On Libertarianism And Toleration
Reason’s Brian Doherty has a piece today over at Hit & Run that lends some much-needed sanity to the issues that we’ve been dealing with lately:
I invite all fellow admirers of a tolerant, dynamic, vibrant, liberal, varied and growing world of ideas, expressions, and ways of being to consider, for a moment, that there may indeed have been some wisdom in that famous epigram said to sum up the spirit of Voltaire (though never, apparently, written by him in such words): “I disagree with what this man has said, but I defend to the death his right to say it.”
As ugly and embracing of intolerance as such an epigram may seem in practice, perhaps there are reasons, reasons vital to the flourishing of an interesting, varied, free world of expression, that those summing up the spirit of Enlightenment tolerance did not choose to express the appropriate attitude toward things said with which he disagreed—even strongly and passionately disagreed—like this: “I disagree with what this man has said, and I consider him evil for saying it; furthermore, I consider him having said it the most significant thing about him, and that it overshadows any other accomplishment or statement he has ever made. I fervently wish to have him driven from polite society, and consider that anyone who does not enthusiastically join me in so driving him to themselves be evil, or at least incredibly idiotic and not to be trusted—but don’t worry, I don’t think he should be arrested for saying it.”
It may be that the more famous saying indeed embodies the spirit of a lovable, valuable, rich world of discourse; and that the second one perhaps embodies a less open, free, and dynamic, and thus less valuable and interesting, world of discourse.
In other words, to a libertarian, the fact that you disagree with someone doesn’t mean they are evil and doesn’t make them worthy of excommunication from “the movement” (whatever that is). Yes, there are some issues that are fundamental to liberty (for me, one of those is the idea that each person needs to be treated as an individual, not a member of a group), but, quite honestly there are some that are not, and it doesn’t make sense to attack someone personally because they happen to disagree with you.
For Ron Paul supporters, that means that you aren’t accomplishing anything when you engage what can only be called the tactics of a Paulistinian. For those of us who don’t support Ron Paul, it means that recognizing that not everyone that supports the Congressman is of that group of people who have, quite honestly, given the movement a bad name.
Tolerance is required if civility is going to be maintained, and without civility we’re not going to accomplish anything.