On International Tolerance

“But instead of democracy,” I was saying, “what they got is just more oppression.”

“Or perhaps they just got too much democracy,” Mr Magundi responded. “We have a strange notion that democracy and tolerance go together. But they don’t. Our Constitution has a Bill of Rights precisely because democracy is naturally intolerant. If we allowed the majority to impose its will, it would crush minority opinion, minority religion, minority skin color with an iron boot.

“So when we see oppression of minorities or intolerance of dissent in other countries, we have to remind ourselves that those things are often expressions of pure democracy: that they are the will of the majority carried out in a perfectly logical fashion. And if we are to have peace with those countries, then we must tolerate their democracy. We must say to the nations around us what we say to our individual neighbors: ‘I think your religion is malarkey and your opinions are offensive, but you have a right to them as long as you don’t force them on me.’

“We will have to tolerate nations that say that women are inferior to men. We will have to tolerate nations that imprison homosexuals. We will have to tolerate nations that refuse religious freedom to Christians because the great majority are bigotedly Buddhist or Muslim or Unitarian, or refuse religious freedom to Buddhists or Muslims or Unitarians because the vast majority of citizens are bigotedly Christian. That is the only price at which we can buy peace.

“And I won’t like it. I’ll hear the tales of injustice and oppression, and my heart will bleed. And I won’t be able to say anything but this: ‘Come to America, you who are more enlightened than your neighbors. If you yearn to breathe free, we have room for you here. We’re hardly even using Wyoming. Come to America and teach us your great traditions, and by the way bring your favorite recipes, and leave the small-minded bigots to wallow in their hatred.’”

3 thoughts on “On International Tolerance

  1. Um, yep? Orestes Brownson, in a fit of optimism, opined that most Americans are too wise to be propagandists (I think he means the root meaning of ones who propagate) for American style government on foreign nations, partly for the reasons Mr. Magundi mention above – too much democracy – and partly because it manifestly doesn’t work. The mind boggles at the thought that there were (are?) people who thought the Arab Spring would turn out materially different that it did. Democracy in action.

  2. “Well, the thing to remember about ‘tolerance’,” said Mr. Tannhauser, with a wry look that was more grimace than smile, “is that its manifestation in practice depends very largely on who is tolerating what in whom, and why. A man perfectly willing to tolerate his neighbour’s sins may be equally willing to tolerate their mutual government punishing that neighbour for the self-same sins, if his tolerance is born not of forgiveness but of personal apathy or cowardice. Very often the ‘will of the majority’ against subjugated out-groups represents not active hatred but simple disinclination to risk conflict on the out-group’s behalf against those — often themselves a startlingly small minority — who do hate the out-group enough to initiate and sustain aggression against them and anyone who defends them. Democracy may not go well with the principled tolerance of dislikeable but powerless out-groups, but it goes marvellously well with the pragmatic tolerance of dislikeable yet power-ful in-groups.

    “So the problem of international tolerance, it seems to me, is not so much that we must permit the will of those nations’ majorities to act if we wish to have peace, but rather the simple fact that in most of them the majority has simply not yet summoned a will to act at all; and as God has Himself found with human beings, compelling an action where there is not yet any honest will to do it, or taking that action on the unwilling one’s behalf, seldom has any useful or productive results and may only harden the heart in the opposite direction.”

  3. Yes, when immigrating to the US, please leave your small-minded bigots at home… the US is already overstocked with home-grown small-minded bigots. However, if you feel your country is overly tolerant, and needs some small-minded bigots, please contact our overstock department.


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