Kevin den Dulk on Confident Pluralism

Kevin den Dulk, the Paul B. Henry Chair in Political Science at Calvin College, has a thoughtful review of Confident Pluralism in Comment. I found his discussion of trust particularly illuminating.

One of Professor den Dulk’s main critiques is that I haven’t offered a sufficient theory for why people in this country ought to embrace confident pluralism. He argues that “we cannot assume that our legal and cultural history is a seedbed for confident pluralism.” He might be right—there is certainly a contingency to and an uncertainty about the possibility of confident pluralism. But I don’t think the book is without any underlying theory. To the contrary, I hope that what I’ve done is shown a kind of theory in practice.

My approach to writing this book inevitably required tradeoffs about the depth of theoretical engagement—decisions I reached largely based on considerations of my primary audience of people-who-are-not-political-scientists. That means that Confident Pluralism does not engage with theory at the level of recent books by Jacob Levy or Victor Muniz-Fraticelli. But I do think I set forth enough of a vision to shift the burden to others to narrate a better option—the old maxim that “it takes a theory to beat a theory.”

Professor den Dulk suggests that alternative theories to managing conflict arising from our deeply held beliefs include privatization, suppression, or segregation. As he notes, these “are not high-minded aspirations.” In fact, I see few reasons why these alternatives are normatively desirable for people in this country in light of our history and (thinly shared) values. And I would suggest that the account I’ve offered in Confident Pluralism includes sufficient reasons for pursuing pluralism over these other alternatives, including the possibility of a kind of civic peace (and civic friendship) that is more capacious than the minimalistic peace that Professor den Dulk describes.

In this country, the most likely alternative to something like confident pluralism is some version of privatization. This latter theory has been advocated by a number of scholars, including those who invoke an aggressive form of Rawlsian liberalism. The problem as I see it is that most arguments beginning as privatization end up as suppression. In some corners of this country, that shift from privatization to suppression is already underway. For that reason, I hope that Professor den Dulk and others who share his reservations are soon able to find, as he puts it, “greater confidence in confident pluralism itself.”

Thanks to Kevin den Dulk for such a thoughtful engagement with my book.