The Paradox of Tolerance

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The Freedom of speech is an essential right afforded to all Americans and should be valued and protected on University campuses… to a certain extent. Colleges and Universities exist not only to merely educate students, but as a platform for the exchange and competition of various ideas. The true strength of a university lies in this competition, and if students or faculty members fear punishment for expressing unpopular views or views that are not favored with university administrators, this competition cannot happen properly. Censorship of such views or speech deprive individuals on university campuses from inviting speech they would like to hear, or debating or protesting speech that they disagree with.

There must exist a limit to a freedom, as freedoms without boundaries or checks can cause chaos and damage society. Unregulated and unlimited speech, historically, has led to those with extremist and oppressive views utilizing the freedoms to build a platform to take away the rights of others. Such was the case of how the Nazis gained power in Germany during the 1930s, by exploiting existing freedoms of speech implemented during the Weimar Republic. While the First Amendment to the Constitution protects the freedom of speech regardless of how offensive the content is, it does not and should not protect speech or behavior that supports harassment or threatening behavior or creates a perpetually hostile learning environment for vulnerable individuals.

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And while opposing ideas and narratives are vital to generating discourse and advancing the boundaries of knowledge, it seems contradictory to extend freedom of speech to extremists and hate mongers who if successful, will ruthlessly suppress the speech of those with whom they disagree. And while it may be difficult to define the boundaries of hateful and offensive speech, for society to preserve itself and institutions of liberty, the freedom of hateful and violence inciting speech must be restricted, as society’s reasonable right of self-preservation supersedes the principle of tolerance.

As Karl Popper, the father of the paradox of tolerance, once stated “if a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant will eventually be seized or destroyed by the intolerant.”



Works Cited:

‘Hate speech’ or ‘free speech’? A plea for open, respectful debate on campus–unless-it-offends-them/2018/03/09/79f21c9e-23e4-11e8-94da-ebf9d112159c_story.html?utm_term=.9208ff2ffaf4

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