Liberal Democracy’s Dilemma: Individualism, Pluralism, and Toleration
“Liberal democracy’s dilemma is how to reconcile individual autonomy with group membership in a pluralistic society” (PLSC 420). For Michael Walzer the dilemma of liberal democracy is solved by tolerance. Walzer defines toleration as “…the peaceful coexistence of groups of people with different histories, cultures, and identities, which is what toleration makes possible” (Walzer, 2). In this paper I will use Walzer’s ideas on tolerance to address the issue of toleration in a liberal democracy. In addition I will discuss what I see as the challenges to tolerance in today’s society. Finally, I will suggest some solutions to the challenges facing tolerance.
However, before I began my discussion of Walzer I will point out some problem issues in his book. My issues with Walzer stem from how he uses certain terms when dealing with hot button issues. I have three problem points with Walzer’s book one, his historical shortsightedness, two the mislabeling of Afrocentric education, and three the misuse of the term reverse discrimination. These three points can cause the reader to misunderstand his intentions. In my view, Walzer has written with degree of historical shortsightedness in his discussion models for governments. On page 15 of On Toleration Walzer writes “…settled imperial rule is often tolerant.” In this statement he makes light of the political repression, corruption and wars of conquest that led to the formation of the multinational empires. At another point in the book Walzer calls an Afrocentric education, educational separation. (Walzer, 75) Using Molefi Asante’s definition of an Afrocentric education, I would like to clarify what is an Afrocentric education. “Afrocentricity is a frame of reference wherein phenomena are viewed from the perspective of the African person. The Afrocentric approach seeks in every situation the appropriate centrality of the African person. In education this means that teachers provide students the opportunity to study the world and its people, concepts, and history from an African world view. In most classrooms, whatever the subject, Whites are located in the center perspective position….In Afrocentric educational settings, however, teachers do not marginalize African American children…(Asante. 171) This definition does not mention racial separation or single race classrooms. The final problem point in the book is Walzer’s short discussion of Affirmative Action, in fact calling it reverse discrimination. (Walzer, 59) Affirmative Action is a very explosive issue in to today’s America and using the term reverse discrimination can only add to the conflict. In fact Affirmative Action is a process used to address past wrongs. Another way of viewing Affirmative Action is how Anne Phillips views tolerance in her book Which Equalities Matter. Tolerance in a multicultural society may mean “…that equality of citizenship requires different groups of people to have different kinds of rights. Legal exemptions that recognize valued practices within minority communities are reasonably commonplace in modern democracies: in Britain, the exemption of Sikh men from legislation compelling all motorcyclists to wear safety helmets…”(Phillips, 27) Phillips goes on to write “Once we move beyond the simpler reaches of the suffrage – where it may seem obvious that treating people as equals means giving them exactly the same number of votes” (Phillips, 27), but giving everyone the same number of votes may not be equality. For example, some political theorists, (including Lani Guinier) have suggested cumulative voting as a process to remedy the “dilution of minority voting strength and provide equal opportunity for minority citizens to participate and elect candidates of their choice.” (Still, 337). “The sole significant difference between cumulative voting and traditional at-large voting...
Bibliography: Asante, Molefi Kete. “The Afrocentric Idea in Education,” The Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 60, No. 2 (Spring, 1991), 170-180.
Gamble, Barbara S. “Putting Civil Rights to a Popular Vote,” American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Jan., 1997), 245-269
Phillips, Anne, Which Equalities Matter? Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1999.
Still, Edward; Karlan, Pamela. “Cumulative Voting as a remedy in voting rights cases,” National Review vol. 84 (Fall/Winter, 1995), 1995, pp. 337-346.
Oxford English Dictionary 2nd edition, 1989.
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