Misconceptions of the Open Society
Is it necessary to be intolerant of the intolerant? Perhaps so; if we wish to preserve our liberal-democratic way of life, it makes sense to ensure those who would establish tyranny never achieve power. This is the theory put forward by philosopher Karl Popper in his ‘Paradox of Tolerance’ model. He argued that:
“Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”
Popper was correct in his argument; we should be intolerant of the hateful and the violent, and I would argue many of us already are. But what does it actually mean to be ‘correctly’ intolerant in this sense? How do we limit our intolerance to those who truly deserve it, without restricting the freedom of the individual to choose?
It’s not uncommon that certain ideals will have a political bias attached to them. The immigration debate, for instance, has long taken a left-vs-right structure, as has the gun debate. You can usually make an educated guess at someone’s political leanings based on the positions they take on certain issues.
But today, many seem to think this applies to one of the most fundamental pillars of democratic society; the right to free speech. Not only has the freedom to express oneself somehow become a controversial issue, but some people now see taking a pro-freedom stance on speech as evidence that one is somehow a right-winger.
This perception is both false and problematic. Why, then, has free speech suddenly become a facet of the right?
Freedom of speech is undoubtedly one of the most important features of any democratic society. Without it, knowledge could not be shared, injustices could not be called out, and the marketplace of ideas would be reduced to a single, miserable stall. Yet the state seems to need constant reminding of the importance of free expression; to them, it always seems to take second place.