The paradox of tolerance

By August 18, 2017US Politics

The paradox of tolerance was first described by Karl Popper in 1945 in his book ‘the Open Society and its Enemies’1. It states that if a society is tolerant without limit, their ability to be tolerant will eventually be destroyed by the intolerant. Thus, in order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be, paradoxically, intolerant of intolerance. This paradox is important in the discussion of the boundaries set on the freedom of speech. It also seems contradictory to extend freedom of speech to extremists who would ruthlessly suppress the speech of those with whom they disagree2.

That is why the idiot Trump, in not coming down on the neo-Nazis like a ton of bricks as numerous other people have done, including many in his own party, clearly demonstrates that he is bereft of any moral compass. To indicate that there is some moral equivalence between neo-nazis and anti-fascists is beyond repugnant. Neo-nazis want to discriminate against people solely based on the colour of their skin or their religious belief. There can be no moral equivalence with that repugnant suggestion because it is immoral. My parents’ generation fought a war against such repugnance between 1939 and 1945, in which 60 million people died, so that atrocities like the Rape of Nanjing, Belsen, Auschwitz, Treblinka and Sobibor would never happen again. Such despicable acts can never ever be allowed to happen again.

If, because of people like Trump, neo-nazis gain considerably more power than currently, either in the US or elsewhere, then we are doomed to go through this horror again. It is heartening to see that the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces have individually stated their abhorrence of racism, extremism or hatred, and that these have no place in the armed forces3.

It has always been the case in western democracies that the civilian politicians make policy and direct how the armed forces, if required, carry them out. This has always been in part for fear of the armed forces resorting to armed force too readily. It demonstrates in what a parlous state is politics in the US, when the sensible, restrained people are the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and former generals Mattis, Kelly and McMaster.


  1. Popper, K., 1945. The Open Society and its Enemies, volume 1: the spell of Plato. Routledge, London.

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