Culture Wars/Current Controversies

How Not to Resolve the Paradox of Tolerance

The New Discourses Podcast with James Lindsay, Episode 17 Repressive Tolerance Series, Part 1 of 4 We live in a crazy world today that seems to have gone off the rails. That’s because it is being driven by a broken logic, and, for all the flaws on the right, that broken logic is centered in the no-longer-tolerant left. The logic of the left today is overwhelmingly rooted in a single essay published in 1965 by the neo-Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse. That essay is “Repressive Tolerance” (…). The thesis statement of this essay can be boiled down to “movements from the left must be extended tolerance, even when they are violent, while movements from the right must not be tolerated, including suppressing them by violence.” This asymmetric ethic has been the heart and soul of left politics in the West since the 1960s, and we’re living in the fruit of that catastrophe now. To help people understand this vitally important and intrinsically totalitarian essay and its relevance to our present moment, James Lindsay walks the listener through Marcuse’s “Repressive Tolerance” in a four-part lecture series. In this series, he reads the essay in full and attempts to make clear how it is the logic underlying the present moment. The goal is to explain the essay as Marcuse would have understood it, in his own context, and to show how his own logic has become dominant and the monster that he believed he was fighting. In the first part, Lindsay begins by framing the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory to give background on Marcuse. He also explains that Marcuse seems to be attempting to give a solution to Karl Popper’s famous “Paradox of Tolerance,” which was provided as an aside in his 1945 book The Open Society and Its Enemies, which analyzed how fascism can arise and overtake liberal societies. Marcuse’s answer to this conundrum is that a “discriminating tolerance,” a “liberating tolerance,” must be practiced that offers favoritism to the left and actively suppresses the right, as he defines them (from a perspective of Critical Theory). Join Lindsay as he contextualizes and then brings the first portion of this essay to life, and stay tuned for Parts 2, 3, and 4 to come!

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