Marx and Pluralism

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Blackwell Publishing Ltd


Contemporary theorists of many sorts, from Isaiah Berlin to Michel Foucault, have become increasingly critical of ethical universalism. The criticism of many of these theorists, if not always aimed directly at Marx, might be thought to apply to him especially. In one way or another, these theorists hold that ultimate values imply differ and that agreement cannot be expected about them. 1 To hold that all should agree about ultimate values leads to totalization or totalitarianism. The only acceptable society, for such theorists, whether they are liberals or radicals, is one which tolerates a pluralism of values.

In other words, it is not just particular interests that lead to difference, disagreement, and conflict - conceptions of the good themselves do so. No single conception of the common good , the general interest , or the general will, then, will overcome these disagreements. There simply is no single conception of the common good or the general interest that all will accept. Individuals legitimately differ about conceptions of the good. Thus, those theorists, like Rousseau and Marx, who insist upon a common good or general will are totalizing theorists and are at least on the road toward totalitarianism. The only free society is a pluralistic one which accept divergence in conceptions of the good.

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