I happened across a post from a couple of years ago on a defunct blog named Throne and Altar. For some reason the post's title drew me in: Another Casualty: Maverick Philosopher Embraces Tolerance. The author, one "bonaldo," claims that Islam has turned me into "a raving liberal." The entry of mine that drew his ire was a defense of the Pope entitled Pope Benedict's Regensburg Speech and Muslim Oversensitivity. The post so offended bonaldo the extremist that he removed me (or rather a hyperlink to my weblog) from his blogroll. What got his goat were the final two paragraphs of my entry:
That is why both leftists and Islamists must be vigorously and relentlessly opposed if we care about our classically liberal values.
The trouble with the Islamic world is that nothing occurred in it comparable to our Enlightenment. In the West, Christianity was chastened and its tendency towards fanaticism put in check by the philosophers. Athens disciplined Jerusalem. (And of course this began long before the Enlightenment.) Nothing similar happened in the Islamic world. They have no Athens. (Yes, I know all about al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, et al. — that doesn’t alter the main point.) Their world is rife with unreasoning fanatics bent on destroying ‘infidels’ — whether they be Christians, Jews, Buddhists, or other Muslims. We had better wake up to this threat, or one day soon we will wake up to a nuclear ‘event’ in New York or Chicago or Los Angeles which kills not 3,000 but 300,000.
Now one would think that such a ringing statement would be greeted by two cheers of approbation, if not three, from anyone on the Right. To a fanatical right-winger, however, anyone who sees a scintilla of value in anything the least bit classically liberal is an enemy to be banished to the blogospheric equivalent of Siberia. For these ultra-reactionary extremists one cannot be Right enough. And so bonaldo the fanatic says the following:
After affirming his commitment to liberalism, MP asserts that Christianity is a false religion. Truth doesn’t need to be “chastened” or “checked”. Since truth never contradicts itself, the only thing that can check truth would be falsehood.
I have never asserted anywhere on this blog that Christianity is a false religion. The benighted bonaldo, however, takes this to be an implication of what I do say because he fancies himself to be in possession of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So fancying himself, he is blind to the importance of toleration, the touchstone of classical liberalism, and blind to the murderous intolerance that religions can breed. He quotes from a second post of mine, How Far Does Religious Toleration Extend?:
To the extent that Islam takes on jihadist contours, to the extent that Islam entails its imposition on humanity, it cannot and ought not be tolerated by the West. Indeed, no religion that attempts to suppress other religions can or ought to be tolerated, including Christianity. We in the West do, or at least should, believe that competition among religions in a free marketplace of ideas is a good thing.
Bonaldo sees something "ironic" in my position: "What about the belief system that suppresses all belief systems that would suppress other belief systems?" He ignores the fact that I have repeatedly said that toleration has limits. I am not advocating universal toleration. That would be incoherent. If one were universally tolerant, one would have to tolerate those who reject the principle of toleration. Said principle, however, is not a suicide pact. A toleration that tolerated every belief system would undermine itself. What I am saying, from the point view of my conservatism, is that:
No religion that attempts to suppress (by killing, imprisoning, or in any way harming) adherents of other religions ought to be tolerated. Toleration has limits. No religion or nonreligious ideology may be tolerated if it doesn't respect the principle of toleration. And so we ought not tolerate a religion whose aim is to suppress and supplant other religions and force their adherents to either convert or accept dhimmi status. Proselytization is tolerable but only if it is non-coercive. The minute it becomes the least bit coercive we have every right to push back vigorously.
Bonaldo speaks of "irony," but I think what he means is that my position is internally inconsistent. But it would be inconsistent only if I were advocating universal toleration -- which I am not. It would be inconsistent to maintain both that one ought to tolerate every belief system and suppress the belief system that suppresses other belief systems. But there is no logical inconsistency in maintaining what I do maintain. It is true: I want to suppress radical Muslims when their murderous beliefs spill over into murderous actions. And I extend that to radical religionists of any stripe who act upon murderous beliefs.
But why must we be tolerant? I explain this in On Toleration: With a Little Help From Kolakowski. I also explain there why toleration must not be confused with indifference to truth or relativism about truth. There are too many knuckleheads on the fanatical Right who cannot distinguish between fallibilism and relativism, a distinction explained in: To oppose relativism is not to embrace dogmatism.
I'll be having more to say about ideological extremism later. Lawrence Auster is another prime offender. For just a small taste of his fanatical hostility to conservatives that don't toe his exact party line, see The Trouble with Larry.