Equality and the Moral Failure of Toleration
Some critics have accused toleration of being a disguise for, or at best accompanied with, power, domination, repression and exclusion. They argue that toleration involves, semantically and historically, power asymmetries and hierarchical positioning; hence toleration is incompatible with one of the most fundamental principles of liberalism, namely, equality. I will call this the “inegalitarian charge” against toleration. This paper investigates this allegation so as to determine whether or not the power relation assumed by toleration is ultimately inimical to equality. My contention is that a thorough analysis of the concept of toleration will put the critics’ concern to rest and provide us with an egalitarian conception of toleration. Accordingly, I argue that the conflict between toleration and equality begins to appear only when the agent’s objection against a practice constitutes an unjustified or illegitimate power asymmetry between the tolerator and the tolerated. This unjustified asymmetry must be curbed by putting in place a moral cap on the kind of objection that the agent is permitted to hold against a practice. After considering various attempts at establishing which reasons for objection are morally legitimate or justifiable, I argue that the objections should be morally assessed by appealing to “right to interference” criterion.