Give hate a chance

We are recycling our archaic illiberalism.

White supremacists parading down the street, far-leftists punching nationalists and Neo-nazis ramming their car through protests have given a new life to the age old doubts over toleration. People are asking, again, when should we stop tolerating the intolerant?


Unconditional toleration is not only the best way to curb intoleration, it is the only way. There is no better method for defeating an idea than to let the idea self-destruct. Banning, jailing, punishing or even killing has never made an idea vanish and if anything they have only given the ideas further inspiration.

The crucifixion of Christ has made Christianity a global religion and the death of Socrates has only given the Greek philosophy more sacred. If an idea is strong enough, there is no force, no law and no institution in the world that can stop it from triumphing.

So what does the actions of intolerance, the actions of suppression actually do? They do little to stop the good ideas but do a lot to spread the bad ones. When a bad idea is met with suppressive force, an illusion of greatness or at least importance is created around it that attracts the defectors of the establishment institutions to the idea.

For example, a book sells more copies if it has been banned before publication and a speaker sells more tickets if he has been jailed recently. The content of the book or the speech hardly matters to the gathered crowd. The deprived, the rebel, the angry and the crazy will undoubtedly find their hero in the taboo. The more the groups are segregated and pinned to a corner, the easier it becomes for these bad ideas to get cult-like prominence and to use their influence to turn bad ideas into violently bad ideas.

Banning Nazi symbols in Germany only helped the Neo-Nazi to gain prominence, cornering the right wingers in the US with political correctness only helped the Alt-right to get access to the White House. The answer to intolerance, must therefore never be intolerance because that is their ballpark. The us-versus-them doomsday rhetoric that intolerant groups feed off of is proven right as soon as tolerant institutions and tolerant individuals start dwindling on their beliefs.

If tolerant people start to believe that intolerance is the only way to protect their way of life, that is the ultimate victory of the rhetoric of the intolerant. But what of Karl Popper, the prominent defender of liberal democracy, who allegedly promoted the use of intolerance in order to protect tolerance? The philosopher who has suddenly become a pop icon for both the alt-right and the alt-left aiming to vanquish each other physically as well as philosophically never really promoted suppression of illiberal ideas as a means of protecting liberal ideas.

Instead, as this Cato article points out, he only promoted the use of intolerance (which should actually have been termed self-defense) if the philosophical fight was to come down to a physical level. But until that happens, the best way to cope with intolerant ideas is to give them a chance to enter the marketplace of ideas and to defend themselves in rational debate. Even if the intolerant don’t want to engage in debate, giving them a fair shot at trying and failing to implement their ideas is a good enough method of luring people away from them.

Giving them a chance to live, laugh and talk with the people they hate may prove their ideas wrong to themselves, as happened to these 200 KKK members who gave up their robes after spending time with a black man. Even if the hate doesn’t go away, it becomes much less lucrative if it doesn’t receive a worthy opponent-that is hate from the opposite side. But if hate is retaliated with hate and extremist groups seem to become more and more popular, and if finally liberals start promoting the use of illiberalism, that might be symptomatic of a whole different problem.

Something bigger and structural might have happened in the political economy of the society that has made a large part of the population to feel left out and to polarize into extremist ideologies on both sides of the political spectrum. If that is the case, covering that sore wound with the duct tape of suppressing the mode of popular grievance is just a cowardly cop out.

So let the Nazis do their salutes and let the Antifas burn their flags. As long as they don’t physically hurt anyone, nothing they do should be suppressed. Give their hate a chance to love, give their anger a chance to vent. And when they are done shouting, give them a chance to rationalize, a chance to liberalize and a chance to express their grievances that lie behind their drastic decision to choose intolerance.

Give them a chance to shout, and let them speak when they get tired. Until then, give their intolerance a chance to lose and give their illiberalism a chance to liberalize. If we really want to give love a chance, that is our only option. We must give hate a chance as well.

This article was first published on August 22, 2017.
Anupam Debashis Roy is the Editor of Muktiforum. He can be reached at

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.