Healthy skepticism has to take into account intolerance, which is an important aspect of free speech. My dear friend and colleague Christian Szurko reminded me of Karl Popper’s paradox of tolerance the other day.
Karl Popper, author of The Open Society and its Enemies, pointed out that if there are no limits on a society’s tolerance, its ability to be tolerant will eventually be destroyed by the intolerant. Popper’s paradoxical conclusion was that to maintain a tolerant society, we must be intolerant of intolerance.
I agree wholeheartedly: if we are to have freedom of belief, we must also have freedom of disbelief. That means sketching in the fine line between hate speech and straightforward disagreement. If people are racist, sexist or otherwise intolerant, we should make our disagreement known, but in a tolerant way. Which is to say, we should disagree agreeably, and simply tell the intolerant person that we disagree. It isn’t necessary to punish them for their view, and it is best to discuss their intolerance, but do please at least show that you don’t agree!
As Isaiah Berlin said: “liberty for wolves is death for sheep”. We must assert our intolerance of intolerance, if we are to avoid becoming food for the wolves.
What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Jon’s new book? Do you have a story about intolerance that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!