The Paradox of Tolerance

January 09, 2021

Can a tolerant society tolerate intolerance?

According to the philosopher Karl Popper, the Paradox of Tolerance implies the answer is no.

This is a paradox! How can the society in question be tolerant if one of its tenets is a specific mode of intolerance? Quite simply, tolerance without intolerance leads to the annihilation of tolerance.

If society tolerates intolerance, then there are no barriers to its spread. Intolerance will eventually grow and the tolerant will be unable to push back. Over time, this expansion of intolerance leads to the extinguishing of tolerance. Therefore, for a society to remain tolerant, it must suppress intolerance.

This however, does not imply that all intolerant thoughts must be silenced, but that society must reserve the right to put down any movement that poses a threat to tolerance.

This censorship is ultimately at odds with freedom of speech, and we must ask how much free speech should be allowed and protected?

After the last decade, it's obvious unlimited free speech has some gnarly consequences. Genocide in Myanmar. The revitalization of white supremacy and Neo-Nazism. Foreign government Psy Ops on social media. The list continues.

The idea of restricting unlimited free speech is not a twenty-first century discovery. We've agreed that it's not ok to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater for over a century now, yet freedom of speech and freedom of thought are core principles of Western society.

How can we keep the baby and get rid of the bathwater? Let's start by eliminating intolerance.


© 2020 Connor Daly