Karl Popper and the Paradox of Tolerance

Benevolent Despotism

In 1945, Karl Popper related the paradox of tolerance to Plato’s defense of benevolent despotism. He defines it in The Open Society and Its Enemies. According to him, unlimited tolerance must lead to a loss of tolerance. Tolerance will be destroyed with them if they extend tolerance without limits, even to those who are intolerant and are not ready to defend a tolerant society from the onslaught of intolerants.

For example, they always suppress intolerant philosophical utterances, as long as they can counter them with rational arguments and control them with public opinion. Oppression is, of course, unwise. Nevertheless, they must claim the right to suppress them, if necessary, even by force. It is because it may easily turn out that they are not ready to meet them at the level of a rational argument.

Starting with denouncing all arguments, they forbade their followers to listen to rational arguments. Therefore, they must claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate intolerant people. They also must claim that any movement that preaches intolerance places itself outside the law. In short, they must regard incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, just as they must regard incitement to kill or revive the slave trade as criminal.

Intolerant of Intolerance

Popper describes the paradox of tolerance as a self-contradictory notion. In maintaining a tolerant society, society must defend the right to be intolerant of intolerance. In conclusion, the paradox of tolerance states that if a society is tolerant without limits, those who are intolerant will destroy or seize its ability to tolerate. The term does not appear anywhere in the main text of the political philosophy.

Among the paradoxes that Plato proposes and mentions, true tolerance will inevitably lead to intolerance. Thus, an enlightened autocratic rule would be better off leaving the question of tolerance up to the majority rule. The paradox of tolerance serves as a further explanation of Popper’s specific objection to paradox as the reason for autocracy. Aside from that, people frequently associate Popper with alternative interpretations of extra-judicial intolerance, such as hate speech.

Outside of democratic institutions, an idea that Popper himself has never explicitly endorsed defines the context of democratic institutions and political processes. He rejected the notion that the will of society has any legitimate meaning outside of institutions. Thus, Popper’s acquiescence to repression when all else has failed applies only to states in liberal democracies with a constitutional rule of law.

The Paradox of Freedom

Besides the actual paradox stemming from Plato’s political theory, Popper says that people are less familiar with the paradox of tolerance. On the other hand, what people are less familiar with is the paradox of freedom. Conceptually, the freedom paradox is very close to the tolerance paradox, questioning whether an individual can use such freedom to oppress others in the name of their freedom.

If people have the freedom to abolish freedom, then maximum freedom, particularly in the Republic, whether in individuals or groups, inevitably leads to tyranny. If there is no limit to tolerance or freedom, then such a concept becomes self-annihilation, according to Popper. It is because people will then be tolerant of intolerance and have the freedom to be tyrants. Under Popper’s conception of the problem, the intolerant will obliterate the tolerant if the tolerant tolerate the intolerance.

When one group destroys another, people will get rid of tolerance through violence. In The Ethics of Ambiguity, Simone de Beauvoir criticizes the concept of oppressing oppressors for the sake of freedom, questioning how oppression’s solutions to punish oppressors are counterproductive. According to her, a double negative does not necessarily cancel, and being intolerant of intolerance is still a type of intolerance with a necessary nature.

Inherent Political Material

A group must restrain an individual if the individual uses his or her freedom to nullify the freedom of others. However, the individual also recognizes that the group is not tolerant. According to Beauvoir, being tolerant means being intolerant of intolerance. Therefore, intolerance is an aspect of tolerance that people need. She questioned whether tolerance without intolerance in a tolerant society was necessarily contradictory.

She also argued that suppressing the freedoms of those who would use their freedoms to oppress others is an important part of maintaining a free society. That is, if society tolerates intolerance, it means engaging in such intolerance. Departing from Popper’s limitations, Raphael Cohen-Almagor argues that the paradox of tolerance becomes an imminent threat of physical harm in making arguments for the censorship of psychological harm.

He asserts that to allow free speech to those who would use it to eliminate the principle on which freedom depends is a paradox. On the other hand, Rosenfeld shows that the democratic countries of the United States and Western Europe have opposite approaches to the problem of tolerance for hate speech. Most Western European countries consider the distribution of inflammatory, disturbing, and inherent political material that is very marginal or intolerant to be illegal.

Intolerance and Homophily

The United States has decided that such a matter is itself a principle of free speech. Thus, it is immune to restrictions. Criticism of intolerance of violence as well as examples of intolerance influence the characteristics of Jürgen Habermas’s ethical discourse. The relationship between intolerance and homophily is realized when tolerant people have the choice between positive relationships with intolerant people who are members of the in-group and positive relationships with tolerant individuals from different out-groups.

In one such case, an intolerant inner group member disapproved of the outer group relationship. In other cases, intolerant in-group members favor negative relationships with out-group individuals. Thus, tolerant group members face ostracism. It is because of their tolerance by their intolerant in-group members, or conversely because they are rewarded for showing their out-group intolerance to their intolerant in-group members.

According to Popper, an individual should not practice intolerance when the expression of tolerant ideas might make the individual uncomfortable. The individual only justifies intolerance when society is already facing a hit-and-run. Jon Bannister and Ade Kearns write a journal on intolerance and tolerance of minorities in the UK. In the conclusions they stated, they argued that in Great Britain, the policy of public tolerance that was set gave rise to a polemic, unexpected things, and even harmed certain parties.

Presenting the Policy

In the policy, tolerance embraces all groups, from people with disabilities to LGBT people. Such a policy made Great Britain a tolerant country. Policies that have been created in such a way aim at presenting objectives. Regardless of certain aspects, all members of society are equal. The policy that is considered capable of producing the best results, on the other hand, is a personal claim from the government that appears to make such a policy the best way.

On the other hand, there is a surprising fact related to such a policy. It also deals with minorities. The policy was considered too tolerant because it made all members of society equal. One of the incidents that occurred involved a judge who filed a complaint regarding a report against the local education agency because a member there who had a different religion criticized the school principal for being racist.

On the other hand, things that are done, such as case examples, are seen as positive because there is an affirmation regarding the intolerant attitude of society towards things that society considers contradictory.


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