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#tolerancemeans an intolerance of intolerance

Updated: Mar 6

Alexander Lingle, Graduate, University of South Carolina

Karl Popper’s book, The Open Society and its Enemies, outlined the paradox of tolerance; he stated that the tolerant society is only intolerant of intolerance itself. Popper argued that intolerance poses a threat to the foundations of free society and that there were two primary methods available to combat it. First, the tolerant society should not suppress the speech of the intolerant, but rather, should use reason and fact to educate the intolerant on the potential harm of their rhetoric. Second, if the intolerant have been deceived to believe that rationality and reason should be forsaken, then intolerance should be treated similarly to other behaviors that fall outside of established justice (Popper, 232). As a burgeoning law student, conversations continually invoking the Constitutional right of freedom of speech in the defense of dangerously intolerant rhetoric follow me throughout my academic, professional, and personal life. I once placed great faith in Popper’s first method of rejecting intolerance: education. However, a distribution of whitewashed history, politicized education, and online misinformation has effectively enabled and emboldened the intolerant to isolate themselves intellectually from reasonable thought. As a transgender man, I have watched as the intolerant in our country have continually passed legislation that restricts access to life-saving and scientifically supported medical care on the basis of nonfactual stereotypes. It is the effects of intolerance such as this that Popper rightfully addressed as falling outside of defendable behavior due to the threat it presents to the marginalized society member’s natural rights such as life, liberty, and happiness. A tolerant society cannot exist in the face of one intolerant member if that member is permitted to exercise the harms of their beliefs unto others. An ocean of tolerance is poisoned by one drop of intolerance.

Alexander Lingle, Graduate, University of South Carolina

A desire for the ascension of tolerance over intolerance is what ultimately led my academic career toward the University of South Carolina’s School of Law. I believe a society characterized by tolerance can be actualized through the continual pursuit of justice, righteousness, and knowledge. Legal studies place a high priority on the application of justifiable rules and precedents in a fair and equitable manner. When the law is applied inequitably, the unfairly treated party is entitled to appellate courts hearing their case. Consequently, under Popper’s paradox of tolerance, the judicial system is a perpetual cycle of the first step in fighting against intolerance: a continual rational reapplication of reason and logic to the facts of a case to ensure equity. Further, in jurisprudence, when reasonability fails to squander intolerance, Popper’s second step in fighting against intolerance suggests it be treated as other criminal mens rea such as the conspiracy to commit a crime or the attempt to incite another individual to commit a criminal action (Popper, 232).

Popper, Karl R. The Open Society and Its Enemies: The Spell of Plato. 1st ed., vol. 1 2, George Routledge & Sons, LTD. Broadway House, 1945.



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