What is the best way to manage unlike human capacities in the name of human progress and improvement? This deceptively simple question has preoccupied Western political modernity, especially in the United States. The positive connotations often adhering to the keyword “diversity”—a term commonly used to reference human differences broadly considered—arise from its importance in high-status discourses that have sought to discern the best management of human differences, including eighteenth-century liberal political philosophy, nineteenth- and twentieth-century natural science (especially the so-called race sciences), and twentieth- and twenty-first-century law and education policy. In contrast, research in American studies and cultural studies has come to look on the endeavor of managing human differences in a suspicious light (Ferguson 2012). It recognizes that ideologies of progress and development from Manifest Destiny to multiculturalism have consistently, and sometimes in surprising ways, divided people into good (desirable) and bad (undesirable) forms of human diversity, creating hierarchies that evaluate groups as more or less civilized, capable, advanced, or valuable according to a shifting catalogue of criteria (Horsman 1981; Cacho 2012; Melamed 2011). This research suggests that these attempts to divide humanity are symptomatic of a fundamental contradiction between political democracy, which defines citizens as equal and working...

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