULTURE increase those biases. Anyway, thanks for reading. I found your article on Google.

  2. Pingback: Tolerating Intolerance? – Politics and the Bible

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