Glen Newey’s critique of political toleration

Anno LIV, n. 225-226, maggio-dicembre 2019

Anno LIV, n. 225-226, maggio-dicembre 2019
Centro Einaudi
Articolo completo/Full text


In this paper, I would like to rescue political toleration from the corrosive force of Newey’s reasoning, while honoring his memory by engaging in a thorough discussion on his challenging views. In the first section of this paper, I shall briefly rehearse Newey’s view on toleration both as a moral virtue and as a political issue, focusing especially on the problems that toleration encounters in the political realm of liberal democracy. In the second section, I shall highlight what I take to be the critical aspects of his view, and in the third part of the article, I shall argue for my response to Newey’s challenge. More specifically, Newey contends that political toleration is awkward and that its room is just in the interstices of democratic states’ action. Though Newey is right in drawing a clear distinction between the circumstances of toleration in social intercourse and in political relations, I argue that, contrary to what he thinks, this difference should lead to different conceptions of toleration, according to whether it applies horizontally or vertically. He moreover contends that political decisions settling issues over toleration of a contested practice are never tolerant, but coercive. No one denies that state decision are coercive, and yet a clear distinction can be traced between decisions in favor of permitting the contested practice and decisions prohibiting the same very practice. Finally, he claims the accusations of intolerance are circular, and in fact both parties are intolerant. I have rebutted this claim with a conceptual analysis providing clear criteria for setting apart toleration from intolerance and intolerable.