American Pluralism refers to the situation of living in a diverse society and a favorable attitude toward that environment. Numerous metaphors depicting America as a “melting pot” of diverse cultures or a “nation of countries” acknowledge both the historical reality of diversity and its role in molding the national character of the United States.
The constitutional structure that supports political pluralism in the United States also guarantees the diversity of religious traditions. The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides the free practice of all religious beliefs.
In his 1782 book Letters from an American Farmer, Hector St. John de Crevecoeur wrote about a man who had an English grandfather, a Dutch wife, and a son who married a French woman. He asserts, “Here, people of all nations are melted into a new race of men whose labors and posterity will one day bring about significant changes in the world.” He foresaw a day when Catholics, German Lutherans, and Dutch Reformed farmers would no longer be competitors but instead be neighbors. This would result in the dissolution of destructive distinctions in religion.
There has always been a conflict between understanding and celebrating diversity and the yearning for a cohesive national culture in the American national self-image. In his 1915 article titled “Democracy Versus the Melting Pot,” Horace Kallen depicted this conflict as one of American civilization’s key concerns. Although pluralism and assimilation have often coincided in reality, they have been conceptually characterized in opposition.
Assimilation, or “Americanization” in older languages, addresses diversity by requiring immigrants or outsiders to integrate into the prevailing culture. It should be noted that this does not always imply a rejection of different individuals and the cultural diversity they bring. Instead, it emphasizes that all members of society have a similar cultural “core.” From the pluralist approach, cultural variation is something to value on its own terms.
In recent times, the word “multiculturalism” has gained popularity as a method to explain the multidimensional societal distinctions that are so evident in contemporary life and the acknowledgment demands that have accompanied them. Moreover, the modern debate over multiculturalism is the most recent manifestation of this long-standing conflict. This conflict has been at the core of successive waves of immigration.
Early studies on immigration stressed cultural integration and assimilation. However, recent works have underlined the issues that have always gone along with the religious, ethnic, and cultural divides that immigration brings. Later waves of European immigrants were likewise first considered troublesome, but over a few generations, they were frequently recognized as “white.”
Other groups have provided a more permanent difficulty for the assimilationist paradigm. The segregation of Chinese immigrants was shown in explicit cultural and legal manifestations.
This disparity between the “American ideal” of freedom and equality and the overtly uneven treatment of African Americans remains a significant issue in contemporary discussions.
Three distinct versions of pluralism
Pluralism has been widely characterized as opposed to assimilation, but at least three distinct forms of pluralism have been proposed in academic literature.
“Cosmopolitan” and “fragmented” models are perhaps the most often mentioned varieties. Both lay far less emphasis than the assimilationist paradigm on a universally shared “cultural core.” In comparison, the fragmented version highlights the distinct, individual cultures of the society’s component groups. In a “hyphenated” culture, the cosmopolitan version does not emphasize cultural restrictions but rather the flexibility and voluntariness of group membership and personal identification.
A third “interactive” model emphasizes the acknowledgment of group diversity and the possibility that a new kind of unity may develop when these differences are assimilated. Consequently, the essence of the shared cultural core is modified.