Toleration of the Intolerant

Should the tolerant tolerate the intolerant?

John Rawls answers in A Theory of Justice:

"Several questions should be distinguished. First, there is the question whether an intolerant sect has any title to complain if it is not tolerated; second, under what conditions tolerant sects have a right not to tolerate those which are intolerant; and last, when they have the right not to tolerate them, for what ends it should be exercised."

"Beginning with the first question, it seems that an intolerant sect has no title to complain when it is denied an equal liberty. At least this follows if it is assumed that one has no title to object to the conduct of others that is in accordance with principles one would use in similar circumstances to justify one's actions toward them. A person's right to complain is limited to violations of principles he acknowledges himself."

"Let us suppose, then, that an intolerant sect has no title to complain of intolerance. We still cannot say that tolerant sects have the right to suppress them... For justice is infringed whenever equal liberty is denied without sufficient reason."

"Suppose that, in some way or other, an intolerant sect comes to exist within a well-ordered society accepting the two principles of justice. How are the citizens of this society to act in regard to it? Now certainly they should not suppress it simply because the members of the intolerant sect could not complain were they to do so. Rather, since a just constitution exists, all citizens have a natural duty of justice to uphold it. We are not released from this duty whenever others are disposed to act unjustly. A more stringent condition is required: there must be some considerable risks to our own legitimate interests. Thus just citizens should strive to preserve the constitution with all its equal liberties as long as liberty itself and their own freedom are not in danger."

"The conclusion, then, is that while an intolerant sect does not itself have title to complain of intolerance, its freedom should be restricted only when the tolerant sincerely and with reason believe that their own security and that of the institutions of liberty are in danger. The tolerant should curb the intolerant only in this case. The leading principle is to establish a just constitution with the liberties of equal citizenship. The just should be guided by the principles of justice and not by the fact that the unjust cannot complain."


Harshad mehta said…
Tolerant & Intolerant are relative words.

Tolerant doesn't mean tolerant to anything and everything. They have right to be intolerant to what hurts. And who decides what hurts? I think one who is getting hurt.

Thought provoking post. Thanks.