Pluralism is, in the general sense, the acknowledgment of diversity. In democratic politics pluralism is a guiding principle which permits the peaceful coexistence of different interests, convictions and lifestyles. One of the earliest arguments for pluralism came from James Madison in “The Federalist Papers”. He posits that to avoid factionalism, it is best to allow many competing factions to prevent any one dominating the political system. Pluralism in this sense is connected with the hope that this process of conflict and dialogue will lead to a definition and subsequent realization of the common good that is best for all members of society. This implies that in a pluralistic framework, the common good is not given a priori. Instead, the scope and content of the common good can only be found out in and after the process of negotiation, i.e., a posteriori.
However, one group may eventually manage to establish its own view as the generally accepted view, but only as the result of the negotiation process within the pluralistic framework. This implies that, as a general rule, the “operator” of a truly pluralistic framework, i.e. the state in a pluralistic society, must not be biased: it may not take sides with any one group, give undue privileges to one group and discriminate against another one. Proponents of pluralism argue that this negotiation process is the best way to achieve the common good since everyone can participate in power and decision-making (and can claim part of the ownership of the results of exercising power) there can also be widespread participation and a greater feeling of commitment from society members, and therefore better outcomes. By contrast, an authoritarian or oligarchic society, where power is concentrated and decisions are made by few members, forestalls this possibility (ibid.). So, in a politically pluralistic society there is no majority: The basic ideas of government are seen through the ideas of individuals and groups to ensure that all the needs and wants of society are taken care of. There is no right or wrong idea: Everyone’s ideas are valid.
With regards to acknowledgement of diversity, the idea of pluralism also signifies cultural pluralism. This is a term used when smaller groups within a larger society maintain their unique cultural identities, and their values and practices are accepted by the wider culture. The existence of such institutions and practices are possible if the cultural communities responsible for them are protected by law and/or accepted by the larger society in a pluralist culture. Moreover, UNESCO states, “In our increasingly diverse societies, it is essential that persons and groups having plural, varied and dynamic cultural identities should live together in harmonious interaction and proper accord. Policies that seek the integration and participation of all citizens are an earnest of social cohesion, vitality of civil society and peace. Defined in this way, cultural pluralism is the policy offshoot of cultural diversity. Since it is inseparable from a democratic context, cultural pluralism is conducive to cultural exchange and the flowering of the creative
Thus, in essence pluralism can be put forth as the energetic engagement with diversity, active seeking of understanding of lines of difference, the encounter of commitments—the holding our deepest differences, not in isolation, but in relationship to one another and is based on dialogue—the process which reveals both common understandings and real differences. This idea of pluralism implies to all our social, political, religious, cultural and economic life.