The Limits of Liberal Tolerance

Public Affairs Quarterly 29 (3):277-295 (2015)
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Political philosophy has seen vibrant debate over the connection, if any, between liberalism and pluralism. Some philosophers, following Isaiah Berlin, reckon a close connection between the two concepts. Others--most notably John Gray--believe that liberalism and pluralism are incompatible. In this essay, I argue that the puzzle can be solved by distinguishing the responsibilities of liberal states to their peoples from the responsibilities of liberal states to other states. There is an entailment from pluralism to liberalism, and it in turn implies that while liberal states must tolerate "illiberal" lifestyles within their borders, liberal states must not tolerate illiberal states. The fact of liberal intolerance, however, does not justify unreasonably aggressive intervention by liberal states, nor does it mean that illiberal states deserve to be punished.
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