Explore More »

Diplomacy and Diversity

Published in 2014, Humanity in Action: Collected Essays and Talks is an anthology of written works by Judith S. Goldstein, the founder and executive director of Humanity in Action. "Diplomacy and Diversity" was a talk delivered to Humanity in Action Fellows in May 2014. Humanity in Action: Collected Essays and Talks is available for purchase as a Kindle eBook on Amazon.


Thank you, American and European Fellows, for joining this experimental program on diplomacy and pluralism at an extraordinary time of challenge in international realms. We have constructed this program in Washington and Paris to explore some of the most important issues facing us today. Our aim is to provide historical and contemporary insights from some of the very best internationally oriented observers and activists. The issues we will explore will include aspects of international law, transatlantic relations, national security, national sovereignty, NATO, the European Union, development, democratic enhancement on a global scale, environmental challenges, trafficking, treaties, doctrines, agreements, public health, corruption, authoritarian states, human rights including those of minorities, and the role of ngos, pressure groups and constituencies in the formulation of foreign policy.

We will approach international affairs by categories, often overlapping, and subject them to thematic questioning and beliefs. Each of us brings a different set of intellectual and moral formulations and theories to this enquiry. Let me suggest but a few that I think might infuse our discussions: the indefinite boundaries of human rights in international and domestic laws, the mutability of physical borders, the changing nature of governmental and organizational leadership, the role of social media in development and dissent, the contemporary primacy of national identity and loyalty, the right to intervene to thwart aggression, the limits or restraints on intervention, the role of national beliefs and goals in the international realm, the inexplicable tensions between peaceful and violent resolution of differences and the place of retribution in confronting injustice.

And one more category: pluralistic societies. This theme will challenge us throughout the program and distinguish it from others that are important in international issues. Questions about pluralism will intersect with unusual frequency over the next few weeks. This is obvious from the title of the program which has specific goals: to make our societies more effective and constructive in addressing global issues; to increase the long term representation of minorities in the fields of international relations; to recognize power and dignity in diversity based upon different cultural and historical perspectives; to recognize the importance of pluralism as it intersects and sometimes even drives international issues; to expand perspectives in graduate centers to include pluralism in the consideration of international affairs. As we have developed this program, we have discovered that in the United States, at least, pluralism does not exist as a subject in graduate international affairs education. We hope that your participation and the publication of your articles will begin to rectify this situation. Our societies will be strengthened by building on the strengths of those who bring pluralism to the international tables of discourse and power.

This novel educational approach, embodied throughout this program, will constitute a valuable and hopefully exciting exercise in discovery and balance. But it will not be simple. Take, for example, the title of the program: “Diplomacy and Diversity.” It has the advantage of alliteration, more importantly it captured your attention as signaling a different kind of study program. But the title lacks subtlety and may be misleading for all that we want to do in dealing with profoundly complex issues. Is Diversity the right word in contemporary nomenclature to define the scope of the program? Is Pluralism a better bet? This is a matter for our ongoing discussions. Beyond the wording, it is important to state at the outset that diversity does not impact or even have primacy in every aspect of international affairs. We will approach subjects in which it plays no part. We also need to be aware that a compelling interest in and experiences of pluralism, which possess powerful intellectual and emotional currents, can sometimes distort issues and inflame discussions.

But it is equally important to recognize that pluralism has often been ignored in ways that impede our efficacious engagement in international affairs, especially by favoring participation by certain groups and excluding others. Thus Humanity in Action has always placed issues of pluralism and democracy at the center of its international mission and pedagogy. Given the complexities of pluralism, it is not surprising that there are enormous tensions and uncertainties in finding resolution with differences in societies—differences that vary deeply from one country or community to another.

Diversity, ipso facto, has the force to be divisive. We can’t avoid diversity but we often don’t know how to live with it. In some places and societies pluralism is considered desirable based upon religious and political philosophies. Accommodations or adjustments to pluralism are worked out in myriad ways in national contexts that are inextricably connected to national identity. In the most ideal framework, democracy and diversity are intertwined and mutually enriching. A democracy cannot reach its full potential if minorities or majorities are treated unjustly. Of course it is possible to have a democracy in a totally homogeneous society—a rare state of existence that might define paradise for some people. But it is not possible to have a fully democratic state if individuals and groups are denied full rights and opportunities based upon race, religion, color or sexual preference.

Redressing the denial of such rights is one way to address the problems of discrimination, exclusion, powerlessness and victimization. Countless governmental and non-governmental initiatives have made advancements in the representation of minorities in public office, businesses and beyond. These initiatives are exceedingly important and long overdue. Our challenge, in this program and in Humanity in Action as a whole, is somewhat different in conceptual and personal terms. We seek to emphasize that pluralism can be at the root of international tensions and/or domestic tensions that spill into international arenas. Many decades after the Second World War, we now confront another period of intense transformation as issues of pluralism and identity, explosive or potentially explosive, ignite in one country and then reverberate internationally. We are inundated with news of political and religious strife in the Middle East, ethnic, tribal and religious conflicts in Africa and Asia and the growing economic divide between rich and poor in Europe and the United States.

Let us be clear. Today we in America and Western Europe are subject to these same powerful divisive forces. In the fall of 2013, the Tea Party was at the height of its power, seemingly in control of Congress and certainly of the Republican Party. Tea Party activists (and conservatives) shut down the government to drive drastic reductions in federal funding; particularly for certain social programs aimed at improving conditions for underprivileged groups. Other objectives involveds tightening laws against immigrants, particularly illegal immigrants, and delegitimizing the office of the Presidency under America’s first black President. After President Lyndon Johnson and his Democratic Party broke the power of segregation in the South, it took just 30 years for the Republican Party to become the dominant political force  in the South and Southwestern states. Kill Jim Crow and five decades later we get sequestration, a shutdown and the real possibility of bringing down the international financial system and America’s ability to meet its national and international responsibilities.

In Europe, extremist parties are positioned to gain significant electoral ground in many countries in the next elections. The issues are country specific but the impact transcends national borders in critical ways. Extremist parties such as Le Pen’s in France and Wilders’ in the Netherlands are campaigning to tear down certain transnational objectives of the European Union including supranational authenticity and power. Extremists target post war policies that promote human rights, diversity and liberal asylum policies. These campaigns to denigrate and diminish diversity are testing basic ideals that have dominated the Western world since the end of the Second World War.

On both sides of the Atlantic these tensions have deep and chaotic roots in the postwar period—the recovery from the devastation of defeating the Axis powers which had ruled from 1933 to 1945. For 13 years, German Fascists pulverized Europe’s democratic structures, established a deathly racial hierarchy and unleashed unprecedented violence on civilian populations. After the defeat of the Nazi state, Western Europe, under the direction of the United States and Great Britain, began its slow march back to civilization. Aggressive nationalism, fueled by racist and ethnic tensions, had to be expiated and contained in the future. The concept of genocide, developed by Raphael Lemkin, gained universal acceptance as did declarations about the primacy of human rights, liberal democratic ideals and structures.

The process of moral recovery, however, was hardly straightforward or politically clean. Democratic ideals and doctrines, restitution on a grand scale and dedication to “never again” were entangled in opposing and contradictory forces. Fighting the Soviet Empire meant employing Nazis in the new German government. Ethnic cleansing and civil wars resulted in massive expulsions in Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Baltics. In the United States, the system of Jim Crow segregation ruled in the South until the Civil Rights movement finally forced the federal government to include African Americans in American democracy and the so-called “American dream.” The irony of these developments is the United States triumphed in 1945 in the name of democracy even as it denied its black population its most basic rights and opportunities. At the same time, Europe signed onto pluralism (the ideal or concept thereof ) through relatively homogeneous societies in Western Europe and heterogeneous societies in Eastern and Central Europe ruled by dictators and totalitarian regimes.

Thus there is a direct link that ties the decisions and policies of the post-WWII period to the issues and challenges we will be discussing during this program. In developing these thoughts about connecting past to present I have relied heavily upon two historical studies: Keith Lowe’s Savage Continent and Ira Katznelson’s Fear Itself. Lowe’s book deals with Europe’s broken states and the ethnic and national groups that sought, from 1945 to 1949, to rebuild their societies through a toxic mix of new governments, political systems, revenge and violence.

The immediate postwar period,” he writes, “is one of the most important times in our recent history. If the Second World War destroyed the old continent, then its immediate aftermath was the protean chaos out of which the new Europe was formed. It was during this violent, vengeful time that many of our hopes, aspirations, prejudices and resentments first took shape. Anyone who truly wants to understand Europe as it is today must first understand what occurred during this crucial formative period. There is no value in shying away from difficult or sensitive themes, since these are the very building blocks upon which the modern Europe has been built. (1)

Katznelson makes the same claim of causation and continuity in his book Fear Itself: the New Deal and the Origins of Our Time. The history of the New Deal, he maintains, should be understood in its global scale. He identifies three major challenges which he maintains were the sources of profound fear that threatened America’s democratic system. The first was the fear that liberal democracy in America and Great Britain might not prevail over dictators and totalitarian governments in Germany and the Soviet Union (despite the alliance with Stalin during the war). The second challenge involved building a vast military and security state for fortress America, first against the Axis powers and then to oppose the Russian empire in the hazardous nuclear world. And finally the third challenge: the power of Congressional Southern Democrats who resisted any challenge to segregation in the South. In fighting Germany and then the Soviet Union, Presidents Roosevelt and Truman mobilized the ideology of American democratic ideals and mission. But every international initiative—every one requiring Congressional support—was gained at the price of denying such ideals to the African American population—and not just in the South.

“Placing American developments within a broader global context I ascribe to the New Deal an import almost on a par with that of the French Revolution. It becomes here not merely an important event in the history of the United States but the most important twentieth-century testing ground for representative democracy in an age of mass politics.” Katznelson explains further: “Although the United States provided the globe’s only major example of a liberal democracy successfully experimenting and resisting radical tyranny, it did not—indeed, could not—remain unaffected by its associations with totalitarian governments or domestic racism.” (2)

Keeping in mind the impact of the Second World War and subsequent years of recovery in Europe, and America’s reckoning with Jim Crow and continuing discrimination, let us begin to discover and probe the broad and complex intersections of domestic and international policies on current domestic and international actions and objectives. We deeply hope this experiment will deepen your understanding of and strengthen your commitments to expanding diversity in international affairs. We intend to be eclectic in pursuing different topics; we aim to be collaborative in inquiry and output; and we aspire to elevate pluralism to a respected place—well beyond the way it is now perceived and valued—in the conduct of international affairs. All of this in one month! And, finally, we hope to reinforce  the words of the great scientist Dr. Jacob Bronokwski who maintained that human knowledge should be gained through a “play of tolerance” guided by the sense that we are engaged in “an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty.”


•     •     • 

About the Author

Judith S. Goldstein founded Humanity in Action in 1997 and has served as its Executive Director ever since. Under Judith’s leadership, Humanity in Action has organized educational programs on international affairs, diversity and human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Poland, the Netherlands and the United States. She received her Ph.D in history from Columbia University and was a Woodrow Wilson Scholar for her MA studies. Judith has written several books and articles about European and American history, art and landscape architecture. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and several boards and advisory groups.


Goldstein, Judith S. "Religion and Human Rights in Europe." In Humanity in Action: Collected Essays and Talks, 60-64. New York: Humanity in Action Press, 2014.


1. Lowe, Keith, Savage Continent, p. 376.

2. Katznelson, Ira, Fear Itself: the New Deal and the Origins of Our Time, p.9.

Explore More »

Share this Article

About This Article


New York, NY, United States


Browse all content