Democracy and Diversity


Does democracy work only in homogeneous societies that overcome by assimilating sources of difference and diversity? Only in this way, it has long been maintained, can a people be sufficiently similar to form shared political understandings and projects. Absent commonality, democracy deteriorates into the tyranny of the majority or a war of all against all. But we are at the far end of a dramatic shift in democratic politics: Democratic societies are increasingly multicultural and diverse, while citizens in democ­ratic societies are less willing to “forget” their ethnic, religious, gender, sexual, cultural, racial, and other differences in order to integrate into a dominant national culture. These develop­ments raise some basic questions. Is it possible to achieve sufficient agreement on fundamental political issues in a deeply diverse society? Can the character of political community or the nation be reconceived and reformed? If not, is democracy doomed? Or might it be possible to reform democracy to render it compatible with conditions of diversity? If so, does the democratic claim to legitimacy also need to be transformed? This course will explore these questions in a number of ways. We will study exemplary historical statements of the ideal of democracy to get our bearings from conceptions developed without attention to deep and abiding differences. We examine the nature of social and cultural diversity, looking at several dimensions that tend to cut across one another in contemporary politics: religion, value, class, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and culture. In addressing these issues, we draw on methodologies and disciplines ranging from sociology and anthropology to ethnic studies and philosophy. We then bring these themes together by surveying a number of recent attempts to (re)articulate the relevance of specific identities to political engagement and the general ideal of democracy in light of experiences with increased diversity. Here the disciplinary focus is on reading sustained selections from recent works in political philosophy, while the substantive focus is on issues of race and culture.