Colloquium: Tolerance as an Essential Liberal Virtue

My talk provides a brief conceptual analysis of the classical concept of tolerance. I argue that classical negative tolerance should still been seen by liberals as an essential virtue of individual citizens in a just liberal democracy. This is especially so in the increasingly culturally pluralistic societies of today’s Europe with their well-known culturally loaded conflicts over for example novels and cartoons. In particular, I shall attempt to establish that the classical negative conception of tolerance should not be superseded by a more positive conception according to which tolerance should be seen as ‘recognition’ or a positive embrace of diversity, as recently argued by some philosophers (e.g. Elisabetta Galeotti). Rather, radical diversity and strong disagreement on value-issues are irreducible features of modern pluralistic and free societies. As a consequence, liberals ought – in accordance with the historical core of liberalism – to recommend that citizens learn to live with this fact and nurture an ability to put up with (within the usual liberal limits) beliefs, expressions of beliefs and practices that they strongly disapprove of. The virtue of classical negative tolerance should thus be seen by liberals as indispensable for realizing the goal of a free, just and stable society in today’s circumstances of cultural pluralism.