In a constitutional democracy, there is bound to be diversity among the people. It may be expressed as diversity in ideas and interests, diversity in social and political groups, diversity in religion, race, and ethnicity, and diversity in centers of power.
Diversity in the expression of ideas and interests is a product of the guaranteed rights to free speech, press, and religion that typify a constitutional democracy. In a constitutional democracy, there is a free marketplace of ideas in which differences of opinion may compete for public acceptance. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., a great justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, recognized that constitutionally protected freedom to exchange ideas can point the way to truth and progress. He wrote in his dissenting opinion in Abrams v. United States, 1919, “The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market . . . That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution.”
In a free society, there will always be a diversity of competing interests voiced openly by different individuals and groups. Interests will vary, for example, according to occupation, social status, and gender. Owners of businesses are likely to express and campaign for different interests in comparison to members of trade unions or agricultural groups. Lower income persons are likely to favor and actively seek some kinds of public assistance that would be of less interest to individuals in higher earning brackets, who are likely to pursue other kinds of benefits from the government. Women have some interests that differ from those of men, and they are free to advance these interests through public discussion and debate.
A constitutional democracy protects rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, which encourage diversity among groups. Like-minded individuals choose to form and join civic and political associations in order to promote their opinions and interests. There is a multiplicity of cooperating and competing nongovernmental organizations that comprise a free and open civil society.
Political parties are a prominent example of the freedom to associate and assemble, a freedom that prevails in every genuine constitutional democracy. The constitution protects the political right of people with similar ideas and interests to organize and participate in political parties, which compete to advance their ideas and interests about how to conduct the government.
Many democracies include a diversity of religious, ethnic, or racial groups. In India, for example, there are many different ethnic groups with different languages and customs. The Indian constitution protects the rights of these different groups to express openly and freely their diverse ways of life. The constitution of India recognizes the multicultural diversity of the country by reserving a certain number of seats in parliament for representatives of different ethnic groups. Some democracies, such as Switzerland, are constituted to accommodate the special interests of constituent ethnic groups. The preamble to Switzerland’s constitution asserts that the Swiss people will “live its diversity in unity.” The constitution formally preserves the three major ethnic groups of Switzerland: French, Italian, and German. There is a constitutional guarantee of two kinds of identities. First, every citizen possesses in common a Swiss civic identity, regardless of differences in ethnicity. Second, citizens of Switzerland also possess a distinct ethnic identity connected with one of their country’s constituent cultural groups.
Like India, Switzerland, and other democracies, there is freedom in the United States for diversity to flourish among different ethnic, racial, and religious groups. There are constitutional guarantees of rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, which protect everyone–including members of vulnerable minority groups–against certain kinds of unjust treatment. In order to protect the civil liberties and rights of black Americans, who had endured particular injustices, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were added to the U.S. Constitution following the Civil War. These amendments prohibit slavery or involuntary servitude, guarantee citizenship and basic legal procedural rights on equal terms to all individuals, and prohibit the federal or state governments from denying the right to vote due to “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Despite these constitutional guarantees of equal treatment under the Constitution, black Americans continued to suffer various kinds of unfair treatment. Through the heroic efforts of the 20th-century civil rights movement, black Americans used their rights under the Constitution to achieve a greater measure of justice under the law. However, unlike the constitutional democracies of India and Switzerland, the U.S. Constitution does not require special representation of ethnic or racial groups in the government. And constitutional rights in the United States are guaranteed generally to individuals and not to particular social groups.
A most important kind of diversity in an authentic constitutional democracy is variation in centers of power. The primary center of authority and power, of course, is the government, but there are other centers of power that are vital to diversity in a democracy. For example, a diverse democracy includes a free and open civil society in which various nongovernmental groups collectively form a center of power that protects individuals’ liberty from excessively centralized government power. Another constitutionally secured center of power in a democracy is the free and open market economy through which the diverse owners of private property and wealth can be a countervailing force against the danger of despotism.
Yet another type of diversity in centers of power is the constitutionally guaranteed autonomy or quasi-independence of local government units, which share power with the central government of the country. For example, in the Federal Republic of Germany there is a division of powers between the federal government in Berlin and the various Länder or constituent states of the federal system. Such a division of power among different levels and units of government is a means to limit power and protect liberty in a democracy.