Understanding “Repressive Tolerance”


Although this may seem like nonsense to the uninitiated, it is a key foundational theory by which Progressives justify their bigotry and violence.

One of the great advantages of Progressive ideology is the existence of a theoretical basis.    Note that this is not to say that the theory is true or just.  However the esteem given to these theories by highly credentialed academics and powerful political players provides a sense of confidence to Progressive adherents.

For Progressives with a formal social justice education these theories are likely explicitly known.  For other Progressives actual knowledge is less certain.  Regardless, the fact that these theories have enabled effective practical results confirms their value.

In the vast majority of cases we Commoners are utterly ignorant of these theories.  Thus we often find ourselves perplexed by a Progressive opponent’s sense of superiority even as they advance arguments that seem absurd.  Consequently we are often at a significant disadvantage due to the resulting confusion.

One of the most effective of these theories is called “Repressive Tolerance.”  The primary author of this theory was a man named Herbert Marcuse, whose life and philosophy have been summarized as follows.

An immigrant from Germany who taught at a number of American universities, Marcuse was a member of the Marxist-influenced Frankfurt School, which wanted to deconstruct Western liberal capitalism. Though he opposed Fascism and contributed to the war effort during World War II, Marcuse believed that the industrialized capitalist democracies of the mid-20th century were themselves fundamentally repressive. He became one of the leading gurus of the New Left, the angry and at times violent Sixties radicals who were in many ways the progenitors of the current “progressive” power elite. Prominent New Leftists associated with Marcuse included the radical academic Angela Davis, and Michael Lerner, a former SDS member whose “politics of meaning” became a Hillary Clinton catchphrase during the Nineties. Marcuse’s students (and students of his students) can be found throughout American higher education today.

The following extended excerpt from the article titled “Repressive Tolerance” (written in 2016 by by P. Andrew Sandlin) provides the essential description of Marcuse’s theoretical response.

Marcuse’s solution is to create an entirely different kind of society. … he is after a different kind of tolerance than we have known in classically liberal societies. But how do you get there from here? For Marcuse, people looking for the just society, led by the elite like him, must reeducate an entire culture. But the presupposition for this reeducation is the repression of, and intolerance towards, all of those elements that would guarantee classical liberalism. Consider this long quote:

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 ….

Earlier he wrote:

[T]olerance 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.

Marcuse is saying that, by their very nature, democracies allow their own subversion by a subversive majority, who are opposing the inherent oppression of society. If there are impediments to the subversion, the way to get rid of them is to undemocratically silence them. The people he has in mind, of course, are the people who oppose the subversive program: classical liberals, Christians, modern conservatives, and so forth. This means that the subversives should loudly demand their right to free speech while denying free speech to people who oppose them. Sound familiar?

Yes, it sounds ominously familiar.  In fact it is an almost exact description of the contemporary mindset by which Progressives are advancing their radical goals.  Even worse, the above article finishes as follows.

And, if necessary, education and indoctrination must be supplemented by revolutionary violence. Marcuse is quite clear about this. He refuses to posit a moral equivalence between the violence perpetrated by classical liberals and the violence committed by subversives. The former is evil; the latter is justified. In fact, he argues that since history is not made by ethics, ethics are of no importance. In other words, might makes right. The ends justify the means. He writes that oppressed minorities — and this means people who lack wealth or prestige or acceptance — have the right to extralegal violence if they exhaust all legal means. No one has a right to judge them immoral or unethical. (Think: Black Lives Matter and the call to kill cops.) Marcuse offered a program for annihilating Christian culture and classical liberalism and replacing it with Libertarian Marxism. He had takers.

Those takers became college professors and journalists and foundation presidents and “community organizers” and artists and musicians. They have wielded massive influence on the West from 1960-2016. Their vision is the commanding social vision of our time, working out its implications right before our eyes.

To create Christian culture, Christians must vanquish that vision.

How can Christians (and other classical liberals*) vanquish this hellish vision?  It is to that topic that I will turn next.

*Classical liberalism is defined by Mr. Sandlin as:

… the political philosophy that developed gradually in England from the Magna Carta and was transported to England’s colonies, the largest of which became the United States. … Classical liberalism is marked by religious liberty, individual liberty, economic liberty, separation of powers, checks and balances, constitutions, and the rule of law. … it created societies in which families and churches are free to live within the boundaries of the rule of law. Classical liberalism means maximum, law-based liberty for citizens.

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