Paradox of Tolerance

Intolerance by Riber Hansson

The tolerance paradox arises from a problem that a tolerant person might be antagonistic toward intolerance, hence intolerant of it. The tolerant individual would then be by definition intolerant of intolerance. American political philosopher Michael Walzer asks ‘Should we tolerate the intolerant?’ He notes that most minority religious groups who are the beneficiaries of tolerance are themselves intolerant, at least in some respects. In a tolerant regime, such people may learn to tolerate, or at least to behave ‘as if they possessed this virtue.’ Philosopher Karl Popper asserted, in ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies Vol. 1,’ that we are warranted in refusing to tolerate intolerance.

However, philosopher John Rawls concludes in ‘A Theory of Justice’ that a just society must tolerate the intolerant, for otherwise, the society would then itself be intolerant, and thus unjust. But, Rawls also insists, like Popper, that society has a reasonable right of self-preservation that supersedes the principle of tolerance: ‘While an intolerant sect does not itself have title to complain of intolerance, its freedom should be restricted only when the tolerant sincerely and with reason believe that their own security and that of the institutions of liberty are in danger.’

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