Social Intolerance


Even though we no longer put radicals to death for their opinions, John Stuart Mill argues, we must take a lesson to heart. Currently, “our merely social intolerance kills no one, roots out no opinions, but induces men to disguise them, or to abstain from any active effort for their diffusion,” and that is just as bad.  In other words our censoring pressure is just more subtle. That is not good enough. We still must avoid, at all costs, censoring those opinions. We must allow them to be discussed freely, because they might be right, and we will never know if they are right or wrong unless we permitted them to be fully and freely debated by one and all.


It is often comfortable for us to bar fractious debate by “soft” means that do not include fines or imprisonment as was formerly done for we can feel at peace. This is often a convenient way to have peace in the intellectual world, but, as Mill says,

“But the price to be paid for this sort of intellectual pacification is the sacrifice of the entire moral courage of the human mind.  A state of things in which a large portion of the most active and inquiring intellects find it advisable to keep the general principles and grounds of their convictions within their own breasts, and attempt, in what they address to the public, to fit as much as they can of their own conclusions to premises which they have internally renounced, cannot sent forth the open, fearless, characters, and logical, consistent intellects who once adorned the thinking world.”


This is a particular problem in the modern world. For example, I have heard some intellectuals feel constrained to keep their opinions to themselves for fear of reprisals from those in authority.  Sometimes they are referred to as “the woke” authorities. Conservatives in universities sometimes claim they are not allowed to speak freely by such pressures by those leftists in authority.  To the extent this is true those liberal intellectuals must be compelled to change their suppression of free thought. Suppression of free thought causes us all to suffer for we lose the benefit of hearing dissenting opinions.


That is why we must do everything, as Mill said, to ensure that “the open, fearless, characters, and logical, consistent intellects who once adorned the thinking world” are entirely free to engage with their discussion at all times in a fearless way without any social pacification! We need that. That is for our benefit; not just theirs! We must never abandon or constrain anything that might enlarge the minds of others so that they feel free to engage in the most daring of speculations on the highest subjects.

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