ThoughtStorms Wiki

Context : KarlPopper, TheOpenSociety

Compare : (AttackFromWithinIsWhatMatters)

Quora Answer : What is a liberal's view on this Karl Popper quote: "If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them"?

Apr 6, 2015

Well it's a "truism". It's perfectly true. And pretty much everyone recognizes this truth.

But by itself, it's of little use to guide anyone towards anything. Every single person who wants to sell you intolerance will claim that all they're doing is recognizing the objectively intolerable. What's needed is some further discussion and some proposed criteria for what should count as tolerable or intolerable. Without that, it's a pretty vacuous slogan.

It's rather like Einstein's classic : "a theory should be as simple as it needs, but no simpler". Well, yeah! But tells us nothing.

Now, everyone who has ever thought about the question of tolerance for more than 10 seconds, knows that it's a hard problem. That the characteristics of tolerance that we'd like to defend are also a vulnerability that can be exploited by those who would like to undermine, discredit or destroy our tolerant society. And that balancing the requirements of openness and protection, freedom and security are a delicate art, not a simplistic formula you can bang some numbers into and get a correct answer to. The correct answer to "how much intolerance to intolerance do we need?" (which is the same as saying "how much of a real threat is obnoxious behaviour?") shifts daily. And the truth is something that none of us can see clearly through the fog of war.

Thanks to Jay McKinnon for the context. Yes. Popper's European context is already at odds with the norms of American free-speech. That's why it's illegal to promote Nazism in Germany but not in the US. Nazism is / was considered to be a more plausible and real threat in Europe than in the US. Perhaps changing circumstances should make us revise that opinion. Perhaps not.