Community and “Pluralism”

I can’t believe that it’s taken me as long as I have to read Wendell Berry. So that any Berry-deprived readers of this blog can join me in being provoked to good works, here is another passage from Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community:

If the word community is to mean or amount to anything, it must refer to a place (in its natural integrity) and its people. It must refer to a placed people. Since there obviously can be no cultural relationship that is uniform between a nation and a continent, “community” must mean a people locally placed and a people, moreover, not too numerous to have a common knowledge of themselves and of their place. Because places differ from one another and because people will differ somewhat according to the characters of their places, if we think of a nation as an assemblage of many communities, we are necessarily thinking of some sort of pluralism.

There is, in fact, a good deal of talk about pluralism these days, but most of it that I have seen is fashionable, superficial, and virtually worthless. It does not foresee or advocate a plurality of settled communities but is only a sort of indifferent charity toward a plurality of aggrieved groups and individuals. It attempts to deal liberally–that is, by the superficial courtesies of tolerance and egalitarianism–with a confusion of claims.

The social and cultural pluralism that some now see as a goal is a public of destroyed communities. Wherever it exists, it is the result of centuries of imperialism. The modern industrial urban centers are “pluralistic” because they are full of refugees from destroyed communities, destroyed community economies, disintegrated local cultures, and ruined local ecosystems. The pluralists who see this state of affairs as some sort of improvement or as the beginning of “global culture” are being historically perverse, as well as politically naive. They wish to regard liberally and tolerantly the diverse, sometimes competing claims and complaints of a rootless society, and yet they continue to tolerate also the ideals and goals of the industrialism that caused the uprooting. They affirm the pluralism of a society formed by the uprooting of cultures at the same time that they regard the fierce self-defense of still-rooted cultures as “fundamentalism,” for which they have no tolerance at all. They look with wistful indulgence and envy at the ruined or damaged American Indian cultures so long as those cultures remain passively a part of our plurality, forgetting that these cultures, too, were once “fundamentalist” in their self-defense. And when these cultures again attempt self-defense–when they again assert the inseparability of culture and place–they are opposed by this pluralistic society as self-righteously as ever. The tolerance of this sort of pluralism extends always to the uprooted and passive, never to the rooted and active.

Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community, 168-70.

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