E pluribus pluribus- The political pluralism of Hannah Arendt and Isaiah Berlin
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Readers/AdvisorsKaplan, Morris B.
Term and YearSpring 2022
MetadataShow full item record
Abstract"E pluribus unum" has long been the unofficial motto of the United States- out of many, one. It is true that one nation was made from thirteen proto-states in the wake of the American Revolution, and that we also look to this motto as representative of our "melting pot" history. However, this version of history tends to be more melting pot mythology than reality, as demonstrated by centuries of racism and exclusion. In search of a fuller, more authentic account of pluralism, I turn to the work of Hannah Arendt and Isaiah, two giants of 20th century political philosophy. Arendt's pluralism is fundamental to the human condition, yet she abhors totalitarian efforts to squeeze all people into one undifferentiated mass. Berlin's work on value pluralism shows us that across time and geography there are many different ends by which one can live and still be recognized as fully human. Any effort, in the name of not matter how noble a cause, to deny that leads irrevocably to immense human suffering. Isaiah Berlin is best known for his essay, "Two Concepts of Liberty" in which he gives his famous account of positive and negative liberties, the meaning of which, I will argue, is a direct consequence of his value pluralism. For that reason, I will first present Berlin's account of value pluralism and his warnings of the results of a society where only one ideology is predominant and the potentially catastrophic consequences. Berlin's antidote is a pluralism of ideas and values. By contrast, Hanna Arendt's pluralism begins with people- that pluralism is the natural condition of humans, that "men not man" inhabit the earth . Berlin's value pluralism depends on people pluralism and the public space that is politics, where one can speak, be heard and seen. Arendt provides the logical, and very much human, premise, from which we can argue our way toward Berlin's value pluralist conclusions. However, the success of pluralism is never guaranteed, so I also look at Arendt's work on the case for truth, as well as her account of violence. The public sphere, filled with debate about ideas, promotes a pluralistic, stable society, but only to the extent that it is free from lies. When public speech becomes corrupted by lies, "word and deed have parted ways", and plurality is eclipsed by power.