Tag Archive: tolerance

A whiff of Pangloss

Democracies have serious drawbacks. They certainly are not better than they ought to be. But corruption can occur under any kind of government. And I think that every serious student of history will agree, upon consideration, that our Western democracies are not only the most prosperous societies in history – that is important, but not so very important – but the freest, the most tolerant, and the least repressive large societies of which we have historical knowledge.

I have said this before, of course. It would be almost criminal not to say it if one believes it. One must fight those who make so many young people unhappy by telling them that we live in a terrible world, in a kind of capitalist hell. The truth is that we live in a wonderful world, in a beautiful world, and in an astonishingly free and open society. Of course it is fashionable, it is expected, and it is almost demanded from a Western intellectual to say the opposite, to lament loudly about the world we live in, about our social ills, about the inherent injustice of our society, and especially about the alleged terrible inequalities, and the impending day of reckoning.

I do not think that any of this is true. It is true that there are a people who are very rich. But what does it matter to me or to you? It is most certainly not true that anybody suffers because a few are very rich, not to mention that quite a few of the few who are rich spend much of their money on such things as founding universities and lectureships and on scholarships and cancer research.

The truth is that Western democracies are the only societies in which there is much freedom, much welfare, and much equality before the law. Of course, our society is very far from perfect. There is much misuse of drugs, of tobacco, and of alcohol. [335]

The invention of enemies

…modern totalitarianism appears to have imperialist tendencies. But this imperialism has no element of a tolerant uni­versalism, and the world-wide ambitions of the modern totalitarians are imposed upon them, as it were, against their will. Two factors are responsible for this. The first is the general tendency of all tyrannies to justify their existence by saving the state (or the people) from its enemies—a tendency which must lead, whenever the old enemies have been successfully subdued, to the creation or invention of new ones. [ch. 10, 199]

Niceness is the enemy of fairness

The problem, of course, is that niceness is overrated as a virtue. Many cultures are nice. The Southern antebellum aris­tocracy was marvellously well-mannered; its members left tasteful calling cards, entertained gracefully, and conducted their personal affairs with the utmost discretion. But they had few other virtues; in fact, it was the practice of niceness that helped to keep other values, such as fairness, at bay. Fairness sometimes requires that surfaces be disturbed, that patterns of cordiality be broken, and that people, rudely and abruptly, be removed from their place. Niceness is the enemy of fairness.

Tolerating your enemies

Der verfassungsgeschichtliche Standort des Grundgesetzes ergibt sich daraus, daß es unmittelbar nach der – zudem nur durch Einwirkung äußerer Gewalten ermöglichten – Vernichtung eines totalitären Staatssystems eine freiheitliche Ordnung erst wieder einzurichten hatte. Die Haltung des Grundgesetzes zu den politischen Parteien – wie überhaupt die von ihm verwirklichte spezifische Ausformung der freiheitlichen Demokratie – ist nur verständlich auf dem Hinter­grund der Erfahrungen des Kampfes mit diesem totalitären System. Der Einbau wirksamer rechtlicher Sicherungen dagegen, daß solche politischen Richtungen jemals wieder Einfluß auf den Staat gewinnen könnten, beherrschte das Denken des Verfassungsgebers. Wenn das Grundgesetz so einerseits noch der traditionellen freiheitlich-demokra­tischen Linie folgt, die den politischen Parteien gegenüber grundsätzliche Toleranz fordert, so geht es doch nicht mehr so weit, aus bloßer Unparteilichkeit auf die Aufstellung und den Schutz eines eigenen Wertsystems überhaupt zu ver­zichten. Es nimmt aus dem Pluralismus von Zielen und Wertungen, die in den politischen Parteien Gestalt gewonnen haben, gewisse Grundprinzipien der Staatsgestaltung heraus, die, wenn sie einmal auf demokratische Weise gebilligt sind, als absolute Werte anerkannt und deshalb entschlossen gegen alle Angriffe verteidigt werden sollen; soweit zum Zwecke dieser Verteidigung Einschränkungen der politischen Betätigungsfreiheit der Gegner erforderlich sind, werden sie in Kauf genommen. Das Grundgesetz hat also bewußt den Versuch einer Synthese zwischen dem Prinzip der Toleranz gegenüber allen politischen Auffassungen und dem Bekenntnis zu gewissen unantastbaren Grundwerten der Staatsordnung unternommen. Art. 21 Abs. 2 GG steht somit nicht mit einem Grundprinzip der Verfassung in Wider­spruch; er ist Ausdruck des bewußten verfassungspolitischen Willens zur Lösung eines Grenzproblems der freiheit­lichen demokratischen Staatsordnung, Niederschlag der Erfahrungen eines Verfassungsgebers, der in einer bestimm­ten historischen Situation das Prinzip der Neutralität des Staates gegenüber den politischen Parteien nicht mehr rein verwirklichen zu dürfen glaubte, Bekenntnis zu einer – in diesem Sinne – „streitbaren Demokratie“.

The right not to tolerate the intolerant

Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.—In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal. [ch. 7, n4]

Respecting others’ opinions

The aim in an open society is not to put up with ideas with which we disagree. It is to take them seriously and to criticize them—not necessarily as a way of condemning them, but as a way of trying to understand them, and of testing whether or not they are true, and learning from them, even if learning from them means learning how and where they go wrong.

This is what Popper meant when he said that open society is ‘based on the idea of not merely tolerating dissenting opinions but respecting them.’ Open society is based on respect for other people, for their freedom and autonomy as rational agents—or, as Kant would have put it, for people as ends in themselves. It is not that we regard their ideas as evils that we have to tolerate for civility’s sake. And it is not even that we regard them as the ideas of other people who have just as much right to ideas as ourselves. That, at best, would be paternalism. And it would have nothing at all to do with a recognition of our own fallibility. Respect, on the contrary, means that we take the dissenting opinions of others seriously, and that we regard them as possibly true. It means, in fact, that we treat them as potentially our own—since we want to discover the truth and since we recognize that we may be in error—and it means, for this reason, that we try to do everything in our power to criticize them and to show that they are false. [33]

Tolerance vs. respect

Tolerance leads to our allowing differences to exist. But respect leads to our trying to learn from them. And here, the attempt to learn from beliefs that differ from our own may well conflict with the kind of negative freedom for which toler­ance is a necessary condition. I do not, in an open society, ask to be left alone in the security of my own beliefs. And I do not leave others alone in the security of theirs. I try, on the contray, to improve my situation by learning from others and from what they believe. This is not tolerance. It is respect. And I would even say that the ideal of open society is more closely aligned to positive freedom that it is to negative freedom … . [31-2]

The values of science

Dissent is the mark of freedom. And as originality and independence are private needs for the existence of a science, so dissent and freedom are its public needs. No one can be a scientist, even in private, if he does not have inde­pendence of observation and of thought. But if in addition science is to become effective as a public practice, it must go further; it must protect independence. The safeguards which it must offer are patent: free inquiry, free thought, free speech, tolerance. These values are so familiar to us, yawning our way through political perorations, that they seem self-evident. But they are self-evident, that is, they are logical needs, only where men are committed to explore the truth: in a scientific society. [70-1]