BerandaComputers and TechnologyRepressive Tolerance by Herbert Marcuse

Repressive Tolerance by Herbert Marcuse

This essay is dedicated to my students at Brandeis University.

THIS essay examines the idea of tolerance in our advanced industrial
society. The conclusion reached is that the realization of the objective
of tolerance would call for intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes,
opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes, and opinions
which are outlawed or suppressed. In other words, today tolerance appears
again as what it was in its origins, at the beginning of the modern period–a
partisan goal, a subversive liberating notion and practice. Conversely,
what is proclaimed and practiced as tolerance today, is in many of its
most effective manifestations serving the cause of oppression.

     The author is fully aware that, at present,
no power, no authority, no government exists which would translate liberating
tolerance into practice, but he believes that it is the task and duty
of the intellectual to recall and preserve historical possibilities which
seem to have become utopian possibilities–that it is his task to break
the concreteness of oppression in order to open the mental space in which
this society can be recognized as what it is and does.

     Tolerance is an end in itself. The elimination
of violence, and the reduction of suppression to the extent required for
protecting man and animals from cruelty and aggression are preconditions
for the creation of a humane society. Such a society does not yet exist;
progress toward it is perhaps more than before arrested by violence and
suppression on a global scale. As deterrents against nuclear war, as police
action against subversion, as technical aid in the fight against imperialism
and communism, as methods of pacification in neo-colonial massacres, violence
and suppression are promulgated, practiced, and defended by democratic
and authoritarian governments alike, and the people subjected to these
governments are educated to sustain such practices as necessary for the
preservation of the status quo. Tolerance is extended to policies, conditions,
and modes of behavior which should not be tolerated because they are impeding,
if not destroying, the chances of creating an existence without fear and

     This sort of tolerance strengthens the
tyranny of the majority against which authentic liberals protested. The
political locus of tolerance has changed: while it is more or less quietly
and constitutionally withdrawn from the opposition, it is made compulsory
behavior with respect to established policies. Tolerance is turned from
an active into a passive state, from practice to non-practice: laissez-faire
the constituted authorities. It is the people who tolerate the government,
which in turn tolerates opposition within the framework determined by
the constituted authorities.

     Tolerance toward that which is radically
evil now appears as good because it serves the cohesion of the whole on
the road to affluence or more affluence. The toleration of the systematic
moronization of children and adults alike by publicity and propaganda,
the release of destructiveness in aggressive driving, the recruitment
for and training of special forces, the impotent and benevolent tolerance
toward outright deception in merchandizing, waste, and planned obsolescence
are not distortions and aberrations, they are the essence of a system
which fosters tolerance as a means for perpetuating the struggle for existence
and suppressing the alternatives. The authorities in education, morals,
and psychology are vociferous against the increase in juvenile delinquency;
they are less vociferous against the proud presentation, in word and deed
and pictures, of ever more powerful missiles, rockets, bombs–the mature
delinquency of a whole civilization.

     According to a dialectical proposition
it is the whole which determines the truth–not in the sense that the
whole is prior or superior to its parts, but in the sense that its structure
and function determine every particular condition and relation. Thus,
within a repressive society, even progressive movements threaten to turn
into their opposite to the degree to which they accept the rules of the
game. To take a most controversial case: the exercise of political rights
(such as voting, letter-writing to the press, to Senators, etc., protest-demonstrations
with a priori renunciation of counterviolence) in a society of total administration
serves to strengthen this administration by testifying to the existence
of democratic liberties which, in reality, have changed their content
and lost their effectiveness. In such a case, freedom (of opinion, of
assembly, of speech) becomes an instrument for absolving servitude. And
yet (and only here the dialectical proposition shows its full intent)
the existence. and practice of these liberties remain a precondition for
the restoration of their original oppositional function, provided that
the effort to transcend their (often self-imposed) limitations is intensified.
Generally, the function and value of tolerance depend on the equality
prevalent in the society in which tolerance is practiced. Tolerance itself
stands subject to overriding criteria: its range and its limits cannot
be defined in terms of the respective society. In other words, tolerance
is an end in itself only when it is truly universal, practiced by the
rulers as well as by the ruled, by the lords as well as by the peasants,
by the sheriffs as well as by their victims. And such universal tolerance
is possible only when no real or alleged enemy requires in the national
interest the education and training of people in military violence and
destruction. As long as these conditions do not prevail, the conditions
of tolerance are ‘loaded’: they are determined and defined by the institutionalized
inequality (which is certainly compatible with constitutional equality),
i.e., by the class structure of society. In such a society, tolerance
is de facto limited on the dual ground of legalized violence or
suppression (police, armed forces, guards of all sorts) and of the privileged
position held by the predominant interests and their ‘connections’.

     These background limitations of tolerance
are normally prior to the explicit and judicial limitations as defined
by the courts, custom, governments, etc. (for example, ‘clear and present
danger’, threat to national security, heresy). Within the framework of
such a social structure, tolerance can be safely practiced and proclaimed.
It is of two kinds:

  1. the passive toleration of entrenched and established
    attitudes and ideas even if their damaging effect on man and nature is
    evident, and
  2. the active, official tolerance granted to the Right as
    well as to the Left, to movements of aggression as well as to movements
    of peace, to the party of hate as well as to that of humanity I call this
    non-partisan tolerance ‘abstract’ or ‘pure’ inasmuch as it refrains from
    taking sides–but in doing so it actually protects the already established
    machinery of discrimination.

     The tolerance which enlarged the range
and content of freedom was always partisan–intolerant toward the protagonists
of the repressive status quo. The issue was only the degree and extent
of intolerance. In the firmly established liberal society of England and
the United States, freedom of speech and assembly was granted even to
the radical enemies of society, provided they did not make the transition
from word to deed, from speech to action.

     Relying on the effective background limitations
imposed by its class structure, the society seemed to practice general
tolerance. But liberalist theory had already placed an important condition
on tolerance : it. was ‘to apply only to human beings in the maturity
of their faculties’. John Stuart Mill does not only speak of children
and minors; he elaborates: ‘Liberty, as a principle, has no application
to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable
of being improved by free and equal discussion.’ Anterior to that time,
men may still be barbarians, and ‘despotism is a legitimate mode of government
in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and
the means justified by actually effecting that end.’ Mill’s often-quoted
words have a less familiar implication on which their meaning depends:
the internal connection between liberty and truth. There is a sense in
which truth is the end of liberty, and liberty must be defined and confined
by truth. Now in what sense can liberty be for the sake of truth? Liberty
is self-determination, autonomy–this is almost a tautology, but a tautology
which results from a whole series of synthetic judgments. It stipulates
the ability to determine one’s own life: to be able to determine what
to do and what not to do, what to suffer and what not. But the subject
of this autonomy is never the contingent, private individual as that which
he actually is or happens to be; it is rather the individual as a human
being who is capable of being free with the others. And the problem of
making possible such a harmony between every individual liberty and the
other is not that of finding a compromise between competitors, or between
freedom and law, between general and individual interest, common and private
welfare in an established society, but of creating the society
in which man is no longer enslaved by institutions which vitiate self-determination
from the beginning. In other words, freedom is still to be created even
for the freest of the existing societies. And the direction in which it
must be sought, and the institutional and cultural changes which may help
to attain the goal are, at least in developed civilization, comprehensible,
that is to say, they can be identified and projected, on the basis
of experience, by human reason.

     In the interplay of theory and practice,
true and false solutions become distinguishable–never with the evidence
of necessity, never as the positive, only with the certainty of a reasoned
and reasonable chance, and with the persuasive force of the negative.
For the true positive is the society of the future and therefore beyond
definition arid determination, while the existing positive is that which
must be surmounted. But the experience and understanding of the existent
society may well be capable of identifying what is not conducive
to a free and rational society, what impedes and distorts the possibilities
of its creation. Freedom is liberation, a specific historical process
in theory and practice, and as such it has its right and wrong, its truth
and falsehood.

     The uncertainty of chance in this distinction
does not cancel the historical objectivity, but it necessitates freedom
of thought and expression as preconditions of finding the way to freedom–it
necessitates tolerance. However, this tolerance cannot be indiscriminate
and equal with respect to the contents of expression, neither in word
nor in deed; it cannot protect false words and wrong deeds which demonstrate
that they contradict and counteract the’ possibilities of liberation.
Such indiscriminate tolerance is justified in harmless debates, in conversation,
in academic discussion; it is indispensable in the scientific enterprise,
in private religion. But society cannot be indiscriminate where the pacification
of existence, where freedom and happiness themselves are at stake: here,
certain things cannot be said, certain ideas cannot be expressed, certain
policies cannot be proposed, certain behavior cannot be permitted without
making tolerance an instrument for the continuation of servitude.

     The danger of ‘destructive
tolerance’ (Baudelaire), of ‘benevolent neutrality’ toward art has
been recognized: the market, which absorbs equally well (although with
often quite sudden fluctuations) art, anti-art, and non-art, all possible
conflicting styles, schools, forms, provides a ‘complacent receptacle,
a friendly abyss'[1] in which the radical impact
of art, the protest of art against the established reality is swallowed
up. However, censorship of art and literature is regressive under all
circumstances. The authentic oeuvre is not and cannot be a prop of oppression,
and pseudo-art (which can be such a prop) is not art. Art stands against
history, withstands history which has been the history of oppression,
for art subjects reality to laws other than the established ones: to the
laws of the Form which creates a different reality–negation of the established
one even where art depicts the established reality. But in its struggle
with history, art subjects itself to history: history enters the definition
of art and enters into the distinction between art and pseudo-art. Thus
it happens that what was once art becomes pseudo-art. Previous forms,
styles, and qualities, previous modes of protest and refusal cannot be
recaptured in or against a different society. There are cases where an
authentic oeuvre carries a regressive political message–Dostoevski is
a case in point. But then, the message is canceled by the oeuvre itself:
the regressive political content is absorbed, aufgehoben in the
artistic form: in the work as literature.

     Tolerance of free speech is the way of
improvement, of progress in liberation, not because there is no
objective truth, and improvement must necessarily be a compromise between
a variety of opinions, but because there is an objective truth
which can be discovered, ascertained only in learning and comprehending
that which is and that which can be and ought to be done for the sake
of improving the lot of mankind. This common and historical ‘ought’ is
not immediately evident, at hand: it has to be uncovered by ‘cutting through’,
‘splitting’, ‘breaking asunder’ (dis-cutio) the given material–separating
right and wrong, good and bad, correct and incorrect. The subject whose
‘improvement’ depends on a progressive historical practice is each man
as man, and this universality is reflected in that of the discussion,
which a priori does not exclude any group or individual. But even the
all-inclusive character of liberalist tolerance was, at least in theory,
based on the proposition that men were (potential) individuals who
could learn to hear and see and feel by themselves, to develop their own
thoughts, to grasp their true interests and rights and capabilities, also
against established authority and opinion. This was the rationale of free
speech and assembly. Universal toleration becomes questionable when its
rationale no longer prevails, when tolerance is administered to manipulated
and indoctrinated individuals who parrot, as their own, the opinion of
their masters, for whom heteronomy has become autonomy.

The telos of tolerance is truth. It is clear from the historical record
that the authentic spokesmen of tolerance had more and other truth in
mind than that of propositional logic and academic theory. John Stuart
Mill speaks of the truth which is persecuted in history and which does
not triumph over persecution by virtue of its ‘inherent power’,
which in fact has no inherent power ‘against the dungeon and the stake’.
And he enumerates the ‘truths’ which were cruelly and successfully liquidated
in the dungeons and at the stake: that of Arnold of Brescia, of Fra Dolcino,
of Savonarola, of the Albigensians, Waldensians, Lollards, and Hussites.
Tolerance is first and foremost for the sake of the heretics–the historical
road toward humanitas appears as heresy: target of persecution
by the powers that be. Heresy by itself, however, is no token of truth.

     The criterion of progress in freedom according
to which Mill judges these movements is the Reformation. The evaluation
is ex post, and his list includes opposites (Savonarola too would have
burned Fra Dolcino). Even the ex post evaluation is contestable as to
its truth: history corrects the judgment–too late. The correction does
not help the victims and does not absolve their executioners. However,
the lesson is clear: intolerance has delayed progress and has prolonged
the slaughter and torture of innocents for hundreds of years. Does this
clinch the case for indiscriminate, ‘pure’ tolerance? Are there historical
conditions in which such toleration impedes liberation and multiplies
the victims who are sacrificed to the status quo? Can the indiscriminate
guaranty of political rights and liberties be repressive? Can such tolerance
serve to contain qualitative social change?

     I shall discuss this question only with
reference to political movements, attitudes, schools of thought, philosophies
which are ‘political’ in the widest sense–affecting the society as a
whole, demonstrably transcending the sphere of privacy. Moreover, I propose
a shift in the focus of the discussion: it will be concerned not only,
and not primarily, with tolerance toward radical extremes, minorities,
subversives, etc., but rather with tolerance toward majorities, toward
official and public opinion, toward the established protectors of freedom.
In this case, the discussion can have as a frame of reference only a democratic
society, in which the people, as individuals and as members of political
and other organizations, participate in the making, sustaining, and changing
policies. In an authoritarian system, the people do not tolerate–they
suffer established policies.

     Under a system of constitutionally guaranteed
and (generally and without too many and too glaring exceptions) practiced
civil rights and liberties, opposition and dissent are tolerated unless
they issue in violence and/or in exhortation to and organization of violent
subversion. The underlying assumption is that the established
society is free, and that any improvement, even a change in the social
structure and social values, would come about in the normal course of
events, prepared, defined, and tested in free and equal discussion, on
the open marketplace of ideas and goods.[2] Now in
recalling John Stuart Mill’s passage, I drew attention to the premise
hidden in this assumption: free and equal discussion can fulfill the function
attributed to it only if it is rational expression and development
of independent thinking, free from indoctrination, manipulation, extraneous
authority. The notion of pluralism and countervailing powers is no substitute
for this requirement. One might in theory construct a state in which a
multitude of different pressures, interests, and authorities balance each
other out and result in a truly general and rational interest. However,
such a construction badly fits a society in which powers are and remain
unequal and even increase their unequal weight when they run their own
course. It fits even worse when the variety of pressures unifies and coagulates
into an overwhelming whole, integrating the particular countervailing
powers by virtue of an increasing standard of living and an increasing
concentration of power. Then, the laborer, whose real interest conflicts
with that of management, the common consumer whose real interest conflicts
with that of the producer, the intellectual whose vocation conflicts with
that of his employer find themselves submitting to a system against which
they are powerless and appear unreasonable. The idea of the available
alternatives evaporates into an utterly utopian dimension in which it
is at home, for a free society is indeed unrealistically and undefinably
different from the existing ones. Under these circumstances, whatever
improvement may occur ‘in the normal course of events’ and without subversion
is likely to be an improvement in the direction determined by the particular
interests which control the whole.

     By the same token, those minorities which
strive for a change of the whole itself will, under optimal conditions
which rarely prevail, will be left free to deliberate and discuss, to
speak and to assemble – and will be left harmless and helpless in the
face of the overwhelming majority, which militates against qualitative
social change. This majority is firmly grounded in the increasing satisfaction
of needs, and technological and -mental co-ordination, which testify to
the general helplessness of radical groups in a well-functioning social

Within the affluent democracy, the affluent discussion prevails, and
within the established framework, it is tolerant to a large extent. All
points of view can be heard: the Communist and the Fascist, the Left and
the Right, the white and the Negro, the crusaders for armament and for
disarmament. Moreover, in endlessly dragging debates over the media, the
stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one,
the misinformed may talk as long as the informed, and propaganda rides
along with education, truth with falsehood. This pure toleration of sense
and nonsense is justified by the democratic argument that nobody, neither
group nor individual, is in possession of the truth and capable of defining
what is right and wrong, good and bad. Therefore, all contesting opinions
must be submitted to ‘the people’ for its deliberation and choice. But
I have already suggested that the democratic argument implies a necessary
condition, namely, that the people must be capable of deliberating and
choosing on the basis of knowledge, that they must have access to authentic
information, and that, on this. basis, their evaluation must be the result
of autonomous thought.

     In the contemporary period, the democratic
argument for abstract tolerance tends to be invalidated by the invalidation
of the democratic process itself. The liberating force of democracy was
the chance it gave to effective dissent, on the individual as well as
social scale, its openness to qualitatively different forms of government,
of culture, education, work–of the human existence in general. The toleration
of free discussion and the equal right of opposites was to define and
clarify the different forms of dissent: their direction, content, prospect.
But with the concentration of economic and political power and the integration
of opposites in a society which uses technology as an instrument of domination,
effective dissent is blocked where it could freely emerge; in the formation
of opinion, in information and communication, in speech and assembly.
Under the rule of monopolistic media–themselves the mere instruments
of economic and political power–a mentality is created for which right
and wrong, true and false are predefined wherever they affect the vital
interests of the society. This is, prior to all expression and communication,
a matter of semantics: the blocking of effective dissent, of the recognition
of that which is not of the Establishment which begins in the. language
that is publicized and administered. The meaning of words is rigidly stabilized.
Rational persuasion, persuasion to the opposite is all but precluded.
The avenues of entrance are closed to the meaning of words and ideas other
than the established one–established by the publicity of the powers that
be, and verified in their practices. Other words can be spoken and heard,
other ideas can be expressed, but, at the massive scale of the conservative
majority (outside such enclaves as the intelligentsia), they are immediately
‘evaluated’ (i.e. automatically understood) in terms of the public language–a
language which determines ‘a priori’ the direction in which the thought
process moves. Thus the process of reflection ends where it started: in
the given conditions and relations. Self-validating, the argument. of
the discussion repels the contradiction because the antithesis is redefined
in terms of the thesis. For example, thesis: we work for peace; antithesis:
we prepare for war (or even: we wage war); unification of opposites; preparing
for war is working for peace. Peace is redefined as necessarily,
in the prevailing situation, including preparation for war (or even war)
and in this Orwellian form, the meaning of the word ‘peace’ is stabilized.
Thus, the basic vocabulary of the Orwellian language operates as a priori
categories of understanding: preforming all content. These conditions
invalidate the logic of tolerance which involves the rational development
of meaning and precludes the ‘closing of meaning. Consequently, persuasion
through discussion and the equal presentation of opposites (even where
it is really, equal) easily lose their liberating force as factors of
understanding and learning; they are far more likely to strengthen the
established thesis and to repel the alternatives.

     Impartiality to the utmost, equal treatment
of competing and conflicting issues is indeed a basic requirement for
decision-making in the democratic process–it is an equally basic requirement
for defining the limits of tolerance. But in a democracy with totalitarian
organization, objectivity may fulfill a very different function, namely,
to foster a mental attitude which tends to obliterate the difference between
true and false, information and indoctrination, right and wrong. In fact,
the decision between opposed opinions has been made before the presentation
and discussion get under way–made, not by a conspiracy or a sponsor or
a publisher, not by any dictatorship, but rather by the ‘normal course
of events’, which is the course of administered events, and by the mentality
shaped in this course. Here, too, it is the whole which determines the
truth. Then the decision asserts itself, without any open violation of
objectivity, in such things as the make-up of a newspaper (with the breaking
up of vital information into bits interspersed between extraneous material,
irrelevant items, relegating of some radically negative news to an obscure
place), in the juxtaposition of gorgeous ads with unmitigated horrors,
in the introduction and interruption of the broadcasting of facts by overwhelming
commercials. The result is a neutralization of opposites, a neutralization,
however, which takes place on the firm grounds of the structural limitation
of tolerance and within a preformed mentality. When a magazine prints
side by side a negative and a positive report on the FBI, it fulfills
honestly the requirements of objectivity: however, the chances are that
the positive wins because the image of the institution is deeply engraved
in the mind of the people. Or, if a newscaster reports the torture and
murder of civil rights workers in the same unemotional tone he uses to
describe the stockmarket or the weather, or with the same great emotion
with which he says his commercials, then such objectivity is spurious–more,
it offends against humanity and truth by being calm where one should be
enraged, by refraining from accusation where accusation is in the facts
themselves. The tolerance expressed in such impartiality serves to minimize
or even absolve prevailing intolerance and suppression. If objectivity
has anything to do with truth, and if truth is more than a matter of logic
and science, then this kind of objectivity is false, and this kind of
tolerance inhuman. And if it is necessary to break the established universe
of meaning (and the practice enclosed in this universe) in order to enable
man to find out what is true and false, this deceptive impartiality would
have to be abandoned. The people exposed to this impartiality are no tabulae
they are indoctrinated by the conditions under which they live
and think and which they do not transcend. To enable them to become autonomous,
to find by themselves what is true and what is false for man in the existing
society, they would have to be freed from the prevailing indoctrination
(which is no longer recognized as indoctrination). But this means that
the trend would have to be reversed: they would have to get information
slanted in the opposite direction. For the facts are never given immediately
and never accessible immediately; they are established, ‘mediated’ by
those who made them; the truth, ‘the whole truth’ surpasses these facts
and requires the rupture with their appearance. This rupture–prerequisite
and token of all freedom of thought and of speech–cannot be accomplished
within the established framework of abstract tolerance and spurious objectivity
because these are precisely the factors which precondition the mind against
the rupture.

     The factual barriers which totalitarian
democracy erects against the efficacy of qualitative dissent are weak
and pleasant enough compared with the practices of a dictatorship which
claims to educate the people in the truth. With all its limitations and
distortions, democratic tolerance is under all circumstances more humane
than an institutionalized intolerance which sacrifices the rights and
liberties of the living generations for the sake of future generations.
The question is whether this is the only alternative. I shall presently
try to suggest the direction in which an answer may be sought In any case,
the contrast is not between democracy in the abstract and dictatorship
in the abstract.

     Democracy is a form of government which
fits very different types of society (this holds true even for a democracy
with universal suffrage and equality before the law), and the human costs
of a democracy are always and everywhere those exacted by the society
whose government it is. Their range extends all the way from normal exploitation,
poverty, and insecurity to the victims of wars, police actions, military
aid, etc., in which the society is engaged–and not only to the victims
within its own frontiers. These considerations can never justify the exacting
of different sacrifices and different victims on behalf of a future better
society, but they do allow weighing the costs involved in the perpetuation
of an existing society against the risk of promoting alternatives which
offer a reasonable chance of pacification and liberation. Surely, no government
can be expected to foster its own subversion, but in a democracy such
a right is vested in the people (i.e. in the majority of the people).
This means that the ways should not be blocked on which a subversive majority
could develop, and if they are blocked by organized repression and indoctrination,
their reopening may require apparently undemocratic means. They would
include the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups
and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism,
discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the
extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc. Moreover,
the restoration of freedom of thought may necessitate new and rigid restrictions
on teachings and practices in the educational institutions which, by their
very methods and concepts, serve to enclose the mind within the established
universe of discourse and behavior–thereby precluding a priori a rational
evaluation of the alternatives. And to the degree to which freedom of
thought involves the struggle against inhumanity, restoration of such
freedom would also imply intolerance toward scientific research in the
interest of deadly ‘deterrents’, of abnormal human endurance under inhuman
conditions, etc. I shall presently discuss the question as to who is to
decide on the distinction between liberating and repressive, human and
inhuman teachings and practices; I have already suggested that this distinction
is not a matter of value-preference but of rational criteria.

     While the reversal of the trend in the
educational enterprise at least could conceivably be enforced by the students
and teachers themselves, and thus be self-imposed, the systematic withdrawal
of tolerance toward regressive and repressive opinions and movements could
only be envisaged as results of large-scale pressure which would amount
to an upheaval. In other words, it would presuppose that which is still
to be accomplished: the reversal of the trend. However, resistance at
particular occasions, boycott, non-participation at the local and small-group
level may perhaps prepare the ground The subversive character of the restoration
of freedom appears most clearly in that dimension of society where false
tolerance and free enterprise do perhaps the most serious and lasting
damage, namely in business and publicity. Against the emphatic insistence
on the part of spokesmen for labor, I maintain that practices such as
planned obsolescence, collusion between union leadership and management,
slanted publicity are not simply imposed from above on a powerless rank
and file, but are tolerated by them and the consumer at large.
However, it would be ridiculous to speak of a possible withdrawal of tolerance
with respect to these practices and to the ideologies promoted by them.
For they pertain to the basis on which the repressive affluent society
rests and reproduces itself and its vital defenses – their removal would
be that total revolution which this society so effectively repels.

     To discuss tolerance in such a society
means to reexamine the issue of violence and the traditional distinction
between violent and non-violent action. The discussion should not, from
the beginning, be clouded by ideologies which serve the perpetuation of
violence. Even in the advanced centers of civilization, violence actually
prevails: it is practiced by the police, in the prisons and mental institutions,
in the fight against racial minorities; it is carried, by the defenders
of metropolitan freedom, into the backward countries. This violence indeed
breeds violence. But to refrain from violence in the face of vastly superior
violence is one thing, to renounce a priori violence against violence,
on ethical or psychological grounds (because it may antagonize sympathizers)
is another. Non-violence is normally not only preached to but exacted
from the weak–it is a necessity rather than a virtue, and normally it
does not seriously harm the case of the strong. (Is the case of India
an exception? There, passive resistance was carried through on a massive
scale, which disrupted, or threatened to disrupt, the economic life of
the country. Quantity turns into quality: on such a scale, passive resistance
is no longer passive – it ceases to be non-violent. The same holds true
for the General Strike.) Robespierre’s distinction between the terror
of liberty and the terror of despotism, and his moral glorification of
the former belongs to the most convincingly condemned aberrations, even
if the white terror was more bloody than the red terror. The comparative
evaluation in terms of the number of victims is the quantifying approach
which reveals the man-made horror throughout history that made violence
a necessity. In terms of historical function, there is a difference between
revolutionary and reactionary violence, between violence practiced by
the oppressed and by the oppressors. In terms of ethics, both forms of
violence are inhuman and evil–but since when is history made in accordance
with ethical standards? To start applying them at the
point where the oppressed rebel against the oppressors, the have-nots
against the haves is serving the cause of actual violence by weakening
the protest against it.

Comprenez enfin ceci: si la violence a commencé ce soir,
si l’exploitation ni l’oppression n’ont jamais existé sur terre,
peut-être la non-violence affichée peut apaiser la querelle.
Mais si le régime tout entier et jusqu’à vos non-violentes
pensées sont conditionnées par une oppression millénaire,
votre passivité ne sert qu’à vous ranger du côté
des oppresseurs.[3]

[rough translation: Understand finally this: if violence
were to begin this evening, if neither exploitation nor oppression had ever
existed in the world, perhaps concerted non-violence could relieve the
conflict. But if the whole governmental system and your non-violent thoughts
are conditioned by a thousand-year-old oppression, your passivity only
serves to place you on the side of the oppressors.]

     The very notion of false tolerance, and
the distinction between right and wrong limitations on tolerance, between
progressive and regressive indoctrination, revolutionary and reactionary
violence demands the statement of criteria for its validity. These standards
must be prior to whatever constitutional and legal criteria are set up
and applied in an existing society (such as ‘clear and present danger’,
and other established definitions of civil rights and liberties), for
such definitions themselves presuppose standards of freedom and repression
as applicable or not applicable in the respective society: they are specifications
of more general concepts. By whom, and according to what standards, can
the political distinction between true and false, progressive and regressive
(for in this sphere, these pairs are equivalent) be made and its validity
be justified? At the outset, I propose that the question cannot be answered
in terms of the alternative between democracy and dictatorship, according
to which, in the latter, one individual or group, without any effective
control from below, arrogate to themselves the decision. Historically,
even in the most democratic democracies, the vital and final decisions
affecting the society as a whole have been made, constitutionally or in
fact, by one or several groups without effective control by the people
themselves. The ironical question: who educates the educators (i.e. the
political leaders) also applies to democracy. The only authentic alternative
and negation of dictatorship (with respect to this question) would be
a society in which ‘the people’ have become autonomous individuals, freed
from the repressive requirements of a struggle for existence in the interest
of domination, and as such human beings choosing their government and
determining their life. Such a society does not yet exist anywhere. In
the meantime, the question must be treated in abstracto–abstraction,
not from the historical possibilities, but from the realities of the prevailing

     I suggested that the distinction between
true and false tolerance, between progress and regression can be made
rationally on empirical grounds. The real possibilities of human freedom
are relative to the attained stage of civilization. They depend on the
material and intellectual resources available at the respective stage,
and they are quantifiable and calculable to a high degree. So are, at
the stage of advanced industrial society, the most rational ways of using
these resources and distributing the social product with priority on the
satisfaction of vital needs and with a minimum of toil and injustice.
In other words, it is possible to define the direction in which prevailing
institutions, policies, opinions would have to be changed in order to
improve the chance of a peace which is not identical with cold war and
a little hot war, and a satisfaction of needs which does not feed on poverty,
oppression, and exploitation. Consequently, it is also possible to identify
policies, opinions, movements which would promote this chance, and those
which would do the opposite. Suppression of the regressive ones is a prerequisite
for the strengthening of the progressive ones.

     The question, who is qualified to make
all these distinctions, definitions, identifications for the society as
a whole, has now one logical answer, namely, everyone ‘in the maturity
of his faculties’ as a human being, everyone who has learned to think
rationally and autonomously. The answer to Plato’s educational dictatorship
is the democratic educational dictatorship of free men. John Stuart Mill’s
conception of the res publica is not the opposite of Plato’s: the
liberal too demands the authority of Reason not only as an intellectual
but also as a political power. In Plato, rationality is confined to the
small number of philosopher-kings; in Mill, every rational human being
participates in the discussion and decision–but only as a rational being.
Where society has entered the phase of total administration and indoctrination,
this would be a small number indeed, and not necessarily that of the elected
representatives of the people. The problem is not that of an educational
dictatorship, but that of breaking the tyranny of public opinion and its
makers in the closed society.

     However, granted the empirical rationality
of the distinction between progress and regression, and granted that it
may be applicable to tolerance, and may justify strongly discriminatory
tolerance on political grounds (cancellation of the liberal creed of free
and equal discussion), another impossible consequence would follow. I
said that, by virtue of its inner logic, withdrawal of tolerance from
regressive movements, and discriminatory tolerance in favor of progressive
tendencies would be tantamount to the ‘official’ promotion of subversion.
The historical calculus of progress (which is actually the calculus of
the prospective reduction of cruelty, misery, suppression) seems to involve
the calculated choice between two forms of political violence: that on
the part of the legally constituted powers (by their legitimate action,
or by their tacit consent, or by their inability to prevent violence),
and that on the part of potentially subversive movements. Moreover, with
respect to the latter, a policy of unequal treatment would protect radicalism
on the Left against that on the Right. Can the historical calculus be
reasonably extended to the justification of one form of violence as against
another? Or better (since ‘justification’ carries a moral connotation),
is there historical evidence to the effect that the social origin and
impetus of violence (from among the ruled or the ruling classes, the have
or the have-nots, the Left or the Right) is in a demonstratable relation
to progress (as defined above)?

     With all the qualifications of a hypothesis
based on an ‘open’ historical record, it seems that the violence emanating
from the rebellion of the oppressed classes broke the historical continuum
of injustice, cruelty, and silence for a brief moment, brief but explosive
enough to achieve an increase in the scope of freedom and justice, and
a better and more equitable distribution of misery and oppression in a
new social system–in one word: progress in civilization. The English
civil wars, the French Revolution, the Chinese and the Cuban Revolutions
may illustrate the hypothesis. In contrast, the one
historical change from one social system to another, marking the beginning
of a new period in civilization, which was not sparked and driven
by an effective movement ‘from below’, namely, the collapse of the Roman
Empire in the West, brought about a long period of regression for long
centuries, until a new, higher period of civilization was painfully born
in the violence of the heretic revolts of the thirteenth century and in
the peasant and laborer revolts of the fourteenth century.[4]

     With respect to historical violence emanating from among ruling classes,
no such relation to progress seems to obtain. The long series of dynastic
and imperialist wars, the liquidation of Spartacus in Germany in 1919,
Fascism and Nazism did not break but rather tightened and streamlined
the continuum of suppression. I said emanating ‘from among ruling classes’:
to be sure, there is hardly any organized violence from above that does
not mobilize and activate mass support from below; the decisive question
is, on behalf of and in the interest of which groups and institutions
is such violence released? And the answer is not necessarily ex post:
in the historical examples just mentioned, it could be and was anticipated
whether the movement would serve the revamping of the old order or the
emergence of the new.

     Liberating tolerance, then, would mean
intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements
from the Left. As to the scope of this tolerance and intolerance: …
it would extend to the stage of action as well as of discussion and propaganda,
of deed as well as of word. The traditional criterion of clear and present
danger seems no longer adequate to a stage where the whole society is
in the situation of the theater audience when somebody cries: ‘fire’.
It is a situation in which the total catastrophe could be triggered off
any moment, not only by a technical error, but also by a rational miscalculation
of risks, or by a rash speech of one of the leaders. In past and different
circumstances, the speeches of the Fascist and Nazi leaders were the immediate
prologue to the massacre. The distance between the propaganda and the
action, between the organization and its release on the people had become
too short. But the spreading of the word could have been stopped before
it was too late: if democratic tolerance had been withdrawn when the future
leaders started their campaign, mankind would have had a chance of avoiding
Auschwitz and a World War.

     The whole post-fascist period is one of
clear and present danger. Consequently, true pacification requires the
withdrawal of tolerance before the deed, at the stage of communication
in word, print, and picture. Such extreme suspension of the right of free
speech and free assembly is indeed justified only if the whole of society
is in extreme danger. I maintain that our society is in such an emergency
situation, and that it has become the normal state of affairs. Different
opinions and ‘philosophies’ can no longer compete peacefully for adherence
and persuasion on rational grounds: the ‘marketplace of ideas’ is organized
and delimited by those who determine the national and the individual interest.
In this society, for which the ideologists have proclaimed the ‘end of
ideology’, the false consciousness has become the general consciousness–from
the government down to its last objects. The small and powerless minorities
which struggle against the false consciousness and its beneficiaries must
be helped: their continued existence is more important than the preservation
of abused rights and liberties which grant constitutional powers to those
who oppress these minorities. It should be evident by now that the exercise
of civil rights by those who don’t have them presupposes the withdrawal
of civil rights from those who prevent their exercise, and that liberation
of the Damned of the Earth presupposes suppression not only of their old
but also of their new masters.

[missing paragraph added 10/24/15]

     Withdrawal of tolerance from regressive movements before they can become active; intolerance even toward thought, opinion, and word, and finally, intolerance in the opposite direction, that is, toward the self-styled conservatives, to the political Right–these anti-democratic notions respond to the actual development of the democratic society which has destroyed the basis for universal tolerance. The conditions under which tolerance can again become a liberating and humanizing force have still to be created. When tolerance mainly serves the protection and preservation of a repressive society, when it serves to neutralize opposition and to render men immune against other and better forms of life, then tolerance has been perverted. And when this perversion starts in the mind of the individual, in his consciousness, his needs, when heteronomous interests occupy him before he can experience his servitude, then the efforts to counteract his dehumanization must begin at the place of entrance, there where the false consciousness takes form (or rather: is systematically formed)–it must begin with stopping the words and images which feed this consciousness. To be sure, this is censorship, even precensorship, but openly directed against the more or less hidden censorship that permeates the free media. Where the false consciousness has become prevalent in national and popular behavior, it translates itself almost immediately into practice: the safe distance between ideology and reality, repressive thought and repressive action, between the word of destruction and the deed of destruction is dangerously shortened. Thus, the break through the false consciousness may provide the Archimedean point for a larger emancipation–at an infinitesimally small spot, to be sure, but it is on the enlargement of such small spots that the chance of change depends.

     The forces of emancipation cannot be identified
with any social class which, by virtue of its material condition, is free
from false consciousness. Today, they are hopelessly dispersed throughout
the society, and the fighting minorities and isolated groups are often
in opposition to their own leadership. In the society at large, the mental
space for denial and reflection must first be recreated. Repulsed by the
concreteness of the administered society, the effort of emancipation becomes
‘abstract’; it is reduced to facilitating the recognition of what is going
on, to freeing language from the tyranny of the Orwellian syntax and logic,
to developing the concepts that comprehend reality. More than ever, the
proposition holds true that progress in freedom demands progress in the
consciousness of freedom. Where the mind has been made into a subject-object
of politics and policies, intellectual autonomy, the realm of ‘pure’ thought
has become a matter of political education (or rather: counter-education).

     This means that previously neutral, value-free,
formal aspects of learning and teaching now become, on their own grounds
and in their own right, political: learning to know the facts, the whole
truth, and to comprehend it is radical criticism throughout, intellectual
subversion. In a world in which the human faculties and needs are arrested
or perverted, autonomous thinking leads into a ‘perverted world’: contradiction
and counter-image of the established world of repression. And this contradiction
is not simply stipulated, is not simply the product of confused thinking
or fantasy, but is the logical development of the given, the existing
world. To the degree to which this development is actually impeded by
the sheer weight of a repressive society and the necessity of making a
living in. it, repression invades the academic enterprise itself, even
prior to all restrictions on academic freedom. The pre-empting of the
mind vitiates impartiality and objectivity: unless the student learns
to think in the opposite direction, he will be inclined to place the facts
into the predominant framework of values. Scholarship, i.e., the acquisition
and communication of knowledge, prohibits the purification and isolation
of facts from the context of the whole truth. An essential part of the
latter is recognition of the frightening extent to which history is made
and recorded by and for the victors, that is, the extent to which
history was the development of oppression. And this oppression is in the
facts themselves which it establishes; thus they themselves carry a negative
value as part and aspect of their facticity. To treat the great crusades
against humanity (like that against the Albigensians) with the
same impartiality as the desperate struggles for humanity means
neutralizing their opposite historical function, reconciling the executioners
with their victims, distorting the record. Such spurious neutrality serves
to reproduce acceptance of the dominion of the victors in the consciousness
of man. Here, too, in the education of those who are not yet maturely
integrated, in the mind of the young, the ground for liberating tolerance
is still to be created.

     Education offers still another example
of spurious, abstract tolerance in the guise of concreteness and truth:
it is epitomized in the concept of self-actualization. From the permissiveness
of all sorts of license to the child, to the constant psychological concern
with the personal problems of the student, a large-scale movement is under
way against the evils of repression and the need for being oneself. Frequently
brushed aside is the question as to what has to be repressed before one
can be a self, oneself. The individual potential is first a negative one,
a portion of the potential of his society: of aggression, guilt feeling,
ignorance, resentment, cruelty which vitiate his life instincts. If the
identity of the self is to be more than the immediate realization of this
potential (undesirable for the individual as a human being), then it requires
repression and sublimation, conscious transformation. This process involves
at each stage (to use the ridiculed terms which here reveal their succinct
concreteness) the negation of the negation, mediation of the immediate,
and identity is no more and no less than this process. ‘Alienation’ is
the constant and essential element of identity, the objective side of
the subject–and not, as it is made to appear today, a disease, a psychological
condition. Freud well knew the difference between progressive and regressive,
liberating and destructive repression. The publicity of self-actualization
promotes the removal of the one and the other, it promotes existence in
that immediacy which, in a repressive society, is (to use another Hegelian
term) bad immediacy (schlechte Unmittelbarkeit). It isolates the
individual from the one dimension where he could ‘find himself’: from
his political existence, which is at the core of his entire existence.
Instead, it encourages non-conformity and letting-go in ways which leave
the real engines of repression in the society entirely intact, which even
strengthen these engines by substituting the satisfactions of private,
and personal rebellion for a more than private and personal, and therefore
more authentic, opposition. The desublimation involved in this sort of
self-actualization is itself repressive inasmuch as it weakens the necessity
and the power of the intellect, the catalytic force of that unhappy consciousness
which does not revel in the archetypal personal release of frustration
– hopeless resurgence of the Id which will sooner or later succumb to
the omnipresent rationality of the administered world – but which recognizes
the horror of the whole in the most private frustration and actualizes
itself in this recognition.

     I have tried to show how the changes in
advanced democratic societies, which have undermined the basis of economic
and political liberalism, have also altered the liberal function of tolerance.
The tolerance which was the great achievement of the liberal era is still
professed and (with strong qualifications) practiced, while the economic
and political process is subjected to an ubiquitous and effective administration
in accordance with the predominant interests. The result is an objective
contradiction between the economic and political structure on the one
side, and the theory and practice of toleration on the other.. The altered
social structure tends to weaken the effectiveness of tolerance toward
dissenting and oppositional movements and to strengthen conservative and
reactionary forces. Equality of tolerance becomes abstract, spurious.
With the actual decline of dissenting forces in the society, the opposition
is insulated in small and frequently antagonistic groups who, even where
tolerated within the narrow limits set by the hierarchical structure of
society, are powerless while they keep within these limits. But the tolerance
shown to them is deceptive and promotes co-ordination. And
on the firm foundations of a co-ordinated society all but closed against
qualitative change, tolerance itself serves to contain such change rather
than to promote it.

[missing paragraph added 10/24/15]

     These same conditions render the critique of such tolerance abstract and academic, and the proposition that the balance between tolerance toward the Right and toward the Left would have to be radically redressed in order to restore the liberating function of tolerance becomes only an unrealistic speculation. Indeed, such a redressing seems to be tantamount to the establishment of a “right of resistance” to the point of subversion. There is not, there cannot be any such right for any group or individual against a constitutional government sustained by a majority of the population. But I believe that there is a “natural right” of resistance for oppressed and overpowered minorities to use extralegal means if the legal ones have proved to be inadequate. Law and order are always and everywhere the law and order which protect the established hierarchy; it is nonsensical to invoke the absolute authority of this law and this order against those who suffer from it and struggle against it–not for personal advantages and revenge, but for their share of humanity. There is no other judge over them than the constituted authorities, the police, and their own conscience. If they use violence, they do not start a new chain of violence but try to break an established one. Since they will be punished, they know the risk, and when they are willing to take it, no third person, and least of all the educator and intellectual, has the right to preach them abstention.

POSTSCRIPT 1968 [back to top]

UNDER the conditions prevailing in this country, tolerance does not,
and cannot, fulfill the civilizing function attributed to it by the liberal
protagonists of democracy, namely, protection of dissent. The progressive
historical force of tolerance lies in its extension to those modes and
forms of dissent which are not committed to the status quo of society,
and not confined to the institutional framework of the established society.
Consequently, the idea of tolerance implies the necessity, for the dissenting
group or individuals, to become illegitimate if and when the established
legitimacy prevents and counteracts the development of dissent. This would
be the case not only in a totalitarian society, under a dictatorship,
in one-party states, but also in a democracy (representative, parliamentary,
or ‘direct’) where the majority does not result from the development of
independent thought and opinion but rather from the monopolistic or oligopolistic
administration of public opinion, without terror and (normally) without
censorship. In such cases, the majority is self-perpetuating while perpetuating
the vested interests which made it a majority. In its very structure
this majority is ‘closed’, petrified; it repels a priori any change other
than changes within the system. But this means that the majority is no
longer justified in claiming the democratic title of the best guardian
of the common interest. And such a majority is all but the opposite of
Rousseau’s ‘general will’: it is composed, not of individuals who, in
their political functions, have made effective ‘abstraction’ from their
private interests, but, on the contrary, of individuals who have effectively
identified their private. interests with their political functions. And
the representatives of this majority, in ascertaining and executing its
will, ascertain and execute the will of the vested interests, which have
formed the majority. The ideology of democracy hides its lack of substance.

     In the United States, this tendency goes
hand in hand with the monopolistic or oligopolistic concentration of capital
in the formation of public opinion, i.e., of the majority. The chance
of influencing, in any effective way, this majority is at a price, in
dollars, totally out of reach of the radical opposition. Here too, free
competition and exchange of ideas have become a farce. The Left has no
equal voice, no equal access to the mass media and their public facilities
– not because a conspiracy excludes it, but because, in good old capitalist
fashion, it does not have the required purchasing power. And the Left
does not have the purchasing power because it is the Left. These conditions
impose upon the radical minorities a strategy which is in essence a refusal
to allow the continuous functioning of allegedly indiscriminate but in
fact discriminate tolerance, for example, a strategy of protesting against
the alternate matching of a spokesman for the Right (or Center) with one
for the Left. Not ‘equal’ but more representation of the Left would
be equalization of the prevailing inequality.

     Within the solid framework of pre-established
inequality and power, tolerance is practiced indeed. Even outrageous opinions
are expressed, outrageous incidents are televised; and the critics of
established policies are interrupted by the same number of commercials
as the conservative advocates. Are these interludes supposed to counteract
the sheer weight, magnitude, and continuity of system-publicity, indoctrination
which operates playfully through the endless commercials as well as through
the entertainment?

     Given this situation, I suggested in ‘Repressive
Tolerance’ the practice of discriminating tolerance in an inverse direction,
as a means of shifting the balance between Right and Left by restraining
the liberty of the Right, thus counteracting the pervasive inequality
of freedom (unequal opportunity of access to the means of democratic persuasion)
and strengthening the oppressed against the oppressed. Tolerance would
be restricted with respect to movements of a demonstrably aggressive or
destructive character (destructive of the prospects for peace, justice,
and freedom for all). Such discrimination would also be applied to movements
opposing the extension of social legislation to the poor, weak, disabled.
As against the virulent denunciations that such a policy would do away
with the sacred liberalistic principle of equality for ‘the other side’,
I maintain that there are issues where either there is no ‘other side’
in any more than a formalistic sense, or where ‘the other side’ is demonstrably
‘regressive’ and impedes possible improvement of the human condition.
To tolerate propaganda for inhumanity vitiates the goals not only of liberalism
but of every progressive political philosophy.

     If the choice were between genuine democracy
and dictatorship, democracy would certainly be preferable. But democracy
does not prevail. The radical critics of the existing political process
are thus readily denounced as advocating an ‘elitism’, a dictatorship
of intellectuals as an alternative. What we have in fact is government,
representative government by a non-intellectual minority of politicians,
generals, and businessmen. The record of this ‘elite’ is not very promising,
and political prerogatives for the intelligentsia may not necessarily
be worse for the society as a whole.

     In any case, John Stuart Mill, not exactly
an enemy of liberal and representative government, was not so allergic
to the political leadership of the intelligentsia as the contemporary
guardians of semi-democracy are. Mill believed that ‘individual
mental superiority’ justifies ‘reckoning one person’s opinion as equivalent
to more than one’:

Until there shall have been devised, and until opinion
is willing to accept, some mode of plural voting which may assign to education
as such the degree of superior influence due to it, and sufficient as
a counterpoise to the numerical weight of the least educated class, for
so long the benefits of completely universal suffrage cannot be obtained
without bringing with them, as it appears to me, more than equivalent

‘Distinction in favor of education, right in itself’, was also supposed
to preserve ‘the educated from the class legislation of the uneducated’,
without enabling the former to practice a class legislation of their own.[6]

     Today, these words have understandably
an anti-democratic, ‘elitist’ sound–understandably because of their dangerously
radical implications. For if ‘education’ is more and other than training,
learning, preparing for the existing society, it means not only enabling
man to know and understand the facts which make up reality but also to
know and understand the factors that establish the facts so that he can
change their inhuman reality. And such humanistic education would involve
the ‘hard’ sciences (‘hard’ as in the ‘hardware’ bought by the Pentagon?),
would free them from their destructive direction. In other words, such
education would indeed badly serve the Establishment, and to give political
prerogatives to the men and women thus educated would indeed be anti-democratic
in the terms of the Establishment. But these are not the only terms.

     However, the alternative to the established
semi-democratic process is not a dictatorship or elite, no matter
how intellectual and intelligent, but the struggle for a real democracy.
Part of this struggle is the fight against an ideology of tolerance which,
in reality, favors and fortifies the conservation of the status quo of
inequality and discrimination. For this struggle, I proposed the practice
of discriminating tolerance. To be sure, this practice already presupposes
the radical goal which it seeks to achieve. I committed this petitio
in order to combat the pernicious ideology that tolerance
is already institutionalized in this society. The tolerance which is the
life element, the token of a free society, will never be the gift of the
powers that be; it can, under the prevailing conditions of tyranny by
the majority, only be won in the sustained effort of radical minorities,
willing to break this tyranny and to work for the emergence of a free
and sovereign majority – minorities intolerant, militantly intolerant
and disobedient to the rules of behavior which tolerate destruction and

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