A Critique of Tolerance in the Age of Identity (1)

Tolerance, once something of an awkward supplement to liberalism, reemerged at liberalism’s center in the late twentieth century. In nations and regions saturated with “difference”- ethnic, racial, religious, sexual – tolerance has been promulgated as an individual virtue, a group ethos, and a state policy. It is advocated for situations as disparate as war-torn Bosnia, racially diverse elementary schools in the United States, and European nations coping with recent waves of African and Asian immigration.It is proposed as an antidote for abusive homophobia and rising rates of hate crimes; it is advocated for dealing with those you hate, for protecting those you love. But what kind of political vision does tolerance harbor? Is it a vision of justice, community, egalitarianism, or freedom, or does it embody something of a retreat from each? In its contemporary invocation, what is the relationship of tolerance to conventional liberal and left aims of emancipation and equality? What kind of citizenship does tolerance seek or cultivate? What kind of social subject does tolerance codify or bring into being? What social stratifications, histories of dominance or marginalization, or discourses of dehumanization are entrenched rather than redressed by contemporary practices of tolerance? What are the regulatory dimensions of tolerance and to what degree is this regulation performed by the state, by civil society, by subjects of tolerance? These were only some of questions Wendy Brown developed through historical and theoretical considerations of tolerance in Europe and the United States, from the seventeeth century through the present. Talk given November 15th, 2022.