Tolerance is a self-contradictory principle. You’ve probably realised this from your everyday life and musings on world events. Basically as a principle tolerance means we must be tolerant of everything. People can’t just pick and choose what they are going to tolerate and what they aren’t. So this all means that tolerance requires us to tolerate even intolerance. Ouch! Not so easy!
In other words, the principle of tolerance requires us to grant intolerant people the right to be intolerant. But this all a bit twisted as tolerance is supposed to be the opposite of intolerance, and it just means that it is supporting the very thing it is supposed to be against. This might even lead you to think it makes more sense to be intolerant. The intolerant person’s simple motto is: “I like the things I like and I hate the things I hate, and I will hate the people who like the things I hate, and I will make that hate known to them in no uncertain terms.” Hold on though, this certainly isn’t going to create a friendly, open, free, democratic society as there will be no tolerance.
Let’s look to Karl Popper to make some sense out of all this:
Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. From Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies
Karl Popper preferred a tolerant society where people are allowed freedom of speech. He said that only when intolerant ideas could not be rationally argued and society risked falling into an intolerant system should those intolerant ideas be suppressed. To repeat things a bit, he said, “I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise.” Popper’s ideas are debated today when people try to make sense of world events where ideas of tolerance and intolerance are clashing on a seemingly daily basis. A bit further back in 2011, Demos and the Open Society Institute debated diversity and solidarity. Their discussions touched upon the paradox of tolerance.