Front Page Titles (by Subject) Tolerance and Cultural Diversity - Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1980, vol. 3, No. 3
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
Tolerance and Cultural Diversity - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1980, vol. 3, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
This work is copyrighted by the Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, and is put online with their permission.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Tolerance and Cultural Diversity
“The Plural Society and the Western Political Tradition.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 12(December 1979): 675–688.
Population mobility in the Western world and a growing sense of ethnic identity raise the question of whether societies can successfully accommodate populations of diverse cultural traditions. What are the attitudes toward multicultural societies as reflected in Western political philosophy from Ancient Greece to the present day. The overview reveals a general lack of sympathy for cultural plurality throughout the Western tradition.
At the very beginning of that tradition, Aristotle was “locked into the world of the polis” and developed an ethnocentric view which opposed Greek and barbarian and allowed little room for creative interaction between the two. Such a perspective was consistent with the narrow political context in which the philosopher found himself. The conquests of Alexander, however, abruptly widened the horizons of the Greeks as they assumed control over radically different peoples and cultures.
From a political viewpoint, the Stoic school with its bold assertion of the unity of mankind represents the most important result of this Hellenistic expansion of cultural perspective. However, Stoic doctrine tended to discount or disregard cultural differences in order to emphasize mankind's common heritage under the rule of divine reason. As a result, the ancient world's most durable experiment in cultural coexistence, Imperial Rome, owed less to Stoic universalism than to a “long pragmatic accumulation of cultural contacts.”
During the Middle Ages, the vigorous cultural diversity of Europe evolved more because of the collapse of government machinery than from any firm commitment to pluralism. In addition, the Church's insistence on doctrinal orthodoxy undoubtedly gave impetus to attempts at imposing social uniformity. The near-destruction of Provencal culture during the Albigensian Crusade is a case in point.
While Reformation churches also required uniformity of belief, the plurality of religious doctrine in areas such as Switzerland encouraged a new tolerance for divergent opinions. Over a period of centuries, the spirit of toleration spread to most parts of the West. Thus, the Reformation Fathers unwittingly became the most potent catalysts for social pluralism in the Western tradition.
Nevertheless, countervailing forces were to be found in the secular world. The rise of the centralizing and homogenizing nation-state drew intellectual support from such thinkers as Bodin and Hobbes. Assuming a “similitude of passions” within the human race, Hobbes established a science of politics which as aimed at suppressing every major source of human variation, including individual temperament.
While the idea of community resurfaced in the eighteenth century among such divergent thinkers as Rousseau and Edmund Burke, the burgeoning nationalist movement quickly adopted it to help eliminate the pluralist political regimes of Central and Eastern Europe. The lone voice among liberals to question nationalist monoculturalism was that of Lord Acton. Acton saw the multicultural state as the best safeguard against the rise of despotism. In his view, its diverse elements would also assure the creativity and regeneration of the commonwealth.
Although the Western tradition has largely discouraged pluralism, the West may possess “untapped resources” in this area, as well as some capacity to adapt. As a systematic effort at analysis and synthesis, he suggests a closer scrutiny of Western elements favorable cultural diversity, a comparison of non-Western pluralist traditions, selective borrowing of material from psychology and sociology, and a systematic study of pragmatic responses to cultural pluralism. Without such a general examination of the question, McRae asserts, our discussions of the individual and society or of man and the state will prove empty, since we will have failed to take full account of the variety of mankind.