After 45 years as a Professor of Political Science at the University of Kansas, I retired during the summer of 2017. Setting up and making future posts to this website are among the activities I want to pursue during retirement. My goals here are to provide academics an updated account of the pluralist paradigm that I have sought to advance during my career and to inform the broader public about the virtues of pluralism as a public philosophy. These concerns are introduced in ABOUT PLURALISM.
Well, you have stumbled upon this website and have read thus far, but why would you want to read more? Many people have filled libraries and the Internet with their ideas on the subjects addressed by pluralism: the good life, the good society, and good government. Why should you be interested in what I have to say on these matters? Like all pluralists, I do not claim any monopoly of truth, but I have read, researched, taught, thought, and written about such questions for over a half a century, and received some awards for my efforts.
I received a very good general education in the Appleton, Wisconsin, public schools, but during my youth Appleton was an extraordinarily homogeneous community. While most of my buddies choose to remain in Appleton and go to Lawrence University, I fled 150 miles south to Beloit College. Shortly after arrival, I joined the most racially and ethnically diverse fraternity on campus, and I fell in love with a lovely young woman whose more cosmopolitan upbringing in New York and London contrasted sharply with my own middle-class and parochial background. (You can learn more about my wife by going to LynnBurlingham.com.) Hoping to prepare myself for a career that provided a modicum of material comforts, I initially majored in economics, but wanting to broaden my horizons, I soon decided to also major in philosophy. After graduating Pi Beta Kappa from Beloit, I received an MA and Ph.D. in political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and took a job at the University of Kansas, beginning in fall 1972.
I was hired to teach empirical political theories, a subject that was at that time regarded as a central concern of political science, especially as a professional activity and as an emphasis of graduate-level studies. There was a lot of disciplinary anxiety about the status of political science as a science, because no paradigm – no set of philosophical, conceptual, methodological, and theoretical commitments – was widely embraced among political scientists. My job was to study and introduce students to possible paradigms for understanding politics. Especially early in my career, I included various empirical political theories not only in my graduate-level course geared toward understanding and analyzing leading paradigmatic alternatives, but also in the courses I taught at the undergraduate level in American politics, community politics, and methods of political and social inquiry.
As I was beginning my career, orthodox pluralism had many virtues that made it a prominent contender for paradigmatic status. However, it was also criticized because it was thought to provide overly congratulatory descriptions of power being broadly and democratically dispersed and because it failed to provide the means of criticizing the injustices and other normative failures of our political systems. I agreed with these criticisms but thought pluralism might be reformulated to enable better depictions of political reality and enable normative judgments about how well various political ideals were attained. I thought political science could not escape being evaluative, and therefore any purely empirical political theory was inadequate. To ensure inclusion of normative concerns in our curriculum, I began to develop and teach a variety of courses in political theory that mixed normative, empirical, and evaluative concerns. These included the history of political thought, contemporary political philosophy, theories of justice, theories of democracy, and American political thought. I also lectured for five years in a university-wide required “great books” course in Western Civilization. These experiences resulted in my developing and emphasizing social and political pluralism in my political science courses, and appreciating moral pluralism as a major feature of Western Civilization.
These pluralist concerns and perspectives are developed in the various articles I have written for political science professionals and in various books that I have written for students and the informed public. But as a pluralist, I have a life beyond professional and public concerns. My “private” interests and commitments are many. In the blogs, you can read about how a pluralist thinks about the responsibilities of marriage and parenting, about involvements in various groups, about the importance of having multiple identities, and about having many interests. For example, I was once an addicted runner, devoting most of my physical energy to training for marathons, but as my understanding of pluralism solidified, I became content to have some exercise or engage in some sports most days, but not every day. As a pluralist, I am no longer a compulsive runner, as I want to engage in other forms of exercise and other sports like tennis, golf, biking, and kayaking. I’d probably be a better tennis player if I focused on that game, but I enjoy the challenges provided of engaging in other activities as well, and I find relaxation and beauty in all of them. Such are the blessings of being a pluralist.