The New Intolerance

The New Intolerance
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In a recent issue of First Things Mary Eberstadt wrote about "the new intolerance." This is a scary concept because it attacks us in a most private way: our thoughts.

In times past, kings and emperors punished subjects for thought crimes, but at least they were honest about it. The new intolerance, on the other hand, uses as its modus operandi the slogan "there is no tolerance for intolerance," and intolerance -- that vague, nebulous, and dangerous concept -- is defined by the mob.

But with the slogan's simplicity comes power.

It juxtaposes tolerance with intolerance while affirming the former through condemnation of the latter. Sure, people should be tolerant, but only toward those ideas that are not intolerant towards others. It is like only engaging people who use manners while condemning those who do not. 

The slogan also appeals to basic emotion, no thought necessary. Who could tolerate intolerance? If you do, you're with "them" -- the bigots. No one wants to be a bigot and no one wants to defend them. Thus: don't tolerate intolerance.

For those under the new intolerance a thought crime can lead to economic ruin. How long until it leads to physical ruin as well?

Its not difficult to determine the terms of victory should the new intolerance achieve its goals. Here's a shortlist:

  • extraordinarily broad nondiscrimination laws, purposely broad -- and preferably federal -- sexual assault policies,
  • federalized same-sex marriage,
  • the removal of religion from the public square,
  • the profusion of reproductive technologies into every private sphere,
  • expansion of abortion access, 
  • progressive-based school curriculums,
  • more market regulation,
  • "fair share" taxes,

and, as Ms. Eberstadt wrote, the final goal of the new intolerance is conformity through ostracization.

Regarding conformity, "the new intolerance" has hardly anything to do with "equality," "social justice," or any other familiar tagline. It is a political war with political ends and political means to reach those ends. It is a war of dueling ideologies, and nothing is as it seems.

But maybe this is how it's supposed to be -- it has to involve legislatures, governors and presidents, and the courts. Law by its nature nudges and molds, forms and leads. Progressives know this as well as anyone, which is perhaps why law is a main avenue for every cause they take up.

Semi-progressive victory appears to be close to the present situation. Divisions over gay marriage, contraception and abortion access, and even public displays of religious faith are battled and litigated over. Ultimately progressive movements could stall, especially if they lose challenges in court, get defeated in conservative states, or get outvoted in referenda.

But that leads to another question: how will the new intolerance be defeated?

Every tide has a high water mark. But if the new intolerance is to be driven back, the pushing had better start soon.

Dominic Lynch is a recent political science graduate of Loyola University Chicago. Follow him on Twitter.

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