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Reinhold Niebuhr captured the spirit of pluralism when he wrote: "Absolutism, in both religious and political idealism, is a splendid incentive to heroic action, but a dangerous guide in immediate concrete situations. In religion it permits absurdities and in politics … unbearable tyrannies and cruelties" (p. 199). As the horrific events of September 11, 2001, demonstrated, religious absolutism too is capable of "unbearable cruelties." In the aftermath of September 11, pluralism therefore increasingly became synonymous with religious and cultural diversity and secularism as well as the decentralization of political power typical of the modern West. Thus pluralism has come to signify the tolerance and liberalism of the Western tradition as opposed to the closed, totalitarian societies of Islamic fundamentalists. Whatever the sources of absolutism may be, the works of Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) and Isaiah Berlin (1909–1997) as well as those of the earlier pluralists remain an important guide in troubled times.



Arendt, Hannah. Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought. New York: Viking, 1968.

Aristotle. The Nichomachean Ethics. Translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1939.

Berlin, Isaiah. Personal Impressions. 2nd ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Bourne, Randolph. "Transnational America." In his The Radical Will: Selected Writings, 19111918. Edited by Olaf Hansen. New York: Urizen Books, 1977.

Dahl, Robert A. A Preface to Economic Democracy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

Hirst, Paul Q., ed. The Pluralist Theory of the State: Selected Writings of G. D. H. Cole, J. N. Figgis, and H. J. Laski. London: Routledge, 1989.

James, William. A Pluralistic Universe: Hibbert Lectures to Manchester College on the Present Situation in Philosophy. London: Longmans, Green, 1909.

——. Pragmatism: And Four Essays from "The Meaning of Truth." Edited by Ralph Barton Perry. New York: Meridian, 1955.

Kallen, Horace M. "Democracy versus the Melting Pot." Nation 100 (18/25 February, 1915): 190–194; 217–220.

Locke, Alain. The Critical Temper of Alain Locke: A Selection of His Essays on Art and Culture. Edited by Jeffrey C. Stewart. New York: Garland, 1983.

——. "The New Negro." In The New Negro: An Interpretation, edited by Alain Locke. New York: A. and C. Boni, 1925.

Niebuhr, Reinhold. Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics. New York: Scribners, 1932.

Taylor, Charles. "The Politics of Recognition." In Multiculturalism and "The Politics of Recognition": An Essay. Edited by Amy Gutmann. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992.


Akam, Everett Helmut. Transnational America: Cultural Pluralist Thought in the Twentieth Century. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002.

Berlin, Isaiah. Vico and Herder: Two Studies in the History of Ideas. New York: Viking, 1976.

Berman, Paul. Terror and Liberalism. New York: Norton, 2003. An example of the identification of the West with pluralism, in contrast to "totalitarian" Islamic fundamentalism.

Hollinger, David A. Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism. New York: BasicBooks, 1995.

Isaac, Jeffrey C. Arendt, Camus, and Modern Rebellion. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992.

Runciman, David. Pluralism and the Personality of the State. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. The Disuniting of America. New York: Norton, 1992.

Everett Helmut Akam

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Planck mass to PositPluralism - Philosophical Pluralism, Aristotle, German Historicism, Pragmatism, Cultural Pluralism, Political Pluralism, Conclusion