The new left’s doctrine of “repressive tolerance”

The new left’s doctrine of “repressive tolerance” February 7, 2013

It has long been observed that advocates of tolerance can be quite  intolerant when it comes to those who do not share their beliefs.  But I stumbled upon these quotations from Herbert Marcuse, hailed as “the Father of the New Left,” who was the author of “Repressive Tolerance” (1965).  He teaches that the establishment of a “liberating tolerance” will require the repression of certain people and points of view.

From “Repressive Tolerance“:

“Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.”

“Surely, no government can be expected to foster its own subversion, but in a democracy such a right is vested in the people (i.e. in the majority of the people). This means that the ways should not be blocked on which a subversive majority could develop, and if they are blocked by organized repression and indoctrination, their reopening may require apparently undemocratic means. They would include the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc.”

via Herbert Marcuse – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

This pretty much explains the Left’s practice to this day.  It also accounts for why Marcuse’s fellow Marxists, when they would come into power in the name of liberation,  felt no qualms in setting up Secret Police and Gulags.

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  • SAL

    It worries me that this sort of mindset is more prevalent now. Hollywood/media and their political arm (the Democrats) control the culture of the nation. Without passing a single law they can when they unite, drown out all opposing voices just by using their domaince of America’s cultural institutions. Conservatives have been a countercultural minority for a long time but I get the sense Hollywood and the media are ready to move beyond stigmatizing the conservative minority, or even scapegoating them. I get the sense Hollywood and the media might start whipping up violence against the conservative minority in the country.

    It is a natural next step for an establishment that so effectively scapegoats conservatives in ways akin to how antisemites scapegoated European Jews for every ill imaginable. The blood libel today appears to be racism.

    I suppose what worries me is the French press overwhelmingly sided against Dreyfus and railroaded him due to antisemitism despite France being a supposedly liberal nation of rights. Being a democracy even a mature one is no guarantee you won’t go down a nasty path towards despised minority groups like conservatives.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Repressive Tolerance

    Nice, Orwellian term.

  • MarkB

    We can only hope and pray that the pendulum will swing back someday as it always has in the past. I doubt though that it will be in my life time.

  • SKPeterson

    I’m reminded of the story by the Czech wtier Milan Kundera where the phrase of the some of the young Communist intellectuals after the end of World War II was “No tolerance for the enemies of tolerance.” And then they realized that intellectuals wouldn’t be tolerated under the new regime.

    Also this

    “Love of God thus becomes the dominant passion of life; like every other worth-while love, it demands and inspires sacrifice. But love of God and man, as an ideal, has lately been replaced by the new ideal of tolerance which inspires no sacrifice. Why should any human being in the world be merely tolerated? What man has ever made a sacrifice in the name of tolerance? It leads men, instead, to express their own egotism in a book or a lecture that patronizes the downtrodden group. One of the cruelest things that can happen to a human being is to be tolerated. Never once did Our Lord say, “Tolerate your enemies!” But He did say, “Love your enemies; do good to them that hate you” (Matt. 5:44). Such love can be achieved only if we deliberately curb our fallen nature’s animosities.”
    ― Fulton J. Sheen, Peace of Soul: Timeless Wisdom on Finding Serenity and Joy by the Century’s Most Acclaimed Catholic Bishop

  • John C

    “I get the sense Hollywood and the media might start whipping up violence against the conservative minority in the country.”

    You possess a finely honed sense of persecution if not paranoia.
    I doubt whether Hollywood will want to harass or distress the 73% of Americans who identify as Christian and besides, it is a conservative institution.
    Extremists like Beck, Santorum and Palin and organizations such as the Heritage Foundation and Fox News do more to undermine Conservatism than anything Liberals could have done.
    Hollywood is not to blame if Conservatives can’t tell a good story. And don’t blame the Liberal media or Latinos and single women either.
    For the moment, the Silent Majority is now a minority. What happened?

  • War is Peace.
    Freedom is Slavery.
    Ignorance is Strength.
    Repression is Liberation.

  • How bizarre. Right at the beginning of the essay, Marcuse writes what amounts to “Tolerance is the objective. Intolerance is how we get there.”

  • Abby

    @5 “Hollywood is not to blame if Conservatives can’t tell a good story.” Oh, there are good stories. They get rejected. Bottom line is money. People want violence/sex. Good luck with that for the betterment of your life.

  • SAL

    “I doubt whether Hollywood will want to harass or distress the 73% of Americans who identify as Christian and besides, it is a conservative institution.”

    Hollywood which is “Progressive” (by any reasonable measure) certainly puts out things which have harassed and distressed Christians. That is a proven marketing strategy. Cause an uproar so that your crummy fifth rate film, art or sculpture get’s noticed. That’s all fairly old news.

    What is new and interesting is the demonization of minority groups by Hollywood. Priests and pastors have long been a favorite target of the progressives who run the culture. What’s new is the focus of animus and hatred at ordinary people who happen to hold views that predated the Progressive’s culture. While this is still ratcheting up I certainly hope it ends before people are whipped up into violence against the conservative minority that is apparently the origin and cause of all evil and suffering in America. We’re like the medievial conception of Jews but twice as bloodthirsty and twice as greedy. There certainly is historical precedent for cultural elites picking a scapegoat when their allies in government are unable to fix any of the worsening problems of the population. As our situation in Western nations deteriorates I expect similiar scapegoating to intensify for conservative minorities where they exist.

  • tODD

    I’m not sure these complaints about “tolerance” are really on-the-mark anymore.

    I mean, honestly, when was the last time you heard one of Those People decry a lack of tolerance? Seems like you heard more about that sort of thing a decade or more ago, back when “political correctness” was uttered seriously by people. Christians — especially those on the political right — still appear to be fighting the “PC” or “tolerance” bugaboos, but the rhetoric from the left seems to have moved on, honestly.

    It’s not just me; here’s what Google says about the term. Note the steady decline since 2004, the earliest data. (Admittedly, there’s a lot of other uses of the term “tolerance” showing up in that graph, so, you know, grain of salt.) And here’s a different graph of usage, taken only from Google Books. It still shows the same decline I was referring to.

  • GLM

    @5 “You possess a finely honed sense of persecution if not paranoia.” Your response to @1 brought to mind the title of a fairly popular book a few years back entitled, “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.”

  • Tom Hering

    Most Americans to left of center aren’t New Leftists, and have never read Marcuse. A good many have never even heard of him. And lots of people of all stripes think tolerance is a good idea. They also recognize that tolerating someone isn’t the same as embracing someone. That’s not news to them. Further, recognizing intolerance when they see it, they generally think it should be discouraged. That certainly can’t be news to anyone in a society that has long held to the value of “live and let live.” So, just how influential is this doctrine of repressive tolerance, really? That is, the idea in full, as Marcuse meant it to be understood and acted upon? Outside of some American campuses? Not very influential at all, I’d wager.

  • sg

    It is like using violence to promote non-violence.

  • sg

    Tolerance is more popular when you want your own views tolerated. Just wanting others to tolerate you doesn’t make you tolerant. Tolerating others makes you tolerant. But if asking for tolerance is just a tactic for getting what you want and not actually a principle you believe in, then of course you are going to discard it as soon as it no longer serves your purpose. Human interaction is inherently hierarchical. People want to raise their own status and move up the pecking order. Equality is a word/concept like tolerance that people use to move up. Once they have moved up they shut the door behind them. They want equality with those above them, not below them, of course. Or as Klasie put it the oppressed become the oppressors. Tolerance, like equality, is elusive and foreign to human society.

  • Tom Hering

    Oh, I don’t know, sg. I think tolerance has been a general value in American society for a long time. Live and let live, do unto others, and all that. People who’ve benefited from tolerance are more likely, not less likely, to show it to others – including those who are below them, socially. And more likely to dislike intolerance when they see it, because they think it might harm them, too. If not directly, then indirectly, or eventually. But then my view of tolerance isn’t as cynical as yours.

  • John C

    Crummy fifth rate films don’t make a lot of money, Sal.
    Hollywood tends to reflect our fears, preoccupations and dreams rather than create new ones.
    By the end of the film, good inevitably triumphs over evil, transgressors are punished and order is restored.
    Homosexuals were certainly punished by campy and therefore unmanly portrayals in comedies and with death in dramas.
    Incidentally, theatre and the priesthood were the only occupations where homosexuals were accepted and could flourish.
    Considering the scandals in the priesthood and the world of television evangelism, Hollywood has been rather kind towards religion. On the other hand, casting Jeffery Hunter as Jesus in King of Kings was just a little cruel.

  • Tom Hering

    All studio films are shown to focus groups before they’re released, and this has been true for decades (they used to be called test screenings). These days, they’re shown in rough form during production, again in post-production, and again before release – over and over and over until the producers feel their investors are relatively safe. And these focus groups are carefully composed of either the general public or a targeted audience. So if movies contain things you don’t like, it’s only because they tested well with the public or a niche market. The days when directors could gain enough freedom in their industry to put visions (progressive or otherwise) on the screen, that they knew would challenge or upset most audiences, are long gone. Movies just cost too much to allow for that.

  • sg

    “People who’ve benefited from tolerance are more likely, not less likely, to show it to others – including those who are below them, socially.”

    Is this really true, or is it just something we wish to believe? Can’t we show circumstances in which the opposite is the case? Don’t we often see that if you give and inch, they take a mile?

    “Such offence-taking has become a standard feature of theological and social discourse. Offence-taking is routinely used to close down voices arguing for the Church’s traditional stance on the vocations of women or voices arguing against same sex marriage. In light of the feelings of gay persons, some argue that arguments against same sex marriage are hateful and homophobic at worst, or insensitive at best, and so must be shut out of or downplayed within public discourse. To protest this limitation of discourse is itself insensitive and offensive. Offence-takers then present capitulation to their demands as the only sensitive route to take. Lacking the nerve to resist, society quickly gives in to their demands. By excluding challenging voices from the debate in such a manner, and expecting acceptance of their demands as proof of sensitivity, offence-takers win by default.
    excerpted rom an interesting discussion on modes of discourse.

  • fjsteve

    John C., I have to say that virtually all of your claims are unsubstantiated.

    1. Crummy fifth-rate films often make a lot of money (Anaconda, Last Action Hero, Godfather III, etc)
    2. There are plenty of movies that, even by Hollywood’s standards, don’t have a happy ending (No Country for Old Men, Se7en, The Perfect Storm, Taxi Driver, American History X, etc). Combine that with the fact that oftentimes Hollywood’s idea of a happy ending is often skewed and you have quite a lot of movies with less than ideal endings.
    3. Weren’t the homosexuals who were portrayed as campy often portrayed by homosexual and those sympathetic to homosexuals? Hardly the fault of puritanical society.
    4. Homosexuals are accepted by and flourish in many if not most occupations. Saying otherwise is actually belittling to homosexuals. If you’re saying those are the only occupations they can flourish while being open about their sexuality then you have to take the priesthood out of that statement.
    5. While I don’t mean to be dismissive of the scandals in the Catholic Church, as bad as they are, the percentage of abusive priests is about on par with other occupations that deal with children and adolescence. And I mean to tell you that Hollywood is much kinder to teachers than priests.

  • sg

    “I think tolerance has been a general value in American society for a long time. Live and let live, do unto others, and all that.”

    Yeah, I agree, but it has always been perhaps more philosophical than practiced because we know that there has also been plenty of intolerance.

    “People who’ve benefited from tolerance are more likely, not less likely, to show it to others – including those who are below them, socially.

    I see this more when there is great social distance rather than just some. Those who are just a little below on the ability scale could move up to your spot, so they threaten you. Those far below can’t threaten you because they are incompetent.

    And more likely to dislike intolerance when they see it, because they think it might harm them, too. If not directly, then indirectly, or eventually.

    I definitely think that is true.

    “But then my view of tolerance isn’t as cynical as yours.

    It is hard to be as cynical as I am. 😀

  • Tom Hering

    I bet I could be more cynical than you, sg. But forget it. What’s the use of even trying?

  • John C


    Whether a film is ‘crappy’ or not depends on the definition. Unfortunately, Sal did not provide one.
    I preferred ‘Anaconda’ to No Country for Old Men’. I did not mention ‘happy endings’ in my original post but you’re right, the film about a psycho-killer with a nail gun did not have a happy ending. This was not a film for this old man.
    In my opinion not one of the films mentioned on your list was a crappy film.

    Yes, homosexuals flourish in almost every field of human endeavour.
    But a generation ago, sodomy was subject to criminal sanction and it was possible for homosexuals to be arrested, dragged through the courts, fined or imprisoned.
    It was safer to stay in the closet.
    Even now in Australia, religious organizations are exempt from some sections of the Anti- Discrimination Act which prohibits employers from discriminating against people on the grounds of race, creed or sexual inclination.
    On matters of sex and sexuality, do not underestimate Big Government and Big Religion’s capacity to still inflict distress and misery.

    This Wiki article supports my assertion that homosexuals sought refuge in the priesthood. I accept that there are difficulties collecting this information and I acknowledge the statistics are contested.
    However, according to one commentator, the number of homosexual priests in Catholic Church ranges from 15 to 58%.

    As for item 5 in your post, I will paraphrase from your introduction, your assertions are unsubstantiated.