When Tolerance is a Painted Strumpet

Tolerance is very likely the supreme liberal virtue. It is the virtue in which liberals themselves take the greatest pride, and it is the virtue of which they say their enemies are most deficient. Yet in all other moral systems that I am aware of, tolerance is, at most, a minor virtue. Indeed it is a suspect virtue because it is so often a sham, a fraud and a cheat: a painted strumpet flouncing about in cheap finery.

Tolerance has traditionally been seen as a minor virtue because few men are actually in a position to show true tolerance. In order for a man to show true tolerance he must meet two conditions: (a) he must disapprove of the behavior, opinion or class of humanity that he tolerates, and (b) he must have the power to stop that behavior, repress that opinion, or oppress that class. Lacking (a) his supposed tolerance is really indifference; lacking (b) it is really resignation (1). Indifference and resignation disguised as tolerance are what I have called painted strumpets.

I truly tolerate the noise my children make when I am reading (when I do tolerate it) because I meet both of these conditions. I would prefer quiet and I have the power to command quiet (if only by banishing them to the backyard), but I do on occasion voluntarily acquiesce to a tumultuous state of affairs. And when I do, I am tolerant. I would not exhibit tolerance if I submitted to my children’s tumult because I was indifferent to the noise, much less if I delighted in it. Nor would I exhibit tolerance if I had no power to stop it.

A great deal of liberals’ boasted tolerance is, in fact, indifference. In most cases I’d venture to say they do not tolerate homosexuality, for instance, since a person’s sexual behavior is for them neither here nor there. Indeed they will often begin testimonials to sexual tolerance with the words, “I do not care what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their bedroom.” This is indifference, not tolerance. To truly tolerate homosexuality, one must disapprove of the behavior, prefer that it did not take place.

And of course one must have the power to stop it, or at least seriously inconvenience those who would engage in it. Very few people possess this power, and so most who meet condition (a) fail to meet condition (b). They are resigned, not tolerant.

I’d venture to say that almost no one actually tolerates homosexuality in the United States nowadays. We are either indifferent or resigned.

When faulting their enemies for deficient tolerance, Liberals are wont to confuse (or perhaps obfuscate) the question with pronouncements against discrimination and in favor of equality. This only confirms that their conception of tolerance is bizarre (or perhaps dishonest). As traditionally defined, tolerance cannot be shown until one has made a discriminatory judgment against a behavior, opinion, or class of humanity. If I do not discriminate, I am indifferent, and this, as we have seen, is a painted strumpet.

The argument for equality is, of course, an argument against power. The person making it is either informing me that I have no power, or advising me that to exercise the power that I do have would be shameful, dastardly and mean. But if I have no power, or doubt my right to the power I have, I am merely resigned. I may say it is winsome tolerance hanging on my arm, but it is really a painted strumpet.

When faulting their enemies for deficient tolerance, liberals are also wont to confuse tolerance and what the older morality called magnanimity, which is to say “big heartedness.” A magnanimous or big-hearted man is a man of generous affection. He does not love indiscriminately, but there is room in his heart for a large and varied slice of humanity. He is also more or less free of the vice of spite, and so is “open hearted” to former enemies, once they have stopped being enemies.

Magnanimity is a major virtue. Each of us should cultivate it insofar as we can. But it is not tolerance and it should not be mistaken for tolerance, because when it is, magnanimity and tolerance destroy each other.

No matter how large my heart, it cannot contain all behaviors, opinions and classes of humanity. This is for the very simple reason that some of these behaviors, opinions and classes of humanity are at war with each other, and with me. And no man should admit war into his heart. If he does, it will cease to be a large heart containing many friends. It will sink from a banquet of friends to a brothel teaming with painted strumpets.

But this does not mean that a man must make war on everything and everyone that he does not, indeed cannot, love. There is a space between love and wrath, and it is in this space that we have, from time to time, opportunities to exhibit the minor virtue of tolerance.


(1) Andreas Kinneging, The Geography of Good and Evil: Philosophical Investigations, trans. Ineke Hardy (Wilmington, Del.: I.S.I. Books, 2009), pp. 91-102.

13 thoughts on “When Tolerance is a Painted Strumpet

    • I agree. Up until I read this post I always dealt with accusations of intolerance by pointing out that the word tolerance implies disagreement; that one doesn’t “tolerate” that which he agrees with, he *embraces* it. But thanks to Mr. Smith I see now this is insufficient. My approach, while perfectly true isofar as it goes, doesn’t explicitly deal with indifference towards a thing (which is a big problem!) as in (a), nor does it deal with resignation as in (b). In the future I will deal with the accusation more completely.

  1. The go-to article for explaining the truth about tolerance. Honestly, its like the Reactosphere is having to clarify the entire damn dictionary because our language has become so twisted, and words so divorced from particularly their etymological definitions.

    We mostly hear the word ‘intolerant’, but this criticism is to suggest that the left really doesn’t care about our attitudes towards something, only that we cease our apparent oppression (a power of which we have been dispossessed for a long time now). This isn’t what they mean of course. To be ‘intolerant’ is like being ‘racist’ or ‘bigoted’. It’s just shorthand for ‘heretical’ to the Cult of Progress. They don’t care what it really means. I do find however, this is a great way to make leftists look stupid in front of others, to call them out on their lack of knowledge about the English language. Things like this are in fact very useful.

    • I would go further than mere indifference in relation to the Left. They strongly approve of that which they claim the moral kudos for “tolerating”. This will finally extend to the likes of sex with small children. After that, my imagination is incapable of where they will go.

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  3. Every day is opposite day.

    Tolerance means exterminating the Low Man: crushing all dissent from liberalism. Hatred means you are the kind of jerk that every right thinking person despises. Freedom means crushing subsidiarity beneath a monolithic authority which makes sure, good and hard, that nobody gets to tell anyone else what to do. Equal rights formally impose a live and let live philosophy on everyone, discriminating authoritatively wherever necessary in order to eliminate discrimination and authority. Fraternity means that if you don’t agree that my political philosophy is right you are less than human scum. Anti-authoritarianism means imposing anarchy on everyone against their will. Diversity mean making sure everyone is the same. Dignity mean making our defects into the principle of our identity. Being open minded means making all the same unreflective metaphysical assumptions I make, and attributing everything that is good in the world to my narrow ideology. Conservatism means providing an outlet for people to complain without ever challenging liberalism. Anti-racism means despising white people and making white political ideology – liberalism – supreme. Scientific impartiality means assuming methodologically that we are literally mindless. Respecting women means treating them like children who are not responsible for their own actions. Laissez-faire economics means comprehensive government enforcement of mostly involuntary contract terms on debt slaves, and treating economic value as if it were just the product of our imaginations. Consent means that if you were in the right like me, you would choose what I am imposing on you.

    Etc, etc. In the land of lies, every day is opposite day.

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  6. Tolerance is no longer enough. SJW “cry-bully” types now demand “acceptance,” as a replacement for the word “tolerance,” since they detect and dislike the tacit disapproval implied by “tolerance.”

    I recently had an argument with one of my high school students about the use of the word “they” as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun. When asked my opinion, my disapproval was taken as evidence of my intolerance for transgendered people. I replied that I was actually just intolerant of bad grammar.

    • Was there a transgendered person present, whose feelings you could have hurt, or was this all hypothetical on the part of your students? It’s rather ironic, since referring to a transgendered man as “they” could also be construed as an insulting suggestion that he had multiple personalities.

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