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Tolerance Is Not A Virtue


The faux virtue of the modern man. The pinnacle of Western ideas. The summum bonum of post-modernism. 

Everywhere you turn these days people are preaching about tolerance. While it sounds like a value worth pursuing, tolerance is one of the most misunderstood (and abused) concepts in the modern age.

“Tolerance” has been elevated to the level of virtue. People assume tolerance = “a quality worth pursuing”. It is no longer questioned but a given that those who are tolerant are virtuous. Herein lies the heart of the problem. Tolerance (as a concept) has been weaponized to further the social or political agendas of others. 

The tragic flaw however, is that tolerance is NOT a virtue. 

To dissect this, we first need to discuss what I mean by “virtue” and “tolerance”.

“To tolerate the intolerable is not virtuous, it is cowardice.”

The word virtue is derived from the Latin root virtus which signified moral excellence or a trait that is the foundation of good moral being[1]. The ancient Romans used the word virtus (derived from the word vir, which means man) to describe the qualities of man which signified moral superiority. Among these qualities were Courage, Honor, and Strength. Virtus is reserved for those qualities which are always good, always desirable, always worthy of pursuit and signifies those of superior moral quality. 

Tolerance (from the Latin root tolerare) means to “allow without interference”, particularly in the context of pain, hardship, or suffering.[2] One does not tolerate that which they love. They tolerate only those things which they disapprove of or find objectionable. 

Now that we have gotten the etymology out of the way, let’s get down to the issue at hand — the misunderstanding and exploitation of “tolerance”. 

People treat tolerance as the general acceptance of other people’s culture, ideas, and lifestyles. This is not tolerance. Tolerance is the allowance of the existence of cultures, ideas and lifestyles WHICH YOU FIND OBJECTIONABLE. We do not tolerate the ideas we agree with. We only tolerate those ideas which we find abhorrent. We put up with them without interference, despite what our conscience tells us. This is not virtue. To treat tolerance as a virtue is to ignore the simple fact that some things should be interfered with! 

While I would love to attribute the misuse of “tolerance” exclusively to ignorance, there is something much more sinister going on here. There are certainly those which have been tricked into a false understanding of toleration, but they are not the primary villains here. The true agents of malevolence are those who use tolerance as a facade to hide behind in order to shield their ideas or lifestyle from criticism.

These people feign an altruistic concern for others, but what they really care about is power. Power to control speech, power to influence social norms, power to label anyone who criticizes them as “hateful”. And we have given it to them. 

Those who claim we ought to practice tolerance, want you to tolerate their ideas, but they don’t extend that same courtesy to you. That is because they understand the game. They aren’t actually advocating everyone be tolerant IN GENERAL. They are just advocating for everyone to tolerate the ideas THEY WANT to be tolerated by those who find them objectionable. 

Therein lies the fundamental flaw of tolerance. Tolerance is a paradox. Particularly when tolerance is seen as a virtue signifying the moral superiority of the tolerant. When tolerance is elevated to the level of virtue, it becomes an end in and of itself. But tolerance (unlike actual virtues) cannot be applicable in all cases. It is always good to be courageous. It is always good to be prudent. It is always good to enact justice. It is NOT always good to be tolerant. 

To tolerate the intolerable is not virtuous, it is cowardice.

As mentioned previously, we do not tolerate things we love or agree with, we tolerate those things which we hate and disapprove of. When someone says “you need to be more tolerant” what they are really saying is “you need to accept this thing that you vehemently disapprove of”. Why? What gives them the right to demand this of you? Are they not failing to accept what they disapprove of (your disapproval of them)? Any appeal to tolerance is merely an attempt to emotionally manipulate you into laying down your own convictions.

Tolerance is the virtue of a man without convictions.

— G.K. Chesterton

This is all part of a much larger issue — the rampant relativism of our postmodern world. Everyone is afraid to make objective claims about what is good, moral, and virtuous. Society then appeals to people’s differences to determine our morality. But then morality means both everything and nothing at the same time. This is why “tolerance” has become the primary virtue of modern life. It seeks to make the intolerable tolerable and socially shame anyone who dares object to someone’s objectionable ideas, and in ironic (and nonsensical) fashion, the only thing labeled unacceptable is nonacceptance. 

This is where post-modernism, relativism, and democracy has led us. Truth doesn’t matter anymore. All that matters is that as many people from as many different backgrounds feel accepted by the culture and are free from any kind of criticism which might make them feel alienated. Our society is spiraling into Chaos devoid of any Order which might set us straight again. 

To fight back against this culture of tolerance we need men willing to stand against the mob of blind acceptance. As the old maxim goes, “men who stand for nothing, will fall for anything”. Do not tolerate the intolerable. Do not accept the unacceptable. Do not permit the impermissible. Interfere with those thoughts, actions, and ideals which are a threat to your way of living.

Having principals comes at a great cost, but not nearly as high a cost as having none. 

Editor’s note: This post was orignally published on the author’s web site at He contacted Ph2T3R to have it republished here, and it was selected because it expresses the importance of drawing lines and making rules, a charactistic of The Father archetype. Rules and boundaries that are sacred are fundamental to Order.

Cameron Dixon
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Cameron Dixon is a Catholic Husband, Father, Engineer and author of the Praxis of Man blog.