The Tightrope of Tolerance and Tyranny


Benedict XVI talks much about the ‘dictatorship of relativism’, and not everybody’s sure quite what he is talking about. When he uses the phrase, ‘dictatorship of relativism’ he’s also talking about the tyranny of tolerance.

This is walking a tightrope. Nobody wants to dispute the fact that tolerance is a virtue, and nobody wants to argue for intolerance, however, there does need to be an ordering of virtue. Tolerance is too often mistaken for charity, and being nice is too often mistaken for being good. Real goodness, like real charity is tough love because real goodness, like real charity, loves the truth and the truth hurts.

To paraphrase G.K.Chesterton, “Tolerance is a nice word for indifference and indifference is an elegant word for ignorance.” The reason for having an open mind (like the reason to have an open mouth) is eventually to close it–because it has been filled with something good.

Tolerance, on its own, is a weak virtue that eventually turns on itself with a suicidal bent. This is because the one thing tolerance cannot tolerate is intolerance, and the more tolerant a person becomes the more every little bit of intolerance becomes intolerable. So the person who puts tolerance as the highest and only virtue, finally is incapable of tolerating anyone or anything or any law that limits or defines anything because to limit or define any behavior or any sort of person is perceived as a form of intolerance.

Relativism becomes the only rule. The only dogma is that there can be no dogma. The only discipline is that there must be no discipline. The only ultimate authority is that there must be no authority. The one thing that has meaning is that no thing has meaning. As a result the only virtue left if tolerance.

As a result the ‘tolerant’ person will endorse the most draconian restrictions on those he perceives as being intolerant, and because the intolerant will be with us always, those laws against intolerance have to become increasingly restrictive, and the tolerant society turns into the most intolerant of societies. So in the name of tolerance freedom of speech will be curtailed, freedom of religion will be ended, freedom of association will be restricted and freedom of conscience will be violated.

One only has to look to England at this time to see this in action. Those who object to homosexual couples being allowed to adopt children are having their freedom of religion, freedom of conscience and freedom of speech curtailed. When these freedoms go, the rest will soon follow.

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  • Who was it who said, “Tolerance is the virtue of a man with no convictions”. Warren

  • the legacy: a comedy of terrorsThe gripping new E-novel that charts the consequenses of unbridled governance, where the ridiculous becomes the sublime.Free to

  • Another wonderfully written piece, Father. I’m reminded of Bishop Fulton Sheen’s wonderful, “Love is Not Tolerance”.

  • Another great post Father!Have you read then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s “Truth And Tolerance: Christian Belief And World Religions”?

  • Mery

    What a wonderful post Father! Thank you so much for your great webpage! God Bless you for all you do! It is wonderful priests like you that keep me hopeful!

  • jeron

    this is a timely post for me, father. i’m currently reading peter kreeft’s *back to virtue,* and he basically says the same thing about tolerance. in fact, he uses the same chesterton quote you reference!

  • Mark

    And after spending so much time here, did those Anglicans not teach you to spell?behavior – behaviour

  • Who was it who said, “Tolerance is the virtue of a man with no convictions”.That’s probably my favorite Chesterton quote.

  • My spell checker is American…

  • Beautifully put, Father… so much so that I am prepared to be tolerant of American spell-checkers!;-)

  • Very well put, thank you Father. Funny that, as a principle unto itself tolerance is self-defeating. It can only function if it subordinate to some higher value; that is, some principle which will tell us why we ought to tolerate others, and what the limits of toleration ought to be.Absent this, as you showed, tolerance quickly degenerates into intolerance.

  • Anonymous

    Brilliant reasoned article, we need to be as cunning as snakes and as gentle as doves. No tolerance in that and a snake frightens even before it bites.

  • Thanks Again. I need to come to your blog much more often!