Listening to Justice Talking on Exporting Democracy and I was struck by Morton Halperin's closing comments that it wasn't good enough to establish democracies, but that they should be democracies based on tolerance. What struck me was what has struck greater minds before me -- and has, in practice, become equally clear to more civic-minded friends than I1 -- that "tolerance", no matter how grand it may sound to us, is not strong enough to serve as the basis for a democracy. That democracy based on tolerance is in danger of descending into a tyranny so pernicious that it will continue to look like democracy to all except those who live under its thumb.

"Tolerance" sounds so compassionate in the sense that all positions are acceptable but where do you draw the line? Supposing you are in a stratified society where one segment lives, as their forefathers have for generations, on the proceeds of theft? Whom do you tolerate more: the thieves or their victims who wish to incarcerate, banish, maim or kill them? So you must make a judgment between them, that one is right and one is wrong. So, tolerance has let you down.

But how then, if another part of your society living under your "democracy based on tolerance" is convinced that something that another portion of society does is morally wrong? Choose your subject: homosexual sexual acts or corporal punishment of children; eating pork or eating beef or eating meat at all? What if one group or the other makes one of these issues the crux on which tolerance turns. And what if the other group "calling a spade a spade", states that such acts are morally wrong? What if they do so repeatedly and publicly, but by and large without calling their audiences to what we would term hate-crimes against those who do them? And what if the first group says of the second: "Because you are calling this action which defines who we are as morally wrong you are inciting to hatred"?

In that case, some form of democracy may continue but more likely tolerance will be pulled up from the foundation of democracy and crushed into rocks with which one group or the other2 attacks and incarcerates, banishes, maims or kills the other. And after the smoke clears what will be left will no longer be democracy, even if it retains much of democracy's forms.

If things do not degenerate to that point, public discourse will become ever shallower until nothing being said is actually worth saying. That, too, is not democracy but is rather an empty shell which may or may not retain much of democracy's forms.

No, democracy requires, as a first principle, a strong moral code with an objective bent, even if it is open to a certain latitude of subjective interpretation. Perhaps I'll expand that thought the next time I try to post here.

1 One friend of mine was seconded from a government ministry to being a member of the related cabinet minister's political office. He went in with a strong principles-based socialist position from, but came out in disgust at the intolerance he saw exhibited against those with some strong principles that disagreed with their own.
2 the one that is more bellicose, perhaps? or more given to busybodying? or just better organized?

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