Thursday, March 09, 2006

On Toleration

The crucial thing is not tolerance but toleration. Tolerance is a mental attitude but toleration is a set of arrangements. I think that the attitudes matter less and will come in time if you get the politics right -– if you find the right regime of toleration.

This reminds me of a Puritan sermon (from the 1630s or '40s) against divorce. It said simply: if you hold the estranged couple together long enough, something will happen that makes the marriage possible. I don’t believe that about marriage, but it may be true for the less intimate coexistence of groups. If you force Greeks and Turks to live together for 200 years, there is going to be commerce and friendship and even intermarriage across the borders -– if the political regime is successful and imposes peace.

My stress is not on mutual respect but on peaceful coexistence. Start there. In today’s world, it would be a huge gain.
— Michael Walzer, interview in UNESCO Courier

I just finished Michael Walzer's book, On Toleration, which presents a framework for understanding how different groups coexist (or not) under different types of political regimes.

It was published in 1997. I bought it more than a year ago based on the title, but the moment to read it never seemed right. Now, it is, with a sectarian meltdown looming in Iraq, U.S. fundamentalists waging a counter-attack in "the War on Christians", and state battles shaping up over same-sex unions and abortion.

Walzer argues that toleration is a foundation of the liberal thought that made the American republic possible.

I'll dig into this in subsequent posts.


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