Pluralism

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Pluralism

Political Pluralism in Election Law

The degree to which a political system, as a result of freedom of association, allows the formation of different types of political bodies, including organised groups and political parties.

Political Perspective

Democy and Nationalism

Most political theorists, from the time of the Greeks onward, have assumed the national or ethnic homogeneity of the communities about which they wrote. Prior to the work of Rousseau, theory was never explicitly nationalist, but the assumption of a common language, history, or religion underlay most of what was said about political practices and institutions. Hence, the only empire systematically defended in the great tradition of political theory was the Christian empire of the Middle Ages: one religious communion, it was argued, made one political community. The religiously mixed empires of ancient and modem times, by contrast, had no theoretical defenders, only publicists and apologists.

Political thinking has been dominated by the Greece of Pericles, not of Alexander; by republican Rome, not the Roman empire; by Venice and Holland, not the Europe of the Hapsburgs. Even liberal writers, ready enough to acknowledge a plurality of interests, were strikingly unready for a plurality of cultures. One people made one state. The argument of the authors of The Federalist Papers (1787-1788) may be taken here to sum up a long tradition of thought. The Americans, John Jay wrote, were a people “descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government,
very similar in their manners and customs.” Surely a “band of brethren” so united “should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties.”

Jay’s description was only very roughly true of America in 1787, and clearly the maxim One people, one state has, throughout human history, been honored most often in the breach. Most often, brethren have been divided among alien sovereignties and forced to coexist with strangers under an alien sovereign. National and ethnic pluralism has been the rule, not the
exception. The theoretical preference for cultural unity existed for centuries alongside dynastic and imperial institutions that made for disunity. Only in the late 18th and 19th centuries was the old assumption of homogeneity, reinforced by new democratic commitments, transformed into a practical demand for separation and independence.

Underlying that demand were two powerful ideas: first, that free government was only possible
under conditions of cultural unitYi second, that free individuals would choose if they could to live with their Own kind, that is, to join political sovereignty to national or ethnic community. No doubt these ideas could be challenged. Marx and his followers emphatically denied that they were true, arguing that conceptions of “kind” were ultimately based on class rather than ethnic distinctions. But the two ideas had the support of a long intellectual tradition, and they happily
supported one another. They suggested that democracy and self-determination led to the same political arrangements that their effective exercise reqUired: the replacement of empires by national states.

In practice, this replacement took two very different forms. The new nationalist politics was first of all expressed in the demand for the unification of peoples divided-as were the Germans, italians, and Slavsamong the old empires and a variety of petty principalities. Nationalist leaders aimed initially at large states and at a broad pan-German or pan-Slavic definition of cultural homogeneity. Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia are products of this first nationalism which, though it entailed the breakup of empires, was still a politics of composition, not of division. The Zionist “ingathering” of Jews from Europe and the Orient has the same character. Roughly similar groups were to be welded together, on the model of the prenationalist unifications
of France and Britain.

This early nation-building was hardly a failure, but the clear tendency of nationalism more recently has been to challenge not only the old empires, especially the colonial empires, but also the composite nationstates.

Neither the oldest states (France, Britain) nor the newest (Pakistan, Nigeria) have been safe from such challenges. Secession rather than unification is the current theme. International society today is marked by the proliferation of states, so that lithe majority of the members of the U.N.,” as Eric Hobsbawm has written, “is soon likely to consist of the late-twentieth-century (republican equivalents of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Schwarzburg-Sonderhausen).” Important transfonnations of the world economy have opened the way for this process: the rules of viability have radically changed since the 19th century. But the process also represents an extraordinary triumph for the principle of self-determination-with the collective self increasingly defined in ways that reflect the actual diversity of mankind.

Confronted with this diversity, every putative nation-state is revealed as an ancient or modem composition. Self-determination looks to be a principle of endless applicability, and the appearance of new states a process of indefinite duration. If the process is to be cut short, it is unlikely to be by denying the principle-for it appears today politically undeniable-but rather by administering it in moderate doses. Thus autonomy may be an alternative to independence, loosening the bonds of the composite state, a way to avoid their fracture.

Instead of sovereignty, national and ethnic groups may opt for decentralization, devolution, and federalism; these are not incompatible with self-determination, and they may be especially appropriate for groups of people who share some but nOt all of the characteristies of a distinct historical community and who retain a strong territorial base. Whether composite states can survive as federations is by no means certain, but it is unlikely that they can survive in any other way-not, at least, if they remain committed (even if only formally) to democratie govenunent or to some sort of social egalitarianism.

Democracy and equality have proven to be the great solvents. In the old empires, the elites of conquered nations tended to assimilate to the dominant culture. They sent their children to be educated by their conquerors; they learned an alien language; they came to see their own culture as parochial and inferior. But ordinary men and women did not assimilate, and when they were mobilized, first for economic and then for political activity, they turned out to have deep national and ethnic loyalties. Mobilization made for conflict, not only with the dominant groups, but also with other submerged peoples.

For centuries, perhaps, different nations had lived in peace, side by side, under imperial rule. Now that they had to rule themselves, they found that they could do so (peacefully only among themselves, adjusting political lines to cultural boundaries). So the assumptions of the theoretical tradition have proven true. Self-government has tended to produce relatively homogeneous communities and has been fully successful only within such communities.

The great exception to this rule is the United States. At the same time, the Marxist argument, the most significant challenge to traditional wisdom, has proven wrong. Nowhere have class loyalties overridden the commitment to national and ethnic groups. Today, the Soviet Union resembles nothing so much as the empire of the Romanovs: a multinational State held together chiefly by force. Conceivably, if the “national question” were ever solved, if the existence and continued development of historical communities were guaranteed has Lenin argued they should be; new patterns of alliance and cooperation might emerge. But for the moment, it must be said that politics follows nationality, wherever politics is free. Pluralism in the strong sense-One state, many peoples-is possible only under tyrannical regimes. [1]

Concept of Pluralism

Note: explore also the meaning of this legal term in the American Ecyclopedia of Law.

Concept of Pluralism

Note: explore also the meaning of this legal term in the American Ecyclopedia of Law.

Concept of Pluralism

Note: explore also the meaning of this legal term in the American Ecyclopedia of Law.

Resources

See Also

  • Political Participation
  • Interest Groups
  • Lobbying

Resources

See Also

  • Political Economy
  • Public Policy

Resources

See Also

  • Democracy
  • Citizenship

Resources

Notes

1. MICHAEL WALZER, Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups (1980)

See Also

  • Election Law
  • Electoral Laws
  • Electoral Legislation

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