The Difficulty of Tolerance: Essays in Political Philosophy

In important respects, this is a more radical theory than the (muchmore popular and influential) one developed by Locke, whodistinguishes between state and church in an early liberal perspectiveof natural individual rights. While it is the duty of the state tosecure the “civil interests” of its citizens, the“care of the soul” cannot be its business, this being amatter between the individual and God to whom alone one is responsiblein this regard. Hence there is a God-given, inalienable right to thefree exercise of religion. Churches are no more than voluntaryassociations without any right to use force within a legitimatepolitical order based on the consent of the governed. Locke draws thelimits of toleration where a religion does not accept its proper placein civil society (such as Catholicism, in Locke’s eyes) as wellas where atheists deny any higher moral authority and thereforedestroy the basis of social order.

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There are a few important exceptions to our anti-rules pro-freedom philosophy. We are strict about ethical issues and safety issues. Harassment of employees or trading on insider information are zero tolerance issues, for example. Some information security issues, such as keeping our members’ payment information safe, have strict controls around access. Transferring large amounts of cash from our company bank accounts has strict controls. But these are edge cases.


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Any concrete use of the concept of toleration is always situated inparticular contexts of normative and political conflict, especially insocieties that are transforming towards increased religious, ethicaland cultural pluralism – even more so when societies are markedby an increased awareness of such pluralism, with some cultural groupsraising new claims for recognition and others looking at theirco-citizens with suspicion, despite having lived together for sometime in the past. These social conflicts always involve group-basedclaims for recognition, both in the legal and in the social sphere(see generally Patten 2014, Galeotti 2002). Contemporary debate hasfocused on questions of respecting particular religious practices andbeliefs, ranging from certain manners of dress, including the burka,to certain demands to be free from blasphemy and religious insults(Laborde 2008, Newey 2013, Nussbaum 2012, Leiter 2014, Taylor andStepan 2014, Modood 2013, Forst 2013, ch. 12). The general questionsraised here include: What is special about religious as opposed toother cultural identities (Laborde and Bardon 2017)? When is equalrespect called for and what exactly does it imply with respect to, forexample, norms of gender equality (see Okin et al. 1999, Song 2007)?What role do past injustices play in weighing claims for recognition,and how much room can there be for autonomous forms of life in adeeply pluralistic society (Tully 1995, Williams 2000)?