A Critique of Pure Tolerance
Cover of the first edition
|Authors||Robert Paul Wolff, Barrington Moore Jr., Herbert Marcuse|
|Subject||Tolerance, Freedom of speech|
|Published||1965 (Beacon Press)|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback)|
A Critique of Pure Tolerance is a 1965 book by the philosopher Robert Paul Wolff, the sociologist Barrington Moore Jr., and the philosopher Herbert Marcuse. The book has been described as "peculiar" by commentators, and its authors have been criticized for advocating intolerance and the suppression of dissenting opinions.
The book consists of three papers, "Beyond Tolerance" by Wolff, "Tolerance and the Scientific Outlook" by Moore, and "Repressive Tolerance" by Marcuse. In his contribution, Marcuse argues that the ideal of tolerance belongs to a liberal, democratic tradition that has become exhausted. Liberal society is based on a form of domination so subtle that the majority accept and even will their servitude. Marcuse believes that under such conditions tolerance as traditionally understood serves the cause of domination and that a new kind of tolerance is therefore needed: tolerance of the Left, subversion, and revolutionary violence, combined with intolerance of the Right, of existing institutions of civil society, and of any opposition to socialism. Marcuse claims that tolerance shown to minority views in industrial societies is a deceit because such expressions cannot be effective. Freedom of speech is not a good in itself because it allows for the propagation of error; Marcuse believes that "The telos of tolerance is truth". Revolutionary minorities hold the truth and the majority has to be liberated from error by being re-educated in the truth by this minority. The revolutionary minority are entitled, Marcuse claims, to suppress rival and harmful opinions.
The sociologist Nathan Glazer gave A Critique of Pure Tolerance a negative review in the American Sociological Review, describing the book as "peculiar". Glazer credited Marcuse with being "straightforward and imflinching" in his advocacy of intolerance, but accused Wolff of being incapable of distinguishing "facts from theory" in his criticisms of tolerance and pluralist democracy. Glazer disagreed with Wolff's view that "The application of the theory of pluralism always favors the groups in existence against those in formation", maintaining that it was contradicted by many historical examples, including the civil rights movement of the 1950s. Glazer described Wolff's views as "politically naive." He accused Moore of advocating violence, and wrote of Marcuse that, "one gathers he would favor breaking up meetings, destroying the literature of one's opponents, and the like." Glazer considered it fortunate that "the means by which he might impose his opinions are not terribly impressive."
Evaluations in books
Writing in 1970, the philosopher Maurice Cranston called the book Marcuse's most popular and disturbing work to date. Cranston commented that the book was published, "in a peculiar format, bound in black like a prayer book or missal and perhaps designed to compete with The Thoughts of Chairman Mao as devotional reading at student sit-ins."
The philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre argues that Marcuse's theory of the right of revolutionary minorities to suppress opinions "is perhaps the most dangerous of all Marcuse's doctrines, for not only is what he asserts false, but his is a doctrine which if it were widely held would be an effective barrier to any rational progress and liberation". MacIntyre asserts that the telos of tolerance is not truth but rationality. It is a "necessary condition of rationality that a man shall formulate his beliefs in such a way that it is clear what evidence would be evidence against them" and that he should be open to criticism and have his opinions disproved in the light of any possible objection. MacIntyre claims that "to foreclose on tolerance is precisely to cut oneself off from such criticism and refutation. It is to gravely endanger one's own rationality by not admitting one's own fallibility".
- Glazer, Nathan (1966). "A Critique of Pure Tolerance (Book)". American Sociological Review. 31 (3). – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)