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Social issues present choices. Choices have consequences. Virtually nowhere is this more apparent than in the field of racial and ethnic group relations, whose outcomes beat heavily on the peace, tranquility, and welfare of a society's citizens--indeed, as we have recently been reminded by events in the former Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union, even on a society's ability to avoid political dissolution and civil war. While the United States does not appear to be in imminent danger of undergoing these extreme upheavals (although Canada wrestles palpably with the possibility of political breakup), racial and ethnic matters are clearly among the most consequential issues in the United States, and we are confronted daily in this area with policy choices, swirling fervent debate, and contrasting visions of future possibilities. I am convinced that this debate can be most cogently encapsulated in careful consideration of two types of social arrangements, which, in my book The Scope of Sociology, I have called "liberal pluralism" and "corporate pluralism."
The momentous 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, and its companion case, Bolling v. Sharpe, created the conditions for the achievement of liberal pluralism in the United States. The importance of these cases cannot be overestimated. Their combined impact was to overturn the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson doctrine of "separate but equal" and thus to take all levels of U.S. government out of the business of discrimination on the basis of racial criteria. The Brown case, relying on the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, dealt with state (and thus, also, county and city) governments, and the Bolling case dealt with the federal government on the basis of the Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment. The specific target was public education, but the implications extended to any areas that depended in any way on the support of state, federal, or local laws or on executive decrees.
These decisions created the legal framework of a society in which no arm of government can be used to discriminate against any person because of racial and ethnic considerations and in which choices of association and the development of communal institutions are left to the private realm and the free and unhampered actions of individuals. In such a society, government agencies such as "Fair Employment Practices Commissions" may be created to oversee the prevention of discrimination in areas like employment and housing on an individual basis but not to impose group-oriented results. It is a color-blind society in which the development or maintenance of ethnically or racially mixed communal …