Individualism vs. Popper’s paradox

Karl Popper, a philosopher, wrote about a ‘paradox of tolerance.’

‘Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.’

But in fact, this is only a paradox if we understand tolerance to extend beyond the tolerance of individualism. In other words, if we tolerate those who do not merely wish to pursue their own individual paths, but wish to pursue their own paths for society as an whole.

The person who is tolerant of individuals says, ‘Anyone must be tolerated when they pursue their own path for themselves, provided that they do not try to force anyone else to follow their path.’ This is individualism, and it is the foundation of freedom. The ‘regressive’ tolerant person (today’s ‘regressive left’ or ‘SJW), who results in the paradox to which Popper referred, is the one who says ‘We must tolerate everyone, even if they are attempting to be tyrants.’

Of course, this is to some extent an oversimplification. We cannot stop tolerating until someone goes beyond mere words, and violates the harm principle of JS Mill. However, the point remains: individualism resolves Popper’s paradox of tolerance.

What this really amounts to is that we should tolerate a person doing what they want with themselves, but not tolerate one individual trying to force another individual to comply with their goals.


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