Constitutionalism and Multiculturalism

Multiculturalism and American Democracy, Arthur M. Melzer, Jerry Weinberger, and M. Richard Zinman, eds. (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998), 91–111; reprinted in Democracy and the Constitution: Landmarks of Contemporary Political Thought (AEI Press, 2006).


Alexis de Tocqueville, writing in the 1830s, very much feared that liberty and equality would be at war with each other; today there is a tendency among some intellectuals to think that peace between them can be achieved by combining them under the label “cultural pluralism.” Cultural pluralism implies equality, we are told, and equality implies freedom for the various elements (mainly religious opinions and ethnic groups) being combined. It also implies—indeed, it is said to require—a “nonideological state,” or an ideologically neutral state; and it is only a short step from this to say that such a state is obliged to promote “multiculturalism” by making it a part—in fact, the organizing principle—of the public school curriculum, for example. In such a curriculum all “cultures” are to be treated as equal, or as equally deserving of respect. But there is a question as to whether multiculturalism is compatible with the principles of the Constitution and, therefore, capable of providing a foundation for what is said to be the cultural pluralism we have long enjoyed in this country. Whether it is compatible depends on what is meant by culture.

Google Books
American Enterprise Institute