the value of diversity and discussion within social movements

If you want a more deliberative society–one in which diverse people discuss and learn before (and while) they act politically–you’re not going to accomplish it simply by promoting deliberation. Too many people are understandably motivated by specific agendas, and too many resources are spent to promote specific goals, for a deliberative strategy to work on its own.

But we do have social movements, and they could fuel deliberation. At first glance, they don’t seem promising, because they tend to recruit people who share specific goals and then make demands on target authorities. They do not seem likely to encourage discussion among people who disagree. Charles Tilly, a major theorist of social movements, argued that movements need WUNC–worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment–to succeed (Tilly 2004). A large group of people who demonstrate unity do not seem to be deliberating.

However, the research increasingly suggests that social movements are more likely to succeed if they are internally diverse and good at promoting a free and rich internal conversation. I have cited Erica Chenoweth & Maria Stephan (2011) and Marshall Ganz (2010) to this effect. My own model is SPUD: movements need scale (lots of people), pluralism (diversity of identities and views), unity (shared objectives and tactics), and depth (growth and learning for the participants). Deliberation is relevant because it takes talk to combine scale with depth and pluralism with unity.

New support comes from Wouters (2018). He has shown Belgian and American samples media clips of protests that demonstrate WUNC and that are experimentally altered to show either more or less diversity.

Diversity deals with the heterogeneity of a demonstration’s composition and thus with variation in descriptive characteristics of participants (participation of the young and the elderly; employers and employees; the rich and the poor). Whereas unity deals with the extent to which a group is on the same page and a solid bloc, diversity focuses on a march’s composition. Whereas numbers appeal through an increase in quantity, diversity boosts attractiveness through an increase in quality (various types of participants). Diversity breeds public support, I argue, because observers are presented with more opportunities to identify and because it signals observers that the movement and its grievance engage all citizens. Non-diverse crowds create the impression that the protest serves narrow self-interests, limiting potential identification. In sum, I expect more diverse protesters to facilitate identification and to trigger more supportive reactions.

His finding is that diversity improves audiences’ responses to the protests. He has coined the term dWUNC, “diverse WUNC,” and sees it as an ingredient of success.

Wouters argues that protests are more appealing when members of the audience can see individuals like them among the protesters. They are more likely to see people like themselves if the movement is diverse. He notes that Black Lives Matter protests became more appealing to white viewers if they included some white participants, but black viewers’ opinions did not change.

Wouters’ findings are troubling because demographically homogeneous groups also have value. Oppressed people have a right (and sometimes have good reasons) to act separately, without demonstrating that they have “diverse” support. However, if Wouters is correct, then it’s worth at least considering the cost of fielding a homogeneous group.

I would add that a movement that consistently puts diverse people onto the streets will have to promote internal deliberation to keep those people unified. If this is correct, then a strategy for making society more deliberative is to encourage social movements to maximize their internal diversity. They should do so to make themselves appealing, but as a major side effect, they will promote deliberation.

I make this argument in Levine 2018, but without citing Wouters 2018, which appeared too recently. Here is my PowerPoint on the topic:


  • Erica Chenoweth & Maria Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (Columbia Studies in Terrorism and Irregular Warfare, 2011)
  • Marshall Ganz, Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 17-18.
  • Peter Levine, “Habermas with a Whiff of Tear Gas: Nonviolent Campaigns and Deliberation in an Era of Authoritarianism,” Journal of Public Deliberation, in press
  • Ruud Wouters; “The Persuasive Power of Protest. How Protest wins Public Support,” Social Forces, soy110, (03 November 2018)
  • Charles Tilly, Social Movements: 1768-2004 (Boulder/London: Paradigm, 2004)
  • Support, Social Forces, 2018,

See also: we need SPUD (scale, pluralism, unity, depth)closing remarks at the Bridge Alliance summitWhy Civil Resistance Workstools for the #resistance; and so, you want to strengthen democracy?

Governor Charlie Baker signs Massachusetts civic education law

A press release from the the Massachusetts Civic Learning Coalition (of which I’m a member):

The Coalition applauds Governor Charlie Baker for signing into law bill S.2631, giving Massachusetts one of the nation’s most innovative statewide civic education programs. The new law, which Gov. Baker signed today, provides for funding for the professional development of teachers to teach civics effectively, the opportunity for students to participate in civics-based projects, and establishes civic education as a priority for school districts across the state.

The Massachusetts Civic Learning Coalition (MCLC) thanks the State Senate, the House of Representatives and the Governor for their leadership in this legislation. This will help ensure that students across the Commonwealth will have access to a civic education curriculum that teaches them the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, fundamental knowledge about government, such as the functions of each branch and the electoral process, as well as key 21st century skills such as media literacy.

We commend the Legislature and the Governor for giving teachers the support they need to implement and teach the curriculum and facilitate civics projects to prepare students for thoughtful and informed participation in civic life. Specifically, MCLC appreciates the commitment to securing robust funding to implement the bill, including the provision of funds for teacher professional development through the Mass Civics Trust Fund.

“With the enactment of this law, Massachusetts has leapt to the forefront of civics education, joining states such as Florida and Illinois to take an innovative — and necessary — step to ensure that every young person in the state is prepared and engaged in civic life,” iCivics Executive Director Louise Dubé said. “This is a critically important law, passed at a critically  important moment for our state and our country.”

Arielle Jennings, Generation Citizen’s Massachusetts Executive Director said, “Young people often have a hard time seeing the political process as relevant to them and are disengaged from it as a result. This law will help strengthen our democracy by educating a new generation of active citizens.”

The Massachusetts Civic Learning Coalition is a roundtable of twenty civics education organizations, research institutions, school districts, and stakeholders committed to improving the quality and implementation of K-12 civic education for students across the state. Members of the coalition include: The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library Foundation, Generation Citizen Massachusetts, iCivics, and other organizations committed to civic education reform.

For further information on MCLC, please visit

youth turnout up 10 points, youth opt for Democrats to an unprecedented degree

These two graphs from CIRCLE tell the story of youth in the 2018 election.

First, turnout rose dramatically. The blue line shows estimates of youth turnout using the only method that’s available immediately after an election. CIRCLE relies on the exit polls plus the number of ballots cast and demographic data to generate that line. As shown, this estimate has tracked a different method (the Census Bureau’s November surveys, which simply ask people whether they voted) pretty well historically. As CIRCLE acknowledges, their method could lead to errors if the exit polls’ age breakdown is wrong; but it’s the best available method, and it suggests a very strong year for youth.

Second, although young people do not always vote Democratic, they sure did this year. The partisan gap is unprecedented. I happen to think it’s folklore that once people have voted the same way three times, they keep voting that way for life. However, folklore sticks for a reason, and it’s certainly plausible that voting for the same party a few times in a row creates a habit that tends to persist. If that’s true, Republicans are taking a chance on long-term catastrophic damage.

Meanwhile, if you’re a Democrat in a mood to be a little chagrined by yesterday because your high expectations were not quite met (after all, you are a Democrat), just don’t blame youth. These trends are startlingly positive for Democrats. The problem lies further up the age pyramid.

working against gerrymandering

At Tisch College and Tufts, we are extremely proud of Moon Duchin and her team in the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering group. This new video takes less than two minutes to play and introduces their work:

Moon and her colleagues are generating tools, participating in legal processes, and training people (from k-12 students to expert witnesses)–all in the interests of democratizing influence on the redistricting process.

As an example, they develop algorithms that start with the existing map and randomly generate enormous numbers of additional maps. Observing that set of possible maps allows one to see whether any given one is more partisan–or otherwise less fair–than the norm. Often, the real or proposed map is an outlier because it reflects a political agenda.

I am pleased to help promote this initiative on the eve of an election that will be deeply shaped by gerrymandering–and likely to affect the electoral map for the next decade.

See also Rebooting the Mathematics Behind Gerrymandering by Moon Duchin and me.

2020 will also be tough for Senate Democrats

In 2016, everyone thinks the Senate “map” is terrible for Democrats. Forty-two Republican incumbents don’t face an election this year, whereas Democrats must defend 24 incumbents, 10 of them in states that Donald Trump won in 2016–sometimes by very large margins. Even a Blue Wave is expected to leave the Republicans in charge of the Senate.

You would think that 2020 would have to be better for Democrats. After all, Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in national votes for the president and the House. If, by the luck of the draw, the Democrats face a bad Senate map one year, the next time has to be better–right?

Actually, 2020 looks like another pretty hard year for the Dems. According to Nathaniel Rakich in FiveThirtyEight, 22 Republican Senators will face reelection. That sounds like fertile ground for Democrats, except that only two of those 22, Cory Gardner and Susan Collins, represent states that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Based on that information, you might expect Republicans to lose just a seat or two. Meanwhile, 11 Democratic Senators will face reelection, and two of them represent states that Trump won in 2016: Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire (which was close) and Doug Jones of Alabama (which Trump won by 27 points). Based on that information, you might expect the Democrats to lose Jones and maybe one or two more.  If each party loses a seat or two to the other, it will be a wash, preserving the Republican majority.

How can this be? One reason is that a harder year will finally arrive for the Republicans in 2022. Twelve Democrats and 22 Republicans will have to defend seats that year, including several Republicans in swing states: Rubio in Florida, Grassley in Iowa (if he runs again at 89), Burr in North Carolina, Portman in Ohio, Toomey in Pennsylvania, and Johnson in Wisconsin. All the Dems who are up in 2022 are in either blue or purple states.

But the other reason is the extraordinary gap between the Senate and the American population. Even now, with the Senate controlled by Republicans, Democratic senators represent substantially more people:

The Constitution enshrines this imbalance. Anything in the whole document can be changed by amendment, “provided that… no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.” This is is our only unamendable rule.

Long-term predictions are foolish, but I think you can imagine a pattern of Democratic presidents and House majorities being systematically stymied by Republican senates and the Supreme Court that the Senate has shaped. Then a significant majority of the public will be consistently blocked by an increasingly radicalized minority that is based in different parts of the country as we address climate crises, AI, and other truly profound challenges. Many people will not trace the failures of the government to specific provisions in our Constitution; they will perceive a government that’s inexplicably unresponsive and unrepresentative. And that, it seems to me, is a recipe for constitutional collapse.

See also: is our constitutional order doomed?two perspectives on our political paralysis; and are we seeing the fatal flaw of a presidential constitution?

courses that count for the Civic Studies major in spring 2019

More on the Civic Studies major at Tufts is here.

Required Introductory Course:

  • CVS 0020/PHIL 0020/PS 0020: Introduction to Civic Studies (Erin Kelly, Peter Levine) 

Thinking about Justice:

  • ANTH 140: Food Justice: Fair Food Activism and Social Movements (Alex Blanchette)
  • CVS 190/PHIL 192: Seminar: Political Philosophy of MLK, Jr
  • ECON 62: Economics of International Migration (Anna Hardman)
  • ENG 160 : Environmental Justice and World Literature (Ammons)
  • HIST 10: Colonialism in Global Perspective (Kris Manjapra)
  • MUSIC 132: Music and Ethics (Melinda Latour)
  • PHIL 195: Contemporary Political Philosophy (Lionel McPherson)
  • PHIL 25: Food Ethics (Sigrun Svavarsdottir)
  • PHIL 28: Feminist Philosophy (staff)
  • PS 151: Seminar: The Political Philosophy of Hobbes (Ioannis Evrigenis)
  • REL 08: Law, Religion and International Relations (Joseph Walser)
  • SOC 103-01: Sociological Theory (Freeden Blume Oeur)
  • SOC 94: Health, Policy, and Inequality (Brett Nava-Coulter) 

Social Conflict, Inequality, and Violence:

  • CH 0188: Health and Human Rights (Fernando Ona)
  • HIST 173: Black and Native New England (Kendra Field and Kerri Greenidge)
  • PS 108: Public Opinion and U.S. Democracy (Brian Schaffner)
  • PS 138: Democracy and Its Alternatives (David Art)
  • PSY 13: Social Psychology (Keith Maddox)
  • SOC 113: Urban Sociology: Global Perspectives on Space, Inequality and Resistance (Anjuli Fahlberg)
  • SOC 120 Sociology of War and Peace (Paul Joseph)
  • SOC 181 Seminar: War/Peace/State/Society (Paul Joseph)
  • SOC 188 Seminar: Intimate Violence (Anjuli Fahlberg) 

Civic Action and Social Movements:

  • CSHD 0034: Children, Nature, & the Ecology Movement (George Scarlett)
  • EC 117: Economics of Social Interactions and Social Networks (Yannis M. Ioannides)
  • FMS 22: Media Literacy (Julie Dobrow)
  • MUS 197: Social Justice, Advocacy and Music (Jeffrey A. Summit)
  • PS 108: Public Opinion and U.S. Democracy (Brian Schaffner)
  • PS 113: Nonprofits and Civil Society (Jeffrey Berry)
  • PS 118-02: Organizing for Social Change (Daniel LeBlanc & Ken Galdston)
  • PS 188-05: The Howard School of International Affairs (Pearl Robinson)
  • SOC 106: Political Sociology (Anjuli Fahlberg)
  • SOC 111: Making Social Change Happen (Margaret McGladrey)
  • SOC 113: Urban Sociology: Global Perspectives on Space, Inequality and Resistance (Anjuli Fahlberg)
  • UEP 278: Environmental Justice, Security, and Sustainability (Penn Loh)

Civic Skills:

  • ANTH 133: Anthropology of Journalism (Amahl Bishara)
  • CH 0188: Health and Human Rights (Fernando Ona)
  • CHEM 0094: Science and the Human Experience (Jonathan Garlick)
  • CSHD 004: Topics in Child Development: Identity, Community, and Voice (Jayanthi Mistry)
  • ED15: Social-Emotional & Civic Learning in Schools (Deborah Donahue-Keegan)
  • EE194 / ELS 109: Creating Children’s Media (Julie Dobrow)
  • ELS 109: Societal Aspects of Design: Integration, Innovation, and Impact (Ron Lasser)
  • ENG 311: Tufts 1+4 Foundation: Communicating for Change (Grace Talusan)
  • ENV 120: Introduction to Environmental Fieldwork (John de la Parra)
  • ENV 150: Environment, Communication, and Culture (Ninian Stein)
  • ENV 152: Seminar in Environmental Negotiations (Ninian Stein)
  • ExCollege: The President Has Tweeted: Official Government Communications in the Age of Trump (Nanda Chitre)
  • PHIL 24: Introduction to Ethics (Monica Link)
  • PS: Massachusetts State House Internships – Learning While Doing (State Sen. Ben Downing)
  • TBD: Project Citizen: Promoting Civic Engagement (Sherri Sklarwitz)
  • UEP 293-02: Community Practice Theory and Methods (Penn Loh)
  • UEP 294-02: Communications and Media for Policy and Planning (Penn Loh)
  • UEP 294: Teaching Democracy (Penn Loh)
  • WGSS 0185/AMER 0094: Mass Incarceration and the Literature of Confinement (Hilary Binda) 

Internship Seminar:

  • CVS 099: A required internship. This includes a weekly 2.5 hour class with graded assignments and a final project.

Capstone Seminar:

  • CVS 190/PHIL 192: Seminar: Political Philosophy of MLK, Jr.

youth vote 2018: what to expect and how to interpret the data

In The Washington Post, Amy Gardner reads some tea leaves that might foretell youth turnout in November.

On one hand, the good news: “In Pennsylvania, youth voters have made up nearly 60 percent of all new registrants, Target­Smart reported in September. The share of the electorate that is under age 30 has grown since 2017 in several key states, including Nevada, North Carolina and Florida, according to state voter registration data tracked by the firm L2. In Virginia, requests for student absentee ballots, at about 30,000, are about 50 percent higher than in last year’s gubernatorial election.”

We could add that CIRCLE’s youth polling finds much higher levels of intent to vote than we have seen recently. And these data from Texas look promising:

On the other hand, Gardner notes,

There are plenty of reasons for skepticism about an age group that typically performs dismally at the polls. In 2016, young Americans were expected to turn out heavily against Trump, but the actual share of voters under 30 who cast ballots was 43 percent of eligible voters — about the same as the previous presidential election in 2012 and lower than 2008. (Overall turnout in 2016 was 60 percent.)

Midterm performance is typically far worse: Just 16 percent of young Americans cast ballots in 2014. The highest midterm turnout among voters under 30 in the past three decades was a mere 21 percent in 1994.

And some of the tea leaves seem to foretell just a modest improvement:

In Nevada, young voters’ share of the electorate was 18.6 percent in August, up from 17.5 percent in September 2017, according to L2. In North Carolina, it was 18.3 percent in October, up from 16.7 percent in September 2017. And in Florida, it was 16.6 percent in September, up from 15.6 percent a year earlier.

Meanwhile, in Politico, Marc Caputo, Matt Dixon, and Isabel Dobrin write:

THE YOUNG PEOPLE WILL … STAY HOME? — Remember all that talk of how “the young people will win” and come out in force in Florida, especially after the Parkland massacre? So far, it’s not happening. Voters between the ages of 18-29 are 17 percent of the registered voters in Florida but have only cast 5 percent of the ballots so far. They tend to vote more Democratic. Meanwhile, voters 65 and older are 18.4 percent of the electorate but have cast 51.4 percent of the ballots. And older voters tend to vote more Republican.

Their analysis is based on Daniel Smith’s chart of the early votes so far in Florida, which shows all age groups rising but youth by the smallest amount:

A bunch of different statistics are being cited here: the number of voters or registrants in various age groups, the turnout (the percentage of eligible people in each category who actually voted), and the share of the electorate (what proportion of all voters fit in each category). These articles also cite statistics about registration, early voting, and total voting. It’s easy to get confused.

I expect turnout to rise for the population as a whole, in large part because of the actual and perceived high stakes of the 2018 election. I think youth turnout will also rise but youth will face a challenge keeping pace with the general increase. The difference between them and older voters will probably look better than in Dan Smith’s chart, because early voting seems to appeal especially to older people.

But we could still see various scenarios.

If youth turnout and share of the electorate both rise, it will be a great year for youth voting. Youth turnout could actually fall, but that would really surprise me. If youth turnout rises but no faster than–or not as fast as–the turnout of older people, then youth share will shrink. This will be reported by many news outlets as a decline. That interpretation will not be an outright error. If you want to exercise more influence on the outcome, you must increase your share of the vote. A flat or shrinking share means having no more influence. Also, if turnout rises but youth turnout rises less than average, it will pose questions about the impact of the nonpartisan and partisan efforts specifically to engage youth.

But it will also be true that more youth have voted, which will be worth celebrating if you care about youth engagement. And it will break a pattern, because historically youth turnout has been remarkably flat in midterm elections. Breaking that pattern might be a small positive step even if youth share shrinks slightly.

Center on Democracy and Organizing Summer Institute 2019

I’m posting the following announcement with my enthusiastic recommendation. The Principal Investigators of the Center for Democracy and Organizing are the extraordinarily talented and engaged scholars Lisa Garcia Bedolla, Hahrie Han, and Taeku Lee. More information here.

The Center on Democracy and Organizing (CDO) seeks applications from advanced Ph.D. students and early career researchers and organizers for participation in a summer training institute in 2019 focused on the study of democracy and organizing. The institute will be held from July 31 to August 2 at the University of California, Berkeley. This summer institute will bring together faculty and practitioners interested in developing the capacity to do engaged research in partnership. This dynamic and interactive institute will give participants—10 researchers and 10 practitioners—the chance to learn to work together on research projects that help practitioners advance their strategic goals.

The institute will focus on articulating the benefits of building research partnerships between  academics

and organizers, developing the capacities needed among both academics and organizers to work together, and creating the opportunity for researcher-organizer pairs to work directly on a project of interest. The institute seeks to reframe how graduate students and early career scholars understand their role as researchers, focus on the ways engaging with practitioners can deepen and improve their theorizing about the socio-political world, and also help practitioners and scholars develop a common language in order to engage as equal partners in the research process.

Researchers and practitioners with similar interests and goals will either be paired by CDO, or can apply as a pair.

This institute is funded thanks to grants from the Ford Foundation and Open Society Foundations. Travel (U.S. domestic economy-class round-trip airfare), food, and lodging will be covered for accepted applicants. In addition, participants will be eligible to apply for seed funding of up to $5,000 from CDO to carry out research projects conceived and developed through the institute.

Justice O’Connor and civics

I’m sorry to read that Justice O’Connor has dementia. She has devoted her retirement years to improving civics, and she has taken that objective fully seriously.

Her greatest contribution is the nonprofit organization she founded to teach civics through video games—a remarkable idea for someone her age to invent. iCivics is now the biggest provider of civic education and contributes immeasurably to the field.

Justice O’Connor has also been a tireless advocate of policies for civics. The landmark civic education legislation in Florida is named after her, for a reason. She co-chaired the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, which colleagues and I launched in 2003. She can be found on panels and ceremonies related to civics from coast to coast. That’s her, for example, to the right of David Skaggs in the picture above. (I’m doing my best to listen to the question from the audience.)

We have crossed paths in those contexts several times. She has often taken me by the hand, bored her steely blue eyes into me, and ordered me to do something—such as evaluate the impact of a national program.  I didn’t always comply but always took the obligation very seriously.

I won’t comment on her jurisprudence, if for no other reason than I haven’t studied it carefully. I have a working theory that she was especially deferential to autonomous institutions, such as universities. Whether that was wise or not is a matter of debate. Today, I’d rather celebrate her as one of the great retirees and citizens of our time.

who must be included in which meetings, committees, and movements?

At a recent meeting, we discussed people who should be encouraged to join the effort we were working on. We quickly listed demographic categories that we should pay attention to: race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, age, class, ideology, partisanship, and religion.

I think these categories are important for outreach and recruitment–but importantly different.

Race, gender, and sexual orientation

Race, gender, and sexual orientation matter because we live in a society that is deeply unequal on those dimensions. Unless you seriously strive for equal representation, you are likely to end up with a panel or committee full of straight white men–and the more influential and prestigious the group is, the more that will be the outcome. Failing to address it preserves inequality.

A demographically homogeneous group may also lose the wisdom that comes from a wider range of perspectives and experiences, but to me, that is not an essential argument. Sometimes, adding racial or sexual/gender diversity won’t actually add relevantly different perspectives on the issue under discussion, but inclusion is still important for addressing inequality in the society as a whole. There is often also a pragmatic imperative for improving racial and gender representation. Without such diversity, a group looks illegitimate and can’t win the support it needs to move forward.

I would equate religion with race/ethnicity insofar as it’s an identity that provokes discrimination by others. As a set of beliefs about the world, a religion is more like an ideology, which I will address below.

Social class

Our society is also unequal by class, but this is different. Class is a name for social inequality. It doesn’t make sense to imagine a society with different classes that are equal to each other. If you have equality, you don’t have classes at all. However, it is not clear that a classless society can be accomplished. State communist societies produced the nomenklatura, a powerful new class or (as Trotsky thought) a caste composed of party officials and their families. According to Robert Michels, social democratic parties and unions quickly created “oligarchies” of professional organizers, notwithstanding their sincere commitments to equality. By virtue of being a union official instead of a unionized line worker, you are now part of a different class.

If you organize a meeting of people who hold a certain range of positions in society–a meeting of union leaders, or teachers, or leaders of nonprofit organizations, or college students, or miners–it will have a class “bias.” Yet surely there is value in such meetings. It wouldn’t be reasonable to argue, for example, that teachers should never organize except along with students, parents, and others. But if teachers organize, that is a middle class movement.

Therefore, it is a bit disingenuous to imagine that you can be “inclusive and diverse” with respect to class. But you can strive (1) to be inclusive of people who have various class origins and cultural markers of class, such as accents; and (2) to organize meetings and movements that engage grassroots participants, not merely leaders and experts. But (2) is hard. After, who will organize, pay for, and advertise the big meeting that is open to the public as a whole? Surely some kind of specialized subgroup will be responsible. Michels thought oligarchy was an “iron law,” and even if it’s less rigid than that, there is still a powerful tendency for people who hold certain social positions to run things. That’s what it means to have those positions.


Age is different, too. We should be concerned about including younger people because we should be worried about future leadership and must create opportunities to learn and to develop power. But age equality is not like racial or gender equality. There are actual differences among people of different ages. For instance, senior managerial positions cannot be equally distributed between the young and old. It takes time to develop the experience, expertise, and connections that institutions need.

The House Democrats who will lead important committees if the party wins in November  will include Elijah Cummings, age 67, Bennie Thompson, 70, Maxine Waters, 80, Nita Lowey, 81, and Eddie Bernice Johnson, 82. These are women or men of color who have waited a long time for gavels. To be sure, the party caucus could replace them with younger leaders who were also diverse, but these people’s claims to leadership rest on seniority, and that deserves consideration. I wouldn’t oppose replacing them with younger chairs, but I would insist that age is different from, say, race. It can be legitimate to consider seniority or experience.

Ideology, partisanship, and theology

It’s worth bearing in mind that our goal is to develop the right views so that we can do what is right. The right views are not equally consistent with all ideologies, party platforms, or applications of theology.

In pursuing the right views, we must be humble. It is very likely that each of us is wrong and that others are more right. So we must be open and interested in alternative views.

I am typically a mainstream liberal, center-left. I especially benefit from being an outlier in meetings that are dominated by libertarians/neoliberals or by radical proponents of identity politics. I don’t fully align with either position but always learn from them–usually more than I learn from hanging around other people with whom I easily agree.

Learning provides a rationale for philosophical diversity–but with important caveats. First, some alternative views are more worthy than others. I seek out libertarians but not Trump-supporters to learn from. That is a judgment, and it could be wrong, but it’s my best judgment at this moment. I don’t believe that I have anything whatsoever to learn from Donald Trump himself, yet more than 60 million Americans really like him. Demographic representativeness would argue for including Trump-supporters, but my judgment about how to learn does not.

Furthermore, the value of ideological diversity depends on the purpose of a meeting or event. If I am trying to advance an agenda, I want a majority of participants to share my considered views of the topic. I may value some minority views to keep us sharp, but I’d like the majority to agree with me. I can achieve that goal either by recruiting like-minded participants or by persuading other attendees to agree. I would never treat racial or gender/sexual diversity in a similar way, trying to stack the room with people who were like me. On the other hand, if my goal is to learn, I may prefer to be one of a few participants in a meeting dominated by people who oppose my views, so that I can get a full dose of their perspective.


In sum, race/ethnicity and gender/sexuality make powerful claims for equal representation. Class and age are more complicated; it can be disingenuous to imagine that a meeting can be egalitarian on those dimensions. And ideological diversity is not a good in itself, but intellectual humility and striving to learn are genuine goods that sometimes provide reasons to be ideologically inclusive.

The complication is that race and ethnicity, gender, age, religion, ideology and partisanship correlate in the population. Say you want a meeting of influential people who are in a position to allocate resources, but you also demand racial diversity in your meetings. The most influential people are likely to be predominantly white. Or say you’re a libertarian who is genuinely committed to racial equality (as some are). You’re entitled to form a committee of libertarians, but it’s your problem if they all turn out to be white men.

I think these points of conflict among different kinds of diversity generate some of the hardest issues, both ethically and pragmatically.

See also: what is privilege?the rise of an expert class and its implications for democracyto what extent can colleges promote upward mobility?defining equity and equalitytwo approaches to social capital: Bourdieu vs. the American literature; and a college class on equalitywhen social advantage persists for millennia.