Which diversity?

Author:Jeffreys, Derek S.
Position:Correspondence - Letter to the Editor

In "Diverse Diversities" (January), Barry Bercier presents a false opposition between an ideological commitment to diversity and a serious and sober university. Yes, many contemporary defenses of diversity are philosophically shallow and undermine the university's search for truth. However, we can endorse cultural diversity without appealing to such defenses. John Paul II showed how this is possible in his remarkable 1995 address to the United Nations General Assembly. In the early 1990s, demagogues took multiculturalism to terrible extremes, killing hundreds of thousands of people in the name of ethnic solidarity.

At the same time, new nations emerged, demanding recognition of their cultural heritage. Confronting these realities, the Pope maintained that the human person always navigates between universal and particular values. Cultures, he insisted, must acknowledge the person's dignity and rights, setting limits on dangerous cultural chauvinism. However, they must also protect a culture's particularity, because it represents one way of understanding the mystery of human existence. Diverse cultures point to the transcendent dimensions of human life, revealing the extraordinarily rich ways humanity relates to God.

Contra Bercier, it is not justice that demands that we value diversity, but respect for the person's struggle to understand his existence. John Paul II has taken this argument to places such as Cuba and the Republic of Georgia, and he has used it to oppose globalization's homogenizing influence on cultures. He has repeatedly insisted that a healthy approach to cultural diversity creates a dynamic exchange between the universal and the particular. This vision applies as much to the university as it does to the world of nation-states, and it provides educational institutions with ample philosophical justification for promoting diversity as a means of pursuing truth.

In The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom revealed how cultural relativism dangerously undermines the mission of the university. Since his death, others have repeated his criticisms, and at the beginning of this century, we should be...

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