Posted by Curt on 10 February, 2021 at 5:34 pm. 2 comments already!


By Auguste Meyrat

Following the Second World War, critic and novelist E. M. Forster wrote a short essay called “Tolerance,” encouraging modern society to embrace the “dull” virtue of tolerance in order to cope with the reality of living in a crowded world of real, fundamental difference. Forster modestly defined tolerance as “merely putting up with people, being able to stand things,” admitting that while mere forbearance might not inspire or excite anyone as a heroic civic virtue, the experience of two major wars demonstrated that civilization might benefit by curbing any global ambitions.

Forster explicitly took issue with the idea of love as the “proper spirit” for rebuilding society. Not only has history disproven this prospect time and again, but common sense immediately shows that love does not work as the basis for public policy. “We can only love what we know personally.,” Forster suggested “And we cannot know much.”

Today, we live under the established ideal of a pluralistic society, one where difference must be celebrated and affirmed, and strangers must declare love and support for each other. Forster’s tempered realism reminds us that this harmony is necessarily a fake.

The Civic War

At best, people publicly compete to pretend they love strangers living ways of life incompatible with their own, the better to appear virtuous or at least to avoid punishment. At worst, policies that command love between strangers and across incompatible lifeways degenerate quickly into violence and persecution. Pride parades and calendars of ritual appreciation are undergirded by campaigns to eliminate political dissent, ranging from physical assault and property destruction to cancelling and doxxing.

The new project shows the extent of the ruin that awaits down this path. As its proponents claim, even those who denounce hate and personally reject it are guilty of it. People who choose to “live and let live” and harbor no ill-will toward any race are core to the problem. According to Ibram X. Kendi, the apostle of anti-racism, individual attitudes and actions do nothing to ameliorate the racist structure of society. Only by promoting an “outcome-centered” equity agenda, he contends, can we get beyond “irrelevant” personal intentions. The “privilege” of the tolerant can never be checked (or tolerated), only confessed, punished, and purged. Under such absolutism, civic life itself, like those who dare to live it, becomes the enemy.

To justify love’s bizarre transformation into a tool of compliance and coercion, our new absolutists depict their actions as necessities of public health. The logic of “love” over mere tolerance has been central to the official response to the COVID-19 virus. Rather than suggest that vulnerable people take protective measures against the virus, in the name of collective responsibility the government overrules personal autonomy in all cases. Everyone must self-quarantine. Everyone must wear a mask (or two, or three). Everyone must distance. And, of course, everyone will need to be vaccinated.

These measures are justified with assurances of love. It’s always out of concern for others that people are subjected to masking, distancing, and staying home; one is responsible for others’ health first. Whereas a person used to tolerate their odd neighbor being a germaphobe and donning a face mask, they now must mask and distance on their neighbor’s behalf, even if the act is more symbolic than scientific. Anything less amounts officially to the opposite of love, hate.

The consequences of not complying with the new anti-“hate” ethic are surprisingly (or not) intolerant. The resident or business owner who dares not endorse BLM will have their property ransacked and destroyed. The content creator who does not post the black square will be abandoned by her followers. The business owner who murmurs any sliver of sympathy for Donald Trump will be boycotted. The innocent shopper at the store who doesn’t wear a mask properly will be shamed and kicked out, not even by the store’s employees or police, but by other shoppers. All of which is, quite intentionally, just the beginning: the goal is the complete, systemic eradication of what is officially deemed vice.

This vengeance against tolerance not only systematizes actual hate, it stymies the building of anything. Progressives have been feverishly at work destroying the culture: its monuments, its systems, its heroes, and its history. Forster points out in the opening of his essay that “the only sound foundation for a civilization is a sound state of mind.” Yet the prevailing state of mind is now paranoid, hysterical, and hostile to reality. It’s a spirit that preaches national unity behind thousands of armed soldiers, impeaching elected officials no longer in office and purging the internet of even the hint of dissent.

The Wronged Right

Conservatives know well that they should tread lightly these days, but if they once believed that the classical liberal tradition of tolerance and open discussion would endure, they should now realize that it will not endure on its own. It must be actively reasserted in a new way that suits new times. Those who wish to dismantle tolerance now aim to bring down everything else with it. Tolerance today is not simply a nice way to behave. It is the only way to conserve traditional life without spiraling into catastrophic conflict.

In the spirit of tolerance, conservatives often grant unproven premises to arrive at a compromise—which then becomes impossible because the premise itself prevents a compromise.

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