Equal respect versus tolerance

One of the central ideas of modern leftism is that all human beings are entitled to equal concern and respect. This is why most leftists oppose racism, sexism, ethnocentrism and homophobia.

…leftists don’t automatically see difference as a matter of status. Some groups of people recognise one set of virtues while others recognise another. Leftists want to see a society where everyone can pursue their own ideals of excellence without being judged or looked down on. This is a vision they share with many libertarians.(emphasis added)

– Don Arthur at Club Troppo.

The sentence I bolded is not, in my view, 100% right. It is an area in which leftists and libertarians will often have shared social practices, but important if sometimes subtle differences in their underlying philosophy.

Libertarianism (or classical liberalism) does not require equal respect, or even any respect, of other people’s ‘ideals of excellence’. What it requires is tolerance, the virtue of putting up with the things that you don’t like. It isn’t so much equal respect as equal indifference.

For a liberal, equal respect demands too much and more than is necessary. For passionate religious believers (and liberal ideas of toleration began with the problems they cause) it is very hard to hold other faiths in ‘equal respect’ without calling into question their own beliefs. But all it requires to tolerate them is to hold off from intimidation and violence.

Indeed, the shift from liberal tolerance to leftist acceptance, the logical result of equal concern and respect, takes us back to where we started before the idea of tolerance took hold. Tolerance challenged the idea that everyone must fit in with a common set of norms, and replaced it with the idea that everyone must abstain from certain behaviours.

The practical differences between these two views came out in the reaction to the decision to allow The Peel hotel to exclude women and straight men. Continue reading “Equal respect versus tolerance”