Deconstructing the tolerance paradox: why Conservatives’ go-to line is garbage.

Last night, Donald Trump cancelled his Chicago rally after protesters showed up en masse to, well, protest.


Now, first off, it should be said that Trump’s official reason for cancelling the rally appears to be a lie (he didn’t meet with law enforcement until after he decided to cancel, and they never advised him to do so).

Second, it made reading Twitter last night really interesting. See, my social anxiety prevents me from joining in protests, so I do what I can: I watch from the sidelines in awe of those doing such great work.

In response to the protests, I saw two memes arise from the conservative side of the Twitter conversation. I’d like to tackle those.

1. Not tolerating intolerance is in itself intolerance.

One of the go-to memes to arise from the cancellation was the tired line trotted out by right wingers: “heh heh I though liberals were supposed to be tolerant. Doesn’t look like tolerance to me!”

“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.” — Karl Popper

This demand that tolerance of intolerance be afforded in all situations is known as the paradox of tolerance.

In Karl Popper’s 1945 “The Open Societies and Its Enemies,” the philosopher prescribes a course of action to take in situations where people urge us to tolerate intolerance: don’t.

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.”

In other words, if a demand for unlimited tolerance suggests that we need to tolerate the most awful ideas and acts that occur within society (specifically, those that oppress others), we’re providing a tacit endorsement of those policies.

I tend to agree with Popper’s philosophy on the matter. When what we’re asked to tolerate comes at the expense of somebody else’s existence or well-being (for example, ideas that threaten the existence of people on the basis of age, race, gender identity, sex, national origin, race, religion, or disability), showing tolerance for such ideas is in itself deadly

2. Trump’s “free speech” was violated.

Tempting as it may be to call an event Trump cancelled a violation of free speech, it simply isn’t. In reality, protesters were exercising their own free speech.

Nobody stopped Trump’s brigade of modern fascists from expressing free speech. Nobody stopped Trump’s own free speech.

But according to the man who wants to “open up our libel laws” and effectively dismantle the First Amendment, his Constitutionally-protected rights had been violated.

Now, of course, given that the people protesting were not the government, they didn’t interfere with anybody’s rights. In fact, the right to speak up in dissent is part of what makes the First Amendment so important. It’s sad that a man who wants to run the country can’t grasp these 9th grade level civics lesson.

Maybe he needs to check out that much-shared XKCD comic:

Hope that clears it up fer ya.

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