Subjects of Tolerance: Why We Are Civilized and They Are the Barbarians

Wendy Brown

in Political Theologies

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print November 2006 | ISBN: 9780823226443
Published online March 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823237043 | DOI:
Subjects of Tolerance: Why We Are Civilized and They Are the               Barbarians

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This chapter examines political liberalism's ideal of tolerance, starting out with the troubling observation that recent years have seen a “culturalization of conflict”, in which an opposition has been drawn between liberal culture, premised upon moral autonomy, neutrality, and tolerance, on the one hand, and non-liberal, intolerant, and ultimately barbaric cultures, on the other. The transposition of conflict from questions of the market, the state, capitalism, or democracy to “culture” on an “overt premise of liberal tolerance,'' namely, that “religious, cultural, or ethnic differences are sites of natural or native hostility”. This chapter asks two sets of related questions: What is the relation between the binding force of the social contract and the binding force of culture or religion? Why isn't the social contract sufficient for reducing the significance of subnational group hostilities? With liberalism and the Kantian conception of individual autonomy and reason on which it is based, Sigmund Freud's pathologization of groups shares the conviction that cultural beliefs are more volatile if they are “public” rather than “private” or “familial”. This chapter also probes Strauss's account of modern liberalism through his critique of Eric Havelock, and expounds on Americanism and terrorism.

Keywords: tolerance; political liberalism; barbaric cultures; culturalization of conflict; social contract; religion; autonomy; cultural beliefs; Eric Havelock; terrorism

Chapter.  9651 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Religions

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