The paradox of tolerance- modern liberalism and the progressive movement.

This ended up being more in-depth than I had originally intended. If you have not already, start here for the beginning of this exploration.

I tried to give a basic overview of the paradox of tolerance in the first section of this, mentioning that the idea was alive and well with the rise of modern liberalism. Here we will briefly explore that rise and how it has contributed to the paradox of tolerance.

Beginning in the early 1900’s, modern liberalism (they referred to themselves as “progressives”) rallied behind Republicans such as Theodore Roosevelt, and Democrats such as Woodrow Wilson and William Jennings Bryant to fight corruption, corporations and to propose and push for government solutions to social and economic problems. This was a drastic departure from the prevailing thought before them, which for identification purposes we will call classical liberalism, that we will explore in the future. The movement then, and continuing into today, sought to combine civil liberties and equality while trying to support both a free market and a planed economy. Today you would see this view point expressed by both moderate Republicans and Democrats. Think both Joe Donelly of Indiana and John McCain of Arizona as a couple of examples. While they disagree on various points in how to reach the goal, those who are carrying the mantle of modern liberalism, whether Democrat or Republican, are in essence trying to do the same things. Public spending (tax dollars) are encouraged for education, health care, welfare programs, and the like. It expands the role of government in daily life.

Social Justice is a big buzzword these days and it is important to understand that what we tend to think of as social justice now differs a great deal than it has in the past. In the past it had more to do with an individual fulfilling their part in a society and in return receiving their due from society. In a more modern understanding it has come to deal with social safety nets, the distribution of wealth, economic justice,etc. I mention it because it will surely come into play now, and later, in this exploration.

A good explanation of the modern liberal is given by Paul Krugman in ‘The Conscience of a Liberal’
“I believe in a relatively equal society, supported by institutions that limit extremes of wealth and poverty. I believe in democracy, civil liberties, and the rule of law. That makes me a liberal, and I’m proud of it.”

Of course civil liberties have come to mean something very different also. In the modern setting, civil liberties, often called civil rights have no distinctions from political rights or the equal protection of law. They have become one and the same due to a combination of law and public opinion, but that is probably another blog in and of itself. In short, we have Roosevelt’s New nationalism, Wilson’s New Freedom, FDR’s New Deal, Truman’s Fair Deal, Kennedy’s New Frontier and Johnson’s Great Society. All of these are examples of modern liberalism. Modern liberals constitutionally would say that we need to understand what the constitution meant when it was written, then apply that to a modern setting, even if some principles are tweaked or changed.

From this modern liberalism, we have a branch, very popular today, called social liberalism. The basis for this political school of thought is that individual liberty requires an amount of social justice. Social liberalism believes that the role of government includes an increased role in healthcare, poverty, etc. It teaches that the good of the community is required for the freedom of the individual. From the group to the one. This is the predominate form of liberalism seen just after WW II in the nation. I want to note that a good many social liberals maintain a very conservative economic policy.

The progressive movement today hardly resembles Roosevelt’s progressive movement. The two are so dissimilar that I wanted to mention it simply so they are not confused. The modern progressive movement can be seen as calling for government to take measures, often extreme measures, to end the income gap, protect the environment, provide safety through gun control, etc. Bernie Sanders is a good example of a modern progressive. In many ways, Former President Obama was as well.

So, finally to the tolerance paradox. What does all of this have to do with anything? Let us work backward. Progressives demand an an almost cult adherence to their policies by and large, or there will be severe, at least verbally severe, consequences. We see this politically by much of the rhetoric of say a Nancy Pelosi. As an example, I will quote her from Morning Joe on MSNBC
Question: But how do Democrats who have the right policies economically. in their minds, how do they reconnect with a middle America who feels like sometimes they are looked down upon because of their faith or their values?
Pelosi Answer: Well, thank you for asking that question because the cultural issue, and especially when it comes to rural America, the isolation that some people feel there, plus they don’t think that Democrats are people of faith, when the fact is that we are. And I say, this will be a little not in keeping with the spirit of the day of unity, but I say they pray in church on Sunday and prey on people the rest of the week, and while we’re doing the Lord’s work by ministering to the needs of God’s creation they are ignoring those needs which is to dishonor the God who made them.

To at least this progressive, and it is the attitude of many more, they are doing God’s work, or at the very least the good work. No one else is. They are misguided. This is a prime example of the tolerance paradox. She, and those similar to her, have made a simple right or wrong choice, and for the sake of protecting that choice, for the good of us all of course, anything contrary to it must not be tolerated. As she mentioned God, we now have one of the many intersections of faith and politics in our country. Look at her words carefully. Middle America, at least those who did not vote her way, are dishonoring God. Now one can argue that this is not the majority social viewpoint, but she believes it is and thus acts using the paradox of tolerance to try and shut down such thoughts and actions. Notice the moral superiority here. It is essential for the tolerance of paradox. Those who are tolerant, must be morally superior in their views in order to shout down those who are, by their standard,  intolerant. The justification for her saying such things will undoubtedly be that is her opinion so it is ok…which is terribly funny because undoubtedly a contrary opinion to hers will be mercilessly assaulted by the very same who justify it in yet another example of the paradox of tolerance.

Another example from modern liberalism is prohibition in the early 1900’s. Drinking was bad and wrong and must be stopped for the good of us all.  A more modern example is the so called war on drugs. Use of certain drugs deemed dangerous by those in charge must be prohibited for the good of all. Sin taxes, those taxes specific to vices (alcohol, cigarettes, sugar in drinks, etc.) are another example. Mind you, I am again not making any sort of value statement about these actions, simply that they are examples of the paradox of tolerance. These things are not good for you, so you must stop and actions will be taken to try and get you to do so. If a profit can be turned in doing so, all the better. Think gambling in it’s various forms, and the numerous vice taxes we have.

It is my hope that by now you can see many examples of the paradox of tolerance in your daily life. Everything from local, state and federal government, to your personal interactions, to your life of faith.  Some of those examples you will undoubtedly find to be good. Some not so good. Some probably terrible. Think about them, examine them, really completely discount them, but at least understand that they are there and they have become such an ingrained part of our social structure that it is impossible to escape.

Next up, the prevailing political opinion that came before all of this, classical liberalism.

You Might Also Like

2 Replies to “The paradox of tolerance- modern liberalism and the progressive movement.”

  1. Assuming the Pelosi quote is accurate and in context–and I have no reason to believe otherwise–it is particularly damning…of HER, not to mention ignorant and arrogant.

    But I’m wondering if you are being too nice by using the word “paradox” in place of hypocrisy.

    1. The phrase ‘paradox of tolerance’ was coined in a book on the subject. It, to her, does not appear to be hypocrisy because of the paradox of tolerance. She is indeed doing that which is required to protect (what she sees as) tolerance. When she says she is tolerant, I believe she is sincere, that is to say she thinks that she is. It’s why the paradox, that is in order to be tolerant, one must be intolerant of intolerance. It’s why it is causing so many problems in my estimation.

Leave a Reply, Please!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.