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.

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