Requirements for Freedom and Civil Discourse: Courage and Tolerance

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02/11/1999 - NYK04: SPECIAL, NEW YORK, 11/FEB/99 - British journalist Christopher Hitchens in his publisher's office in Manhattan on February 11. Special number: 048188 pm/Photo by HELAYNE SEIDMAN FTWP. 02129Y02.IPT

“Toleration makes difference possible, difference make toleration necessary.”

— Michael Walzer, via Timothy Garton Ash, Free Speech, (FT review by John Lloyd)

Are guns or Islamic radicalism to blame? If you follow the dialogue on Facebook (and who doesn’t?) it is easy to see the passion, sadness, and righteous indignation over the largest mass shooting in the U.S.. But following your feed begs the question: can divergent world views, even conflicting philosophies, on politics and policy coexist? What does that look like?

Tensions between opposing views–mixed in the moment of high stakes disagreement–are the stuff of diplomacy. But they are also the stuff of philosophy, history, and the world of ideas: Erasmus and Martin Luther, Christopher Hitchens and Isaiah Berlin, Vaclav Havel.

A new book by Timothy Garton Ash, Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World, juxtaposes the dichotomy of “spirits of liberty…found unevenly distributed between individuals”, noting that “freedom needs both.”  As a historian, Ash has been a chronicler of repression, in East Germany, China, and the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. His book makes that case using maxims that encourage “robust civility” with a broad outlook: “More fee speech but also better speech.”

On Hitchens and Berlin:

Though they tend to distrust, even to despise each other, both these spirits are indispensable. Each has its characteristic fault. A world composed entirely of Hitchenses would tend to intolerance. It would be a permanent, if often amusing, shouting match, one in which there would be neither time nor space to understand — in the deepest sense of understanding, involving profound study, calm reflection, and imaginative sympathy — where the other person was coming from. A world composed entirely of Berlins would tend to relativism and excessive tolerance for the sworn enemies of tolerance.

Source: Two Spirits of Liberty – The Chronicle of Higher Education

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