United in Diversity?

On Cultural Diversity, Democracy and Human Rights

by Eduardo J. Ruiz Vieytez (Author)
©2014 Monographs 131 Pages
Series: Diversitas, Volume 16


We live in increasingly diverse societies. Human relations are increasingly maintained by widely-used virtual means, with the result that it is becoming more common to find people with various identities and feelings of belonging living in the same political space.
Identity, linguistic, religious and/or cultural diversity are not new phenomena in our societies, but recent population movements and improved communications make them more visible and crucial than before. Unfortunately, our institutional and political structures have not evolved at the same pace, thus the appropriate management of diversity has become one of the greatest challenges faced by policymakers today in European democratic societies.
Unlike traditional notions of democracy, which tend to see it simply as majority rule, it is necessary to widen the way human rights are viewed and implemented, always bearing in mind the plural nature of today’s societies. This implies the need to rethink deeply-rooted concepts and attitudes that we have not been in the habit of challenging before. This essay aims to be a guide to facilitate such reflections.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover Page
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Cite
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter I: Diversity, Diversities and Identity
  • Chapter II: Current Responses to Diversity: Social and Institutional Discourses
  • Chapter III: Constructing Proposals: towards Democratic Pluralism
  • Bibliography


This book is designed to encourage reflection. It contains considerations on modern plural societies and, above all, offers a complete guide to rethinking deeply-rooted concepts and attitudes that we are not used to questioning.

This study starts with the fact that in our current multicultural context we need to change the way we approach politics, and that our idea of democracy has not yet been adapted to the demands of cultural and identitarian diversity. To put it very synthetically, I start from the fact that we need considerable transformation with regard to this reality, and this must be both as regards collective political organisation, and in the area of individual behaviour in daily social relationships. However, no transformation or change is possible unless it is based on critical self-reflection of the ideas that justify the way we think and act at present. What I aim to encourage herein is an inquisitive attitude that can eliminate atavisms and transform structures, both political and personal. What follows is thus a series of arguments and comments designed to make readers reflect on and question attitudes. Needless to say, the reader’s reflections will be as tentative (or contestable) as those of the author, whose goal is to reveal his intuitions and subject them to a larger and more rigorous debate.

How to manage cultural diversity democratically in a way that respects human rights is possibly the greatest challenge facing politics in the developed societies of modern Europe. The way in which we have understood democracy, constitutions and rights up until recently has been shown to be inadequate in increasingly diverse societies. Diversity has become more and more complex as it becomes easier to travel and communicate, leading to greater and faster population movements. Today, territory does not physically separate people as it once did. Modern human relations are maintained by almost instantaneous virtual media, meaning that it is not necessary to live together in the same space to share elements of identity and experiences. In contrast, it is ever more likely that those sharing the same territory identify with different groups and/or have feelings of belonging that do not ← 9 | 10 → coincide. On the one hand, more frequent and intense contacts between diverse individuals tend to make us the same, or at least similar. On the other hand, this greater interaction and increased technological, social, and cultural possibilities favour differences in lifestyles and the creation of personal guidelines, all in all – diversity.

All of us as individuals and organised political communities (institutions, public bodies, Law) have the political and moral obligation to find new guidelines for living together in a diverse society. Respect for universal human rights (the basis of the legitimacy of our political systems) demands that we radically change the way in which we have traditionally understood and applied them in our societies. If our goal is a society in which everyone can equally enjoy fundamental rights, then we ought to take into account the identity of each and every individual. To sum up, it is about ensuring that everyone can benefit from human rights by means of their own identities and not despite them.

This attempt to rethink our attitudes, political structures and the way in which we apply human rights, demands, above and beyond all, a dialogical reflection in the deepest meaning of the words. We have to create spaces and times for critical reflection, even on those premises that we see as incontrovertible. Political and democratic progress is only possible through self-criticism, deconstructing some of our most profound assumptions and transforming mindsets. This makes it necessary to confront assumptions, reactions, attitudes and valuations. In a way, this book aims to deconstruct, deactivate and question these widely held assumptions. To do so it is inevitable, to a extent, to include a degree of provocation, which is certainly not intended to trouble or discomfort the reader, but to at least temporarily destabilise some of his or her convictions and consider whether they should be reaffirmed or transformed from a democratic point of view.

Undoubtedly, much of that written here will be disagreed with or even rejected. All things considered, that is natural when the aim is to trigger a debate designed to transform values. As mentioned above, this book starts from the basic premise of rigorous intellectual debate, so the reflections contained herein are as tentative and contentious as the assumptions criticised. In turn, the contents of the book, however analytically presented, are also the result of a specific context as regards social, political and personal order. The thoughts contained herein and the provocations launched are designed, as is normal, to overcome said context and present guidelines for reflection that are valid for our society as a whole. However, it is impossible to overlook the subjectivity of any analysis. By definition, thinking from within a certain reality prevents us from analysing it in a completely objective manner. This is perhaps one of the first ideas presented to the reader in the introduction. All mental constructs dealing with the best social and ← 10 | 11 → political organisation are based on a specific vision of reality and are by definition limited. This means that there will be no all-embracing, definitive solutions, nor dogmatic statements on how to organise modern society democratically. We must, therefore, get used to permanent scrutiny, continuous debate and critical reflection as our tools. All in all, we have to operate in a setting that is less certain, less stable and more dynamic, where all proposed types of organisation are inherently debatable. Without this spirit of debate and questioning no progress is possible.

This book is divided into three sections. The first chapter aims to describe and give examples of the subject of the debate, this being the importance of cultural diversity and collective identities when it comes to the political organisation of society. The second chapter contains reflections on, and critical analyses of, current social and political responses to cultural diversity. Finally, the third chapter offers guidelines as to how we can respond to said diversity from a more profoundly democratic and inclusive point of view. In any event, the reflections that appear throughout the book are inevitably interlinked and the reader may feel that certain parts of the text could have been placed elsewhere, or consider that certain leaps occur in the arguments. It is clear that the very structure of the presentation can be questioned and is certainly not the most essential component of the work. I should simply point out that the logic behind dividing it into three parts is a response to the above-mentioned structure: the importance of diversity, a criticism of current responses and the proposal of new positions.

Up to a point, the tone of the text also varies. Although the work is designed to be analytical, it is not intended only for an academic audience, but should be seen as an essay designed to encourage broader debate in society. This is the justification for having avoided complicated theoretical frameworks or justifications using scientific methodology. On the contrary, the text presents arguments, both old and new, in the most pedagogical way possible. To this end, the text contains examples, specific allusions and even anecdotes that may be useful to illustrate the kind of reflections I seek to trigger. The important part of this book is not necessarily the conclusions reached herein, but is instead the methodology it espouses, and the process of debate and contestation. All in all, the style used is solely at the service of the fundamental aim of the book, that is: to encourage readers to reflect on and/or question some of their ideas. The aim is not to write a great work of literature but offer an effective tool for criticism and debate.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (April)
Identity management majority rule
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 131 pp., 3 tables

Biographical notes

Eduardo J. Ruiz Vieytez (Author)

Dr. Eduardo J. Ruiz-Vieytez is Director of the Human Rights Institute at the University of Deusto (Bilbao, Spain) and Associate Professor of Constitutional Law. His research focuses on issues such as integration policies, minority rights and the relation between human rights and cultural diversities. He has been a legal adviser for the Basque Ombudsman, president of a NGO for the promotion of immigrants’ rights and participant in some missions of the Council of Europe concerning minorities.


Title: United in Diversity?
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138 pages