The One-Way Street of Liberal Intolerance


Progressives claim to be proponents of diversity. The ideal conversation table would consist of various people from various backgrounds, as long as they aren’t conservative. In many instances, progressives are comfortable with people who do not speak like them, as long as they think like them.

There seems to exist a liberal intolerance within many spheres of society. Whether these are progressive circles within the political landscape, academia, or the social sphere, often right-leaning views are summarily and promptly dismissed as empirically false. We have all witnessed it. Some have been on the receiving end of this parochialism and others have been on the end handing out the snide remarks. The left frequently and publicly shames right-leaning South Africans for the slightest deviation from liberal orthodoxy. The ironic thing is that this shaming is almost always an ad hominem that is directed to the person, rather than the merits of the views that the person holds.

John Stuart Mill. Liberal philosopher famous for saying no view, no matter how few people believe in it, must ever be silenced. Photo by the London Stereoscopic Company, 1870.
John Stuart Mill: Liberal philosopher famous for saying that no view, no matter how few people believe in it, must ever be silenced. Photo by the London Stereoscopic Company, 1870.

The complete disregard for the values that many progressives believe they uphold and cherish, is a great threat to the advancement of our society. Progressives maintain that they value and seek to protect freedoms such as the freedom of expression, freedom of religion, etc. Yet, when it comes to the expression of opinions that do not conform with what progressives deem correct, they turn a blind eye. This is a devolution from the classical definition of liberalism, to illiberalism.

This intolerance leads to a milieu where there is no room for a diversity of opinions. One need not look any further than the question of free tertiary education, to see that diverging opinions from the politically correct status quo are branded as ‘racist’ or ‘backward’. When differing perspectives are not sufficiently represented in discussions, these exact same discussions transform from constructive-sounding boards to mere perpetual echoes in halls, classrooms, and auditoriums full of conditioned nodding heads. As soon as this happens, none of us is the winner. In many ways, today’s progressives are not much different from the right-wing people who, throughout history, refused to surround themselves with critical and engaging dissimilar individuals, to test their own ideas. No one could argue against this being the precise definition of closed-mindedness – the exact mentality that classical liberalism aimed to tackle. The only difference is, here we have liberals that assert that they represent progress and open-mindedness.

Liberal intolerance sees progress as a one-way street without any alternative route. Progress, in their closed-minded view, is only achievable through what has to be liberal schools of thought or policies. The issue of free tertiary education, and the vitriolic and emotive responses to alternative viewpoints, offers proof enough that the progressives are violently entrenched in their belief that only one possible solution to the problem exists: theirs. This consequently creates the widely-unchallenged perception that many causes are noble, solely based on the subjective views of a few – in turn leading to the attempts to justify class disruptions and damage to property because of the supposed nobleness of the cause.

Liberals have in recent years ringfenced their own quest for progress. I hope the similarities to the rhetoric of dark times in our past are not lost on those who bother to understand our history and better our future. When arguments such as these are made – that there is only one possible way to achieve certain goals and that it is not open for discussion – it sounds more and more like the closed-mindedness of oppressors of the past, does it not?

The disregard for opinions that do not augur favourably with the views of the politically correct threatens real progress and freedom of expression. The same supposed guardians of free speech have become the threat against it. This deception is where the problems lie. As T.S. Eliot said, the menace is not with a loud and prominent threat to freedom of expression, but the subtle slipping away of it.

In our modern time, discussion is advocated for by the very people shutting down debate. Open-mindedness is championed by the very people ensuring closed-mindedness in society’s intellectual discourse. Progress is campaigned for by the very people responsible for intellectual stagnation.

But who really needs the big questions discussed and debated, when an ideology already has the unassailable answers?

Author: Daniël Eloff is a final year law student at the University of Pretoria. On completion of his undergraduate degree he will pursue an LLM degree in constitutional law. He is the co-founder of the Tuks Leadership and Individual Program and the UP Debatsvereniging. He is an avid debater and orator and has coached numerous debating teams. Daniël has a keen interest in the liberty movement and hopes to advance the values of freedom of expression, a free market and freedom of religion in South Africa. He is a firm Gladstonian liberalist and a proponent of the rule of law.