“Well-functioning societies make it possible for people to achieve agreement when agreement is necessary, and unnecessary to achieve agreement when agreement is impossible”
Cass R. Sunstein (2005: 2)
The term “diversity” is a complex and essentially contested concept. It can also be a “taboo” topic. While most modern societies are becoming more “diverse” in a “factual” sense, i.e., heterogeneous, polyphonic, multiethnic, etc., it is clear that not all are embracing an objective of maintaining or enhancing “diversity” as an ideal per se (Dahrendorf, 1988; Paquet, 1989a; Scott, 2003).
Indeed, a whole range of countries make no secret of their objective of either assimilating and dissolving “diversity” into the host culture, or succeeding in developing a “new homogeneity” based on some new values as a result of cultural competition and demographic blending – so as to eliminate diversity. Other countries are more tempted by some form of “consensual” apartheid or separate facilities as a basis of new social equilibria.
The fact remains that, in any democratic society open to massive demographic shuffle and becoming more diverse, the formation of identity groups is inevitable. They are also legitimate since they represent the voice of “shared identity” and echo something that goes beyond the pursuit of self-interest. But such groups also carry “social expectations”. So it is useful to probe the alternative views about the relationships between “diversity” and “identity”, and about the ways in which identity groups relate to democracy.
To do so, I suggest first a simple taxonomy to help fix ideas about different stylized models. Then, I propose a sketch of the dynamics of intercultural relations to help identify what challenges have to be met if a viable modus operandi is to emerge. Third, I argue that such a viable arrangement must be built on implicit and explicit moral contracts. Fourth, I hint at the directions in which it would appear to lead democratic societies.
A simple taxonomy
The different strategies experimented with in North America suggest a taxonomy.
The patterns of relations defined by values, sociality and governance in a pluralistic society might be represented in a stylized way by a sort of dial where NORTH is at noon, EAST is at three o’clock, SOUTH is at six o’clock, and WEST is at nine o’clock.
The Eastern model is assimilationist. It is the world of long-term acculturation. It is the model that has inspired the early development of the American colonies until late in the 19th century It has a certain utopian flavour these days. The Southern model is apartheid. It is a society split in two and well demarcated. It echoes the realities of the southern part of the United States a century ago. The Northern model is a competitive model of cultural relations. The fragmentation is so great that differences are expected to fade away over time: the melting pot is presumed to dissolve those differences, and produce an evolving cultural identity that is some sort of weighted-average of the many original cultural fragments. The Western model is a balkanized and multicultural view of society: as fragmentation proceeds, the multiplication of groups with special entitlements and increasing social distance anchors a mosaic of diverse identities that is somewhat permanent and underpins the congealing of a differentiated social order (Paquet, 1989b).