Interpretations of Pure Tolerance
Interpretations of Pure Tolerance
In A Critique of Pure Tolerance, the authors each express their different opinions concerning pure tolerance. Although their approaches to the topic differ along with some of their specific points, the three authors arrive at the same general conclusion: pure tolerance has no place in today's society, especially in the United States.
Robert Paul Wolff's interpretation of the validity of pure tolerance revolves around the intricate connection he perceives between tolerance and the pluralism in United States democracy. In his essay Beyond Tolerance, Wolff begins by establishing his theories concerning the pluralist democracy. His first theory, the "referee" theory, interprets the role of government as a body whose main function serves in constructing rules for conflict and competition in the private sector in order to insure that no single major interest group "abuses its influence or gains an unchecked mastery over some sector of social life" (p. 11). His second "vector-sum" theory interprets the government's role as that of a "weather vein," which responds to the prevailing national opinion, usually espoused by the most influential interest groups. The government essentially represents an aggregate of national views and opinions and resolves them in its legislation. Wolff maintains that tolerance is inherent in both these interpretations of the role of government because both his "referee" and "vector-sum" theories require a tolerance of opposing or contrasting opinions as the fundamental reasoning behind the existence and role of government:
Tolerance in a society of competing interest groups is precisely the ungrudging acknowledgment of the right of opposed interests to exist and be pursued. (p. 21)
Wolff's fundamental argument against pluralism and pure tolerance revolves around his belief that the government only responds to interest groups that have already attained power. It ignores the ideas of individuals unless they are affiliated with and supported by an existing and legitimate interest group. It also makes the establishment of legitimate interest group difficult because of a tendency to favor those already established:
The government quite successfully referees the conflict among competing powers--any group which has already managed to accumulate a significant quantum of power will find its claims attended to by the federal agencies. (p. 47)
His final and most broad argument condemning pluralism, and therefore pure tolerance states that "there must be some way of constituting the whole society a genuine group with a group purpose and a conception of the common good" (p. 50). Wolff sees the fundamental flaw in pluralism to be "portraying society as an aggregate of human communities rather than as itself as a human community" (p. 50). In essence, Wolff believes that in a pluralist society there exists no mechanism for the expression and enactment of the common good.
The argument of Barrington Moore, Jr., in his essay Tolerance and the Scientific Outlook, seems to condemn the notion of pure tolerance on the basis that "correct and unambiguous answers, independent of individual whims and preferences, are in principle possible" (p. 70). According to Moore, this signifies that a tolerance of all other view points is unnecessary and counter-productive since, through the use of science, objective truths can be discovered. In this case, science encompasses "whatever is established by sound reasoning and evidence" (p. 55).
The final essay, Repressive Tolerance, by Herbert Marcuse denounces tolerance as simply a stumbling block to the positive progress of humanity by allowing the acceptance of what he interprets to be wrong and inhibiting ideas:
this tolerance cannot be indiscriminate and equal with respect to the contents of expression, neither in word nor indeed; it cannot protect false words and wrong deeds which demonstrate that they contradict and counteract the possibilities of liberation. (p. 88)
According to this passage, Marcuse rejects pure tolerance on the basis of its tendency to give life to ideas that impede the progress of mankind. He, like Moore, believes in the possibility of attaining objective truths, and therefore denies the need for tolerance.
By examining the issue of pure tolerance and its role in their contemporary America, the three authors collectively come to the conclusion that pure tolerance is ineffectual, even harmful, as a guiding principle of government and society. The fundamental reason cited focuses on the fact that tolerance, in its pure form, is a hindrance to the beneficial development of humanity.