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Book: The House We Live In

Chapter: The House We Live In

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.44122


America’s initial vision was not one of a pluralistic multicultural democracy. Pluralistic multiculturalism was an ideal that emerged slowly over time—through the vicissitudes of the civil war and successive waves of immigration—and in the face of considerable resistance. This is the vision of America that was on the ballot in the presidential elections of 2008-2020. The cultural divide between traditionalists who view America through the lens of white, Christian, patriarchal values, and those who view it through the lens of pluralistic, secular, and multicultural values is the defining conflict of our era. This chapter emphasizes that America is already a de facto pluralistic multicultural society marked by divergent values and visions of what the good life entails. While the hallmark of liberal societies is their ability to tolerate pluralism in values and visions, America is struggling to arrive at a consensus on values that can help solve the pressing issues of the day: economic inequality, climate change, ecological degradation, racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination, and epidemics of deaths of despair in the middle aged and anxiety and depression in the young. The increasingly multicultural, secular nature of American society means that any newly emerging value system cannot be grounded in the teachings of a single religious tradition but must be congruent with the moral intuitions of people from diverse ethnic, religious, and racial groups. The culture war and the urgent need for a new consensus on values serve as the backdrop for the project of this book: a transcultural ethics uniquely suited to the needs of secular, pluralistic, multicultural democracies.

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