Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Limits of Tolerance (Denis Lacorne)

Denis Lacorne's The Limits of Tolerance was originally intended for a French audience. This version discussed the evolving definition and boundary of tolerance over time, first from a religious perspective and then widening to a view of general “free speech” in the 20th century. An updated and translated version for English audiences takes that one step further and discusses the limits of tolerance in modern free speech and religious expression in the West.

Lacorne does a good job of showing the gradual widening of tolerant expression in thought and behavior - first, by showing how religious freedom in some colonies helped produce a more robust economy, which led to the adoption of free expression of religion throughout the early American republic. The concept of tolerance was not unique to America. The Ottoman Empire’s millet system provided a relatively tolerant approach to allowing those who were not Muslim to practice their religions and live within the legal framework of the Ottoman Turks without high levels of repression for a few centuries before rising nationalism and centralization of its empire led to a reduction in civil liberty.

Lacorne revised his edition with information on recent challenges to tolerance in both Europe and America - more from a political view within America, less from a religious one. Given the decrease in religious ties in America, it would have been interesting to see Lacorne tackle the corresponding increase in political fervor and how that is tying into challenges to tolerant speech and expression of thought. Outside of that, this book provides a firm grasp in understanding that tolerance is a struggle that never quite ends as the boundaries of the subject are ever-changing.