Quote of the day—Karl Popper

The so-called paradox of freedom is the argument that freedom in the sense of absence of any constraining control must lead to very great restraint, since it makes the bully free to enslave the meek. The idea is, in a slightly different form, and with very different tendency, clearly expressed in Plato.

Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: 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. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.

Karl Popper
The Open Society and Its Enemies: New One-Volume Edition, Notes to the Chapters: Ch. 7, Note 4
[Via email from Bob T.

Interesting observation. I had a similar discussion with a co-worker many years ago. We didn’t arrive at a solution. And it is quite clear our government and society has gotten us into the end game of this paradox without implementing the apparent solution offered by Popper over 70 years ago.—Joe]


4 thoughts on “Quote of the day—Karl Popper

  1. The real problem is that intolerance is in the eye of the beholder. What I consider to be “incitement to intolerance and persecution” and therefore criminal by Mr. Popper’s definition, you may consider to be legitimate “civil disobedience” and therefore tolerable. Actions should be what determines what’s criminal. Speech, even angry speech should not be criminal in and of itself.

  2. This fits the left quite well and is the reason that the left could self-destruct. Here are some examples the left’s everybody ‘included’ that do not work well.

    A feminist/lesbian group were prevented from presenting a play because it excluded transwomen. That led to the statement that men were not women.

    Mulism groups call for the return of Palestinian land at the expense of Israel. This is considered anti-Jewish. There are many other problems with Islam and the left as well.

    Without restrictions, it is easy to end up with many conflicts. That’s why you need a common code for a group to survive. And it is the problem of the left’s identity politics. Yet to build power that is exactly what the left is trying to do.

  3. This long and tortuous quote is far to complicated for the typical leftist, the group that typifies ‘intolerance’, to grasp.

  4. Sounds like a typical “intellectual” attempt to justify the concept of “hate speech” and suppression of free speech.
    There is a far simpler answer which also has the benefit of being morally correct: the non-aggression principle. Well articulated by Neil Smith, though it goes back millennia.

Comments are closed.