From repressive tolerance to repressive diversity

A brilliant illustration of the broad terrain of both concepts. It’s telling (and sad for a left leaning centrist like me) that this comes from the very right wing Claremont Institute. (Though their artist may have got it from somewhere else). John C. Eastman is on the board. He’s the guy who came up with the plan for getting pro-Trump electors to the electoral college, rather than the electors representing people’s votes. And note the great quote from the late, great Abraham Lincoln. “”No policy that does not rest on some philosophical public opinion can be permanently maintained.”

Herbert Marcuse coined the expression ‘repressive tolerance’. It took off — as well it might. It’s an important idea, providing one keeps in mind that there are very few situations in which repressive tolerance isn’t better than repressive intolerance! Indeed, showing the motivated impatience so typical of Western intellectuals, Marcuse showed how you can take the idea and retrofit it to — well whatever you like.

Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.

Voila! Job done. Bob’s your uncle.

Anyway, this leads me to coin the expression repressive diversity. And I’m not sure it is better than its opposite. As the Sydney Review of Books informs us:

Eda Gunaydin is a Turkish-Australian essayist and researcher whose writing explores class, capital, intergenerational trauma and diaspora.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with any of these subjects. But how come they so dominate the discussion of difference? Could that be a kind of cultural dominance itself? Note how the blurb could be about any difference or deviance from what was honoured in the dominant culture whether it was based on sex, gender, race, disfigurement, disablement, neurodiversity and on and on. So really, each of these exercises is primarily about the dominant culture and its endlessly rehearsed inadequacies — though those inadequacies are invariably against some theoretical (and so utopian) standard rather than by comparison with other existing cultures.

Should the dominant culture be more broadminded and inviting? Sure should. But then we should all be kinder. I should have been kinder yesterday. So should you. But what about all the things in a person’s history that might be different that might enrich our lives rather than simply provide a benchmark by which to grade our own culture’s intolerance? They’d be particular things, and having articulated them, one might find connections between them, and between them and the dominant culture. But they wouldn’t be, in the first instance, generic ones.

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6 months ago

The problem is, the SMH blurb would immediately turn me off the book: I am so tired of being preached at, usually about ideas I would mostly agree with, although some nuance would be welcome. i know I’m not the only one to feel like this and it’s one of the reasons for my reading less and less of the msm.

6 months ago
Reply to  Nicholas Gruen

True, apologies for my carelessness. Nonetheless, reading NYTimes this morning, both the art review and the book review I attempted informed me of the author’s sexual orientation in the first paragraph. Not sure why it was deemed relevant but the NYTimes is definitely msm.