Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Karl Popper on not tolerating intolerance

When the Soviet Union collapsed it seemed that liberal philosophers who came to prominence in the Cold War years, such as Karl Popper and Isaiah Berlin, would go permanently out of fashion.

But the rise of the far right across Europe, and the election of Donald Trump in the US, suggest that we can learn from thinkers who understood tyrannies of right and left.

Here is Karl Popper talking about the paradox of tolerance. The passage comes from volume 1 of The Open Society and its Enemies:
The so-called paradox of freedom is the argument that freedom in the sense of absence of any constraining control must lead to very great restraint, since it makes the bully free to enslave the meek. The idea is, in a slightly different form, and with very different tendency, clearly expressed in Plato. 
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.


Guido Fawkes said...

That's why I backed Pinochet against the communist subversives.

Jonathan Calder said...

If you are citing Popper as a reason for supporting a Fascist regime, you have not understood his ideas.

wolfi said...

I learned it in school in Germany - almost 50 years ago and still follow that maxim:

Keine Toleranz für die Feinde der Toleranz!

No tolerance for the enemies of tolerance!

Thanks, Jonathan!