Political pluralism is a philosophy that recognizes and affirms diversity within a political body, such as a country and the consequence of the same is peaceful coexistence of different interests, convictions, and lifestyles. In essence, the most common pluralist political system is a democracy, which is viewed as a fair system that perfectly moderates between divergence and discrete. Right from the times of Columbus, pluralism was a vibrant idea in Europe and with the migration that followed, the concept was introduced to America and to date, the concept has developed deep roots on which, the American constitution, freedom, and beliefs are based on. The accuracy of the concept cannot be disputed.
Pluralism was initiated by the Greeks in the early days as it was posited by philosophers such as Democritus and Epicurus. Historians such as Herodotus and Xenophon were noted in history to emphasize cultural differences that existed between the Greeks, Egyptians, and other societies that existed near the Greeks such as Persians. The Greeks viewed life as the interaction of diverse aspects in the perspective of ethnicity, religion, languages, cultures, and ideologies. The pluralism ideology spread in Europe and when immigration to the current United States ensued, the immigrants carried it with them.
Immigration from Europe to the United States in the late 19th Century and early 20th century brought the realization that there was a need to reconsider American ethnic identity. Cultural pluralism was necessary to ensure that the society remained cohesive and avoid the interpretation of the culture in terms of race and ethnicity. In 1915, Kallen and Bourne pushed for the introduction of democracy’s individual rights to the rights of groups that were culturally different. Further, the same writers acknowledged that ethnic and cultural diversity was a consequence of the industrialization, immigration, and urbanization processes.,
In the United States, pluralism as a concept was conjoined with questions of democracy, religion, ethnicity, race, and assimilation. It was taken further to politics and the founding fathers aimed at creating political systems that could harbor diverse groups and interests and at the same time produce collective agreements that could command allegiance. Under the system, equal rights to liberty were secured through the constitution. As captured by James Madison, to balance the different competing factions, interests and internal conflict, the new constitution created stable political mechanisms, which had all the hallmarks of political pluralism. The consequence of the new arrangement was American democracy.
With a conducive political dispensation through the constitution, the existence of religious pluralism was assured in the United States. Murray addressed the implications of religious diversity, which were assured by the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The ability of America to withstand different religious views allowed John F. Kennedy to become the first Catholic president in the United States. Religious plurality as noted by Murray allows the thriving of disagreement and dissension on one hand but on the other, agreement and consensus. It is with the same spirit of plurality that Muslim Americans are working towards a culture that is reflective of American tolerance for diverse identities. The United States has been in a position to allow the establishment of common principles, without hindering the existence of diverse faiths.
The national identity of an American national in the 18th and 19th century was that of white, Anglo-Saxon and religiously, a protestant. By the late 19th century, immigrants from different parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America swamped America, which redefined the American culture. Each culture came into contact with each other and it became difficult to determine who was an American. As such, it became necessary to embrace different cultures for mutual survival of everyone.
Plurality has not been without challenges. The openness of the American society has been a source of bias, prejudice, and discrimination, which has been a source of deprivation for some and privilege for others. Pluralism in some aspects means competition of societal definitions such as values, morals, goals, ideologies, religions, and principles. On the flip side, such pluralism is a source of strength, which is manifested in diversity. As such, the American society has been in a constant struggle to balance freedom and equality since plural societies need to be in agreement and consensus on some issues while at the same time uphold respect for different groups and identities.
Bourne, Randolph. “Trans-National America.” Theories of Ethnicity: A Classical Reader 102 (1996): 32.
Dick, Steven J. Plurality of Words: The Extraterrestrial Life Debate from Democritus to Kant. CUP Archive, 1984.
Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck. Becoming American?: the forging of Arab and Muslim identity in pluralist America. Baylor University Press, 2011.
Kallen, Horace M. “Democracy versus the Melting-Pot.” In Culture and democracy in the United States, pp. 129-187. Routledge, 2017.
Madison, James. “The Federalist no. 10: The utility of the union as a safeguard against domestic faction and insurrection (continued).” Daily Advertiser 22 (1787).
Murray, John Courtney. Religious liberty: Catholic struggles with pluralism. Westminster John Knox Press, 1993.
Plattner, Marc F. “Populism, pluralism, and liberal democracy.” Journal of Democracy 21, no. 1 (2010): 81-92.
Witten, David. 2015. “Three Theories of American Democracy.” Mathwizurd Website. https://www.mathwizurd.com/government/2015/10/12/three-theories-of-american-democracy.
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