Tolerance and Intolerance: A Blast from the Past

Not one word needs to be changed.

So there’s this going around:

popper paradox

A popular interpretation of this is that it allows the use of force to shut down people who aren’t using force but simply engaging in speech that the person finds objectionable.  Some of the common expressions of this is “bash the fash” and “punch a Nazi”. In neither case do they actually mean folk rounding up minorities or other “undesireables” and sending them to concentration camps or engaging in any other actual violence or use of force.  No, they mean people who simply speak in ways they find objectionable–arguing in favor of policies they don’t like or voting for and speaking in favor of politicians to whom they object.

When you use force to shut down others speech, however repugnant you may find that speech to be, you aren’t resisting intolerance.  You are the intolerance that needs to be resisted.

“But!” Some will say. “Free speech is limited!”

And, to a very limited extent that is true.  There are some very narrowly defined limitations on free speech.  We have slander and libel laws where speech (or print) that is

  1. defamatory
  2. false
  3. made knowing it is false (or with “reckless disregard for the truth”)

is illegal.  We also have laws against incitement to riot and similar laws which basically requires a situation where ones speech (it doesn’t only apply to speech, but speech is what we’re interested in here) can reasonable be expected to lead directly to violence.

Now take a look at who are making those kind of statements?  Going to a protest with a lot of angry people saying “Bash the fash” or “Punch a Nazi”?  Um, go read the preceding paragraph again.

History has seen any number of atrocities.  People by and large don’t commit atrocities because they think they’re evil.  They commit atrocities because they think the people they are slaughtering are evil.  The leaders of such movements may be coldly cynical in whipping up a frenzy for their own ends, but they do it by convincing the frenzied that the targets of that frenzy deserve it.

Using violence to shut down opposing ideas is the roadway to atrocity.  It’s broad and well-paved, with a downward slope that makes the trip really, really easy.  And with every step down that road it becomes harder to turn around because turning around would require admitting that you are the villain in the piece–an admission few have the moral courage to make.

As always, the proper response to odious speech is more speech.  If someone speaks out in favor of Nazi values, or Communist values, or Libertarian values, or whatever values you find most objectionable, speak out.  Say why their views are repugnant and why people should follow yours instead.

Don’t use violence to shut down opposing views.  All you do is show the world that you do not trust your own arguments.

And if you don’t trust them, then why in the world should I?

3 thoughts on “Tolerance and Intolerance: A Blast from the Past”

  1. If you resort to violence as a response to an argument, it’s not that you /don’t/ /trust/ your argument; it’s that you /have/ /no/ /argument/ in the first place. My old man was an excellent example of this – and also of the principle, “He who speaks loudest has the least to say.”


    1. Oh, they often believe they have one, but, as Thomas Sowell said, “The problem isn’t that Johnny can’t read. It’s not even that Johnny can’t think. It’s that Johnny doesn’t know what thinking is. He confuses it with feeling.”


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