Tolerance of intolerance

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Tolerance of intolerance (aka the paradox of tolerance) is the idea of tolerating ideas and actions which are themselves intolerant. It is usually expressed in other forms, most commonly in defense of intolerant forms of religion and other right wing causes. It is generally a form of performative leftism, where the progressive ideal of "tolerance" is being used to shield anti-left ideas from criticism.


While it may sound like scoring a point to accuse someone of being intolerant of X, if the X is itself an intolerant view, then tolerating it would actually be an act of passive intolerance, while not tolerating it actually supports the goals of tolerance. "Being intolerant of intolerance" does not promote intolerance any more than "taking trash to the trash can" promotes littering. Wording it more precisely (e.g. "We should not be willing to accept arbitrary exclusionism." or "We must physically resist attempts to hurt people for no good reason.") easily eliminates the apparent contradiction.

The idea this phrase attempts to propagate is, therefore, essentially a form of trolling, in that it's promoting intolerance while hiding behind an argument that, on the surface, seems to be in support of tolerance.


While the idea that one should tolerate intolerance is a sort of troll concept, "tolerance of intolerance" is not itself a troll phrase since it is generally intended to expose the essential trolling nature of arguments which are based upon it by making its logical flaw more glaring. Trolls rarely argue explicitly for a need to be "tolerant of intolerance", since that would more or less give the game away, although an implicit argument for "tolerance of intolerant people" has been spotted in the wild.


The basic argument that we should be more tolerant of intolerant people lest we behave intolerantly can be boiled down to this exchange[1]:

A: You must accept that I have a right to hit you for no reason, or I'll hit you.
B: No, I won't accept that. We should discuss our differences, not hit each other.
A: Okay, how about let's compromise -- you accept that I have a right to hit you sometimes for no reason. If you don't, then I'll hit you.
B: No, I don't accept that you ever have the right to hit me.
A: So if I try to hit you, you'll physically try to stop me?
B: Yes, I will.
A: You realize that means we'd be fighting.
B: Yes, I accept that.
A: You just want to settle everything with violence, don't you. You won't even compromise!





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  1. 2014-08-29 adapted from a posting on Google+