Democracy, Hypocrisy and Pluralism

by George Hatjoullis

Hypocrisy is the pretense of having virtues one does not possess. It is a deception. It is not simply the failure to practice those virtues that one preaches. One might fail to practice but still hold the virtues to be true and desirable because, after all, we are fallible. Those that preach abstinence but still occasionally partake are not hypocrites unless they insist that they never partake. The deception is important to the concept of hypocrisy.

Pluralism was introduced in the earlier blog, Democracy, Theocracy and Pluralism, without formal definition. There is no bounded definition of pluralism, which is perhaps appropriate. At the heart of pluralism is the accommodation of diversity within a society. It is not, however, simply tolerance. It requires that all members of the society have access to the sources of social power. It does not insist on equal access but rather sufficient access to allow all members of society to feel included and a valued part of society. It requires that all voices are heard and have sufficient weight.

Modern liberal democracy is clearly pluralist in its ambition if not fulfillment. More counterintuitive is the notion that absolute monarchy can be pluralist to a substantial degree. The source of power is the monarch. If all feel they have access to the monarch’s ear then there is a pluralist structure. The absolute monarch is normally totally preoccupied with succession, and the security and expansion of the realm. Favour is shown to those that support and facilitate these objectives. Of course, the monarch never shares power but rather exercises in favour of specific groups. Such a structure is quite comfortable with diversity.

Pluralism as an ideal is very popular among the dispossessed  and vulnerable but often only while they are dispossessed and vulnerable. The strong and secure are typically less concerned about everyone having a voice or feeling included. Pluralism is about the distribution of power across society. The powerful do not necessarily feel so inclined to distribute power. The dispossessed and vulnerable will however use the ‘virtue’ of pluralism as part of a negotiating tactic in acquiring more power for their particular specie. They need not really possess the virtue of ‘pluralism’.

The history of humanity is arguably the history of diaspora. People move around. A constant feature of all societies is ‘newcomers’. The ‘newcomers’ have invariably favoured pluralist social institutions. Some diaspora may have had no homeland or well-defined point of origin. It is quite likely that these groups will have promoted the idea of pluralism with the most passion. Those that had deep roots in a particular society typically might be antagonistic towards pluralism. They might see it as a ruse by newcomers to share their power, and of course, it is. They often argued against pluralism out of fear, even though it was a virtue that they held dear. Most of the newcomers had homelands or points of origin. It was not atypical for such societies not to be pluralist. Some diaspora pressed for pluralism in their new homeland whilst tacitly approving of the lack of pluralism in their point of origin.

Modern liberal democracies are now full of groups demanding society accommodate their, sometimes intolerant, traditions and practices. These groups typically acquired these traditions from the society of their point of origin. These original societies are often less pluralist than the new homelands. The long-standing members of the pluralist modern liberal democracies are rejecting their pluralist values in response. How can pluralism accommodate a diverse society of groups that do not all approve of diversity? This is the challenge for modern liberal democracies.

Postscript 19/05/2014

I was motivated to write this in part by the constant conflation of the concepts of democracy and pluralism. When most use the term ‘democracy’ they mean pluralism. It is important because many non-pluralist societies justify themselves by claiming to be democracies. The existence of democratic modes of representation and election of representatives does not guarantee the existence of a pluralist society. The ancient Athenian democracy was not pluralist. Political power was available only for a well-defined and homogenous group of men. In a healthy pluralist democracy there cannot be a ‘dictatorship by the majority’ and with the distribution of power across groups comes also a distribution of responsibility for the well-being of the society. If a small majority dominates a large minority it may be justified as ‘democratic’ but it is not pluralist.