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Diverse Society

Accusations that affirmative action amounts to reverse discrimination have driven many organizations to repackage their policies under the rubric of “diversity.”

Since every individual is unique, any group is inherently diverse. But this isn't diversity as the term is presently used. In today's public discourse, diversity refers primarily to race and gender. An institution's diversity is measured by comparing the statistics of its racial and gender makeup with the composition of the general population. The goal is to make each particular organization or group “look like America.”

Extreme enthusiasm for diversity is demonstrated by many liberals. The New York Times, for example, appears obsessed with statistics about how many minorities or women can be found in universities, corporations, Silicon Valley, Academy Awards, etc. As Richard A. Epstein noted recently, they clearly assume that something is wrong when different categories of people are not present in the right numbers.

A society with freedom of voluntary association, with maximum decentralization of decision-making, will be diverse in its broader, heterogeneous, sense.

Certain organizations are inherently unable to satisfy current standards. Fraternities, for example, exclude women, and sororities don't have male members. Some colleges have outlawed these organizations because of their failure to be diverse.

W.A. Orton was not worrying about diversity mania back in 1945 when he wrote: “Once you start working backward from abstractly conceived ends to the policies and problems of actuality, there is no telling to what enormities your logic may drive you. Rationalism of the a priori type always ends by being inhumane and antidemocratic, because it can see nothing in the folkways and traditions of ordinary people except obscurantism. They get in the way of the ideal scheme . . .”

But Orton was on to something. Rather than forcing or shaming all organizations to seek the “abstractly conceived end” of a homogeneous diversity, “looking like America,” perhaps we should reconsider what a truly diverse society should look like. A broader — heterogeneous — diversity can be imagined, one with great variety in the makeup and internal dynamics of different organizations and groups.

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For example, there could be fraternities consisting only of men, sororities consisting only of women, and other living organizations made up of both men and women. There could be professional athletic teams predominantly or entirely made up of black people, and symphony orchestras made up mostly of white people. There could be universities which “look like America” and others which are mostly black or white.

Readers may object: What do you mean these kinds of organizations could be imagined? Don't we already have them? And my answer would be: precisely! And what is wrong with this, as long as other people are free to organize other groups and organizations on the basis of whatever they consider the right way to do so and can find people willing to associate with them?

Heterogeneous diversity must not be confused with restoring segregation. Indeed, it is totally incompatible with segregation. Under Jim Crow “law” people wishing to create organizations including people of different races were forbidden to do so. Genuine laws can classify actions and circumstances within which actions are taken, but they can never classify people and therefore must apply to everybody. The pseudolaws forbidding people of different races to associate with — let alone marry! — one another must never again disgrace our law books.

A society with heterogeneous diversity will maximize freedom of voluntary association, created by the parties' mutual consent and limited only by genuine laws. Minority group members desiring to preserve their culture rather than to assimilate into the larger society would be free to do so. Not all workplaces would “look like America,” but nobody could prevent organizations seeking racial or gender balance from trying to achieve it. Some universities might be all male, others all female, still others coed. Some might be all black, others all white, all Hispanic, or all Asian. Others, reflecting perceptions of educational efficiency or social propriety, could be diverse in today's sense.

Paradoxically, diversity-enthusiasts in contemporary American life have tried to get all places of employment and universities to look the same. A society with freedom of voluntary association, with maximum decentralization of decision-making, will be diverse in its broader, heterogeneous, sense. It will offer many kinds of institutions and organizations, making it most likely that every individual can find places to live and work that are good fits with his or her particular tastes and values.


As Robert Nozick put it in "Anarchy, State and Utopia": “Utopia will consist of utopias, of many different and divergent communities in which people lead different kinds of lives . . . a place where people are at liberty to join together voluntarily to pursue . . . their own vision of the good life in the ideal community but where no one can impose his own utopian vision on others.”

Paul F. deLespinasse

Republished with permission.