Repressive Tolerance

Most conservatives believe that progressives are hypocrites because while they often claim to be tolerant and open minded supporters of freedom of speech and thought, their actions often show that they are not. Take, for example a recent incident at Brown University as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

PROVIDENCE, R.I.—A small but vocal group of protesters Tuesday shouted down New York City Police CommissionerRaymond Kelly at Brown University , leading administrators to cancel his lecture after he delivered only a few words.

The backlash to Mr. Kelly’s appearance at the Taubman Center for Public Policy has been brewing for days—several student groups and Providence residents attempted to get the university to rescind Mr. Kelly’s invitation, which was denied.

Mr. Kelly has been heralded for bringing crime in New York City to the lowest point in more than 50 years, but he has also been in the spotlight after a federal judge ruled that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practice was unconstitutional because it disproportionately targets minorities.

Mr. Kelly was scheduled to give a short lecture followed by a question and answer session. The speech was intended to cover the NYPD’s approach to policing and stop-and-frisk.

Students booed Mr. Kelly as he was introduced by Marion Orr, the director of the Taubman Center, and began loudly talking over him when he began to speak.

At one point, Mr. Kelly asked: “Are we ready to go forward?”

The protesting continued—some students shouted about rights being violated—and after about 30 minutes administrators canceled the lecture.

“The conduct of disruptive members of the audience is indefensible and an affront both to civil democratic society,” Brown University President Christina Paxson said in a news release.

Protesters said that Mr. Kelly was a divisive figure and students should have been consulted about the event.

“They decided not to cancel the lecture, so we decided to cancel it for them,” said Jenny Li, 21, an environmental studies student.

This is, by no means,an isolated incident, as any conservative speaker who has dared to show his face any many college campuses can attest. I could probably devote an entire blog just to  reporting examples of leftist intolerance and attempts at censoring opposing viewpoints. In fact, I myself, witnessed such an action many years ago.

This might seem the height of hypocrisy for the supposed supporters of tolerance and diversity to be so intolerant and anti diversity of opinions, but I am not sure that it is hypocrisy at all. Hypocrisy is defined as professing standards, beliefs or principles contrary to one’s real character and behavior. If you have no principles you cannot really be a hypocrite. If you are in fact acting according to your principles, you are not really a hypocrite.

The key to understanding this apparent inconsistency of behavior is the concept of repressive tolerance. This seems to be an oxymoron, but it is a concept developed by the German-American Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse. Herbert Marcuse was born in Berlin  in 1898. He studied at the University of Freiburg, earning his PhD in 1922 and he joined the Marxist Institute for Social Research also called the Frankfort School. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Marcuse being a Communist and of Jewish descent, decided to immigrate to America. During World War II, he worked in the Office of War Information, producing anti-axis propaganda. He also worked in the Office of Strategic Services. After the war, he remained in the United States and taught at Columbia University, then Harvard, and finally Brandeis University. He died in 1979.

Marcuse was a Marxist, but he and the Frankfort School were somewhat unorthodox Marxists. He tended to focus on the earlier works of Marx, which he believed were more humanitarian than his later writings. Marcuse was less interested in the class struggle but emphasized the alienation which he believed that capitalism produced in the working class. By this, he meant that under Capitalism the workers are alienated from the products of their labor and in a way they become mere commodities, too satisfied by the things they make to be a truly revolutionary class. Marcuse’s ideas resonated in the New Left of the 1960’s and he became a popular figure with young radicals, such as the ones that Barack Obama used to hang out with.

The only idea of Herbert Marcuse’s that concerns us here, however, is his concept of “repressive tolerance”. Marcuse wrote about repressive tolerance in an essay titled “Repressive Tolerance” which was included in a book called “A Critique of Pure Tolerance“, published in 1965. Put simply, Marcuse believed that since the majority of the people in Western liberal societies were repressed by subtle means to the extent that they accept their repressed and even welcome it. In order to fight this repression, tolerance should only be extended to progressive movements of the Left. Counter-Progressive movements of the Right must not be tolerated since they are the ones responsible for the repression. You can see then why a Leftist who professes to believe in tolerance and diversity can be opposed to tolerance and diversity when it comes to conservative institutions and ideas. Tolerance is only to be extended to the Progressives and Socialists.

Now, I don’t imagine that Jenny Li or the rest of the campus progressive know-nothings have ever heard of Herbert Marcuse. I would be very surprised to learn that any of them knew anything at all about history or philosophy or political theory, beyond the Leftist nonsense their instructors have instilled in them and in which they repeat parrot like without any real comprehension. Still, the idea of repressive tolerance is part of their mental equipment. They don’t need to know what Raymond Kelly did. They only need to know he is a racist and should not be allowed to speak, rather like the sheep in Orwell’s Animal Farm, who only knew to keep bleating, “Four legs good. Two legs bad.”

3 thoughts on “Repressive Tolerance”

  1. I think you are using too broad a brush. Back when I was in college, in the Jurassic Period, it was fun to heckle speakers, and it didn’t much matter whether they were righties or lefties. We felt we were under the thumb of the University Admin, and were determined to make our presence known, even if they weren’t interested in including us in the process of education. So every once in awhile we disrupted events.

    You are unfairly conflating the normal unwise enthusiasm and impoliteness of youth with the behavior of adults. I did enjoy learning more about Marcuse though.


    1. Thank you for your comments. Marcuse was an interesting figure and influential in his day, although he is largely forgotten today. I did use a broad brush and make generalizations. This is inevitable in a short essay or blog post where considerations of length make it difficult to be as nuanced as might be desirable. I don’t think I was being unfair, though. The incident at Brown University was not just a matter of overenthusiastic youth but the result of a determined effort to prevent Kelly from speaking. Before the event, the activists demanded that the University cancel it. When the University declined to cancel, they cancelled it by preventing the man from speaking.
      This is not an isolated incident but an example of how the people who profess to prize tolerance and diversity seem to be the people most ready to shout down and censor people who do not tow the progressive line.


Questions, comments, praise

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

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