Liberalism Isn’t Tolerant, But This Beautiful Philosophy Is

tolerance, friends holding hands

By Brett Chandrasekhar

tolerance (adj.) : the willingness to accept behavior and beliefs that are different from your own, even if you disagree or disapprove of them

Tolerance is a value that is paramount for any diverse and multicultural society. When groups with widely differing beliefs come together, they have two options: 1) to use their differences as a basis for hostility and violence; or 2) to empathize and let each other live peacefully. The tolerant approach, and the civilized approach, is of course the latter.

The word has typically been the domain of liberals in America. However, leftists have used it inconsistently and haphazardly, sometimes in a way contradictory to its actual definition.

“Bake the Cake”: The Glaring Hypocrisy of the Left

bake the cake
The Patriot Post

Tolerance isn’t for daisies and dandelions. It exists for those controversial acts which offend and upset people. If there weren’t divisive and emotional disagreements, tolerance would not be as important as it is.

As the Cambridge definition above states, tolerance is “the willingness to accept behavior and beliefs” even if one “disagrees or disapproves of them.”

In other words, the true test of tolerance comes when people so strongly disagree with a position that feelings of disgust and hatred take control of their hearts and minds.

The left has failed this test.

Liberals were correct on the issue of legalizing gay marriage and rightly excoriated religious conservatives for interfering with the lives of others. But when it came to the choice of Christian business owners to refuse service, liberals threw tolerance out of the window, pushing for fines of tens of thousands of dollars backed up by the threat of jail time.

This is, of course, not to say that Christians are morally right to discriminate; the present author does not agree with them and the reader may not as well. But the fact that one does not agree is exactly the point. As stated earlier, the true test of tolerance comes when individuals vehemently disagree. Leftists cannot claim the word’s mantle if they are only tolerant of actions they approve of.

“Should We Be Tolerant of the Intolerant?”

hate, tolerant of intolerant
The Emotion Machine

The most common response by the left to those who object to their intolerance is that there’s something weird or contradictory about “being tolerant of the intolerant.” Certainly, when the phrase is worded like that, they seem to be correct.

But on further investigation, the argument falls apart. After all, is there something contradictory about the First Amendment? Why doesn’t the government throw people in jail just for being part of the KKK? It’s because the Constitution is tolerant of even the most atrocious and offensive beliefs.

What individuals are actually doing when they make the above argument is called equivocating. They’re using two different definitions of the same word. Again, consider the example of the Christian baker. When leftists claim these business owners are being ‘intolerant,’ they are arguing that they are not providing services to those they disagree with. However, when the present author makes the same criticism of leftists, he is arguing they are using violence to outlaw the behavior of those they disagree with. There is nothing contradictory about not using violence against people who choose not to provide a service.

Furthermore, if the left believes it’s wrong to refuse service to peaceful individuals but okay to throw them in a cage, their priorities are clearly incorrect: they’re intolerant.

When push comes to shove, violent intolerance is the true intolerance, and liberals parade it regularly on public display. There’s only one political philosophy that can claim a consistent opposition to this evil: the philosophy of libertarianism.

What is Libertarianism?

Switzerland, libertarian

Libertarianism basically comes down to a single rule: it’s wrong to use force against peaceful people. Everyone has a right to do what they wish with their body and property, as long as they’re not initiating force against someone else.

That doesn’t mean libertarians must agree with someone’s actions, but it does mean that they can only use persuasion, not force, to change someone’s mind.

This is the mark of a moral and civilized society: when individuals don’t use force and violence when they disagree.

In other words, libertarians are tolerant of all sorts of lifestyles, whether or not they approve of them. The philosophy is truly the epitome of “leaving people alone” and “live and let live.”

How does a libertarian deal with the controversial issue of Christian bakers refusing service? Though the libertarian may not personally agree with the Christian’s actions, he strongly believes in the liberty of the business owner to do as he wishes. After all, if every individual has a right to do what they want with his or her body, then a Christian too has the right to not serve someone if he or she thinks it would be contributing to an immoral cause. Simply put, it’s wrong to force a Christian to use his or her body in a way he or she does not wish to.

Is this simply some sort of anti-homosexual agenda? Absolutely not. Long before gay marriage became the pet project of Democrats, the Libertarian Party (one of the vehicles of the liberty movement) was in favor of it. As David Boaz points out, “The Libertarian Party endorsed gay rights with its first platform in 1972 — the same year the Democratic nominee for vice president referred to ‘queers’ in a Chicago speech.” In fact, the LP’s first presidential nominee, that same year, was a man named John Hospers, the first openly gay man to run for president in the United States. In 2012, the Democratic Party finally followed suit and added support for gay marriage to its platform.


In a diverse and multicultural society, groups are bound to have passionate disagreements over their differences. But when such differences exist, liberty is the answer. Liberty allows each group to retain their rights, all while encouraging peaceful debate and discussion. The only thing liberty does not tolerate is intolerance, but unlike the fallacious argument before, the definition is consistent here: an opposition to violence. Acts such as murder, theft, and rape should of course be illegal, and it would actually be contradictory to allow such acts.

Anti-bigotry zealots do have one thing in common with the Christians they oppose. The former group claims to be tolerant… until it comes to Christian business owners who refuse service, because discrimination is immoral. Meanwhile, many in the latter group also claim to be tolerant, until it comes to legalizing gay marriage, because gay marriage is immoral.

What both groups fail to realize is that there’s a beautiful hilltop where they can meet and coexist peacefully, being tolerant of each other. That hilltop is called liberty.


Follow Brett Chandrasekhar on Twitter and Facebook.

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