The Limits of Tolerance (I)


The Limits of Tolerance (I)


Written by Alfonso Elizondo


According to the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language, tolerance is respect for the ideas, beliefs or practices of others, when they are different or contrary to one’s own, and it is considered a fundamental requirement for freedom, democracy and healthy social coexistence.


To tolerate means to respect, dialogue and work to find points of convergence within diversity that will be conducive to collective well-being and peaceful coexistence. It does not mean resignation or abandonment of one’s own ideas, beliefs or practices, nor the imposition of these on those who think differently. Even less does it mean indifference and neglect when faced with unfair situations, as we would become accomplices in crime.


In the view of some well-known philosophers, tolerance is the virtue par excellence of democracy and has two dimensions: one moral and one political. The moral aspect means being tolerant in accepting the opinions, beliefs and practices of others, even if they are different from ours. As a political virtue it refers to the acceptance of plurality, which allows democratic societies to maintain their systems of coexistence.


The first limit of tolerance is that individual freedom and human rights should not be violated. If they are curtailed, imposition prevails and coexistence will become fragile. As a result, radical positions will emerge seeking, without any discussion, to force others to embrace their ideas as the only valid ones for achieving the common good.


So tolerance must prevail in the face of ethnic, political, ideological, cultural, religious, sexual and economic differences. Tolerance must also prevail over opinions that are different from ours, even if they are not to our liking or are of no interest to us.

Tolerance must establish limits within the framework of the law in the following cases:

1.- Murder, sexual abuse, human trafficking and human organ trafficking.

2.- Labor exploitation and slavery.

3.- Terrorism, arms and drug trafficking, torture and kidnapping.

4.- Corruption and destruction of the environment.

5.- Racism and xenophobia.

Addendum: In the next chapter we will discuss the great philosopher Karl Popper’s ideas on tolerance.