The Idea of America: Do you have a “democratic mind”?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series The Idea of America

CLICK this Colonial Williamsburg graphic to learn more about the group’s educational program.

What’s a democratic mind?

It’s not an allegiance to a particular political party. It’s “the ability to hold, concurrently, two seemingly contradictory ideals and see both as valuable and essential,” write the authors of The Idea of America (IOA). Do you agree?

The contradictory ideals are the value tension we’ve considered all week. After introducing The Colonial Williamsburg Idea of America project, we considered law vs. ethics, freedom vs. equality, and common wealth vs. private wealth. Today, we conclude with the fourth tension—unity vs. diversity—and update you on plans to bring The Idea of America to thousands of Americans across the country.

Unity is the shared sense that we are one nation.

Diversity is the celebration of all our differences—“not just race and ethnicity and gender,” write the IOA authors, “but of values, beliefs, and thoughts … The quest for cultural unity is inconsistent with democracy if it does not also recognize the rich diversity of individuals.”

The tension between unity and diversity reveals itself in many ways that have been covered on immigration, religious freedom, same-sex marriage, and the changing composition of the population—just to name a few.


The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is developing a program for adults based on the Idea of America project. The Foundation has a rich tradition of educational programs, many aimed at elementary, middle school, and high school students. Now, the Foundation is developed workshops for adults with the goal of over 1,000 workshops around the country. The goal is to wrestle with the value tensions—and hone the democratic mind.

Do you agree or disagree that the quest for cultural unity is inconsistent with democracy?
Which of the four value tensions is the most challenging?
Do you have a “democratic mind”?

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