Liberal Tolerance

Museum of Tolerance, Los Angeles, March 2008. Photo by Cbl62 at English Wikipedia

By Justin Kempf

Liberal Tolerance

Tomorrow’s episode features Patrick Deneen. It’s part of the three episode arc on liberalism. I invited Patrick, because he makes a powerful case against liberalism. I say powerful, because it is so direct. He does not make equivocations or hesitations. He’s willing to say liberalism failed. It’s unusual to find such boldness among scholars and academics. It’s more common to find this boldness in pundits or commentators who specialize in provocation. However, the power of Deneen’s argument is it remains an intellectual argument. It’s well constructed, consistent, and avoids partisan bias.

But I worry about how people will receive it. In last week’s episode Michael Walzer described one of the characteristics of liberalism as “an ability to live with ambiguity.” In other words, the capacity to accept contradictory ideas in others if not one’s self as well. It involves a curiosity of the ideas of others as well as one’s self. But how far does this tolerance extend? Clearly, there is a line. Kanye West met more or less unanimous outrage for his antisemitic comments. Americans rightfully have little tolerance for the intolerance of others.

So, sometimes I worry about how my own thoughts get received. Did I say something wrong in the introduction? Did I ask the right questions? Sometimes I overlook an opportunity to follow up, because it will distract from the guest’s larger ideas. But I still question those decisions especially as I listen to the tape afterwards. I worry people will hear my conversation with Deneen and draw the wrong conclusions. Sometimes I worry people have lost tolerance for opposing views and ideas. In these moments, I want to withdraw into the security of a political silo. Yet I do not. Instead, I will try to embody what Michael Walzer might call liberal courage.

About the Author

Justin Kempf manages this blog and hosts the podcast Democracy Paradox. He lives with his family in Carmel, Indiana.

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