Appeared in Autumn 2001, Vol. XXVI, No. 3
Pluralism is perhaps the central fact of the modern world, and any theory of political society must take into account the incredible variety of religions and beliefs present in modern society. This fact has generated enormous attention in recent decades, as a subset of the larger debate over the future of modernity. To begin with, there is the threshold question of what pluralism means. Political theorists such as John Gray have adopted the concept of “value-pluralism,” that is, the notion that there are innumerable ways of living that are incommensurate with one another and that cannot be judged according to some objective standard. These political theorists are rejecting the older, Enlightenment view of culture that ranked each in a hierarchy according to a particular scale of values. While still influential, this Enlightenment view has met with resistance for being, oddly, too parochial. The charge is that the “objective” values are themselves culturally-determined. From the vantage of value-pluralists, their view would allow a fresh examination of the sources of the good life. In the American political context, by contrast, pluralism has taken on a distinctly ideological cast. It has emerged as the notion of “multiculturalism,” which posits the existence of numerous separate cultures, each with varying degrees of public recognition under the law, within one larger society.
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