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  • Response to Critics
  • Richard E. Flathman (bio)

I am grateful to the several contributors to this symposium and to the journal editors for arranging it. The commentators are thoughtful and I have learned from them. I will respond briefly, beginning with Professor Kateb's paper.

Kateb makes valuable distinctions among types of pluralism and argues forcefully that some of the types are mutually incompatible. I did attempt a general theory and closer attention to his distinctions would have improved the book. I think the value of the book, assuming it has some, lies in the detailed engagements with several major thinkers. The conception of pluralism that I most wanted to promote is what Kateb calls the inner plurality of individual persons, albeit it includes Kateb's second type, that is the pluralism of a diversity of individuals making up a social and political order. If I understand Kateb's argument it is that the first and second types are incompatible. I disagree with this; it seems to me that there are a number of historical examples of the two types not only coexisting but complementing one another. Certainly the theorists I discuss thought they could be. On this question see also Jacob Levy's comments.

I would add that, whereas Kateb's abundant writing—which I greatly admire—has usually included a good deal of existential specificity, his essay here seems to me to be primarily an essay in quite abstract theorizing.

Eric MacGilvray's paper is a detailed discussion of William James. He takes up aspects of James' thinking that I don't discuss. I learned from his accounts, but so far as I can see there are no major differences between us.

Richard Boyd's article concentrates on my chapter on Michael Oakeshott. Boyd clearly knows Oakeshott very well and I read his piece as for the most part complementary to mine. He correctly observes that I don't do much of anything with the notion, central to Oakeshott, of civility and civil. That was deliberate. I have found the recent literature on civil society disturbing. It is at once too thin and too thick. It is thin conceptually but thick politically. Finally, while appreciating my emphasis on dispositional as opposed to mechanical/institutional, Boyd objects that I have little to say about how to avoid falling into mutually destructive conflict.

Jacob T. Levy's exceptionally interesting contribution gives an instructive overview of recent versions of pluralist theories, notes that my book ignores most of them and makes some highly generous remarks. He makes the suggestion that I am interested in plurality and not pluralism. He says that my views about rights are entirely unwarranted and unsupportable, and he thinks that my views about action and freedom leave a lot to be desired. He is appreciative of my discussion of Hannah Arendt, but says that I am disproportionately concerned with "interior" questions. I cheerfully plead guilty to the latter charge.

Richard E. Flathman

Richard E. Flathman is the George Armstrong Kelly Memorial Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University.



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