Social Philosophy and Policy

Research Article


William A. Galstona1

a1 Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution


This essay explores the ways in which a broadly pluralist outlook can help illuminate longstanding issues of constitutional theory and practice. It begins with a common-sense understanding of pluralism as the diversity of observed practices within a general category (section 2). It turns out that many assumptions Americans and others often make about constitutional essentials are valid only locally but not generically. The essay then turns to pluralism in a more technical and philosophical sense—specifically, the account of value pluralism adumbrated by Isaiah Berlin and developed by his followers. Section 3 sketches this version of pluralism, and section 4 brings it to bear on a range of familiar constitutional issues. In the process, a distinction emerges between, on the one hand, areas of variation among constitutions and, on the other, some general truths about political life that define core constitutional functions. The essay concludes (section 5) with some brief reflections on the normative thrust of pluralist constitutional theory—in particular, a presumption in favor of the maximum accommodation of individual and group differences consistent with the maintenance of constitutional unity and civic order.

William A. Galston is Ezra Zilkha Chair of the Governance Studies Program at the Brookings Institution, where he serves as a Senior Fellow. He is also College Park Professor at the University of Maryland. Prior to January 2006, he was Saul Stern Professor at the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, and founding director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). From 1993 until 1995, he served as Deputy Assistant to President Clinton for Domestic Policy. He is the author of eight books, the most recent of which are Liberal Pluralism (2002), The Practice of Liberal Pluralism (2004), and Public Matters (2005). A winner of the American Political Science Association\'s Hubert H. Humphrey Award, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004.