John Inazu has an interesting column at The Hedgehog Review concerning his new book, Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference. I had not known the denouement of the Flynt/Falwell affair. I am very glad that there are people like John about, pressing these kinds of positions so eloquently, though sometimes, perhaps in my more Rousseauian moods, I just don’t think “Plures Ex Uno” (or perhaps just “Plures” in disaggregation, haphazardly occupying the same geographic spaces) has quite the same civic appeal as “E Pluribus Unum.” I’ll have something longer on this shortly. For now, though, enjoy John’s column. A bit:
“It is impossible,” said the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “to live at peace with those we regard as damned.” Falwell and Flynt certainly seemed to fulfill Rousseau’s dire prediction. Many of the rest of us do, too. From hostility to civil-rights protests in Missouri, to anti-Muslim protests in Oklahoma, to culture wars boycotts, we struggle to live with those whose views we regard as irrational, immoral, or even dangerous….
Even as some of us struggle to coexist, others feign agreement by ignoring or minimizing our stark differences. We hold conferences, attend rallies, and sign statements expressing unity and solidarity. But most of us do not actually think that our differences are so easily overcome. And most of us do not actually want to see a thousand flowers bloom. We can all name things we think the world would be better off without. This is especially true when it comes to questions of morality and ultimate conviction. We might prefer a society in which everyone agreed on what counted as a justifiable homicide, a mean temperament, or a good life, but that is not the kind of society in which we actually live.
There is another possibility that better embraces the reality of our deepest differences: confident pluralism. Confident pluralism insists that Rousseau was wrong: Our shared existence is not only possible, but necessary. Instead of the elusive goal of E pluribus unum (“Out of many, one”), confident pluralism suggests a more modest possibility—that we can live together in our “many-ness.” It does not require Pollyanna-ish illusions that we will resolve our differences and live happily ever after. Instead, it asks us to pursue a common existence in spite of our deeply held differences.