What would a totally tolerant society look like?

It’s not possible. Those who impulsively hurl charges of intolerance at those who disagree with their ideology are being intolerant of those who disagree with their ideology. Everyone has their definitions of the unacceptable, and that constitutes some degree of ‘intolerance.’ It’s getting to be an overused label.

Public Discourse takes this interesting look at liberal intolerance.

Tolerance is a delicate plant that does not grow easily in the soil of humanity. To some extent, then, liberal intolerance is simply a reflection of the ordinary weakness of human nature, which in all men yearns to silence those whose opinions differ too widely from their own. In theory, everyone admits that human reason is fallible. In practice, the conclusion we are apt to draw is that the other guy is wrong—so wrong that he should not even get a fair hearing.

How true.

Nevertheless, given the commitment of American liberals to abolishing intolerance and overcoming bias, it remains a vexing question why they should so often succumb to the very illiberal spirit they claim to reject.

It’s the elephant on the table. ‘The Emperors Clothes.’ What is not politically correct to talk about. Name your cliche…

So we’re at the point where

the liberal belief in Progress causes liberals to view any expression of what they regard as retrograde opinion to be a threat to the very foundations of their worldview. When such opinions begin to gain popular support, they raise the specter that History might be stopped in its benevolent course or even reversed. In contrast, traditionalist conservatives can afford to be more tolerant of ideas they think mistaken, since they view them not as a threat to the gradual perfection of the human condition but as part of the usual parade of folly and weakness that always characterizes human affairs.


…contemporary liberalism is prone to intolerance because some of its most cherished political and cultural aspirations are at odds with the deeply-rooted moral convictions of the American society it is trying to reform. For example, liberals insist that homosexual relationships are morally equivalent to heterosexual ones, to the extent that the former should not only be tolerated but must be legally affirmed as the same thing as heterosexual marriage.

But wait, there’s more. And race definitely fits in this discussion, because…

liberals hold that racially discriminatory policies are justifiable depending on which persons they advantage.

Things are tense out there, for a reason.

At least in a country with America’s present culture, such ideas cannot win majority support in the context of reasoned public deliberation. Accordingly, liberals have to resort to hysterical denunciation of those who challenge such ideas, precisely in order to stop a debate they know they cannot win.

The key phrase there is “reasoned public deliberation.” Hence the “hysterical denunciation” business generated when anything appears in the public sphere (and everything is in the public sphere now) that challenges ideas that can’t or won’t stand up to the scrutiny of intellectual inquiry and critical thinking.

Finally, the left is intolerant because it tends to be secular, and as a result is less able to respect the dignity of the individual human person. The Western tradition finds support for human dignity in the biblical belief that every human being is created in the image and likeness of a transcendent God. While history demonstrates that this belief has never been powerful enough to restrain all human evil, it nevertheless provides a powerful motive to respect the rights even of those with whom we disagree. From this point of view, no matter how wrong a man may be, he himself is of infinite value.

This is perhaps most vital to ‘get.’ It’s a major difference in the ideological divide.

When fully appreciated, the biblical tradition encourages us to view every human being not only with respect but even with awe—a view for which contemporary Darwinism offers little support. As a result, while liberals are perfectly sincere in their desire to do good to humanity, they have no very strong appreciation for the worth of the human individual as an individual.

Bottom line: Challenge your convictions, and be prepared to make a principled defense for what you believe.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....