Intolerance is not a thing of the past

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

The Authoritarian Dynamic offers a kind of Rosetta stone, Jonathan Haidt suggests, for interpreting the rise of right-wing populism and its focus on Muslims in 2016:

Stenner notes that her theory “explains the kind of intolerance that seems to ‘come out of nowhere,’ that can spring up in tolerant and intolerant cultures alike, producing sudden changes in behavior that cannot be accounted for by slowly changing cultural traditions.”

[T]he increasing license allowed by those evolving cultures generates the very conditions guaranteed to goad latent authoritarians to sudden and intense, perhaps violent, and almost certainly unexpected, expressions of intolerance. Likewise, then, if intolerance is more a product of individual psychology than of cultural norms…we get a different vision of the future, and a different understanding of whose problem this is and will be, than if intolerance is an almost accidental by-product of simple attachment to tradition. The kind of intolerance that springs from aberrant individual psychology, rather than the disinterested absorption of pervasive cultural norms, is bound to be more passionate and irrational, less predictable, less amenable to persuasion, and more aggravated than educated by the cultural promotion of tolerance [emphasis added].

Writing in 2004, Stenner predicted that “intolerance is not a thing of the past, it is very much a thing of the future.”


Stenner ends The Authoritarian Dynamic with some specific and constructive advice:

[A]ll the available evidence indicates that exposure to difference, talking about difference, and applauding difference — the hallmarks of liberal democracy — are the surest ways to aggravate those who are innately intolerant, and to guarantee the increased expression of their predispositions in manifestly intolerant attitudes and behaviors. Paradoxically, then, it would seem that we can best limit intolerance of difference by parading, talking about, and applauding our sameness…. Ultimately, nothing inspires greater tolerance from the intolerant than an abundance of common and unifying beliefs, practices, rituals, institutions, and processes. And regrettably, nothing is more certain to provoke increased expression of their latent predispositions than the likes of “multicultural education,” bilingual policies, and nonassimilation.

If Stenner is correct, then her work has profound implications, not just for America, which was the focus of her book, but perhaps even more so for Europe.


  1. Felix says:

    Like Candide III in the previous posting, I’m confused.

    Was Stenner an academic describing her cohorts by projecting them on to those other people?

    Or just stating the banal with big words?

  2. Tim says:

    Yes. I am intolerant of third world tribal cultures that want to destroy modernity.

  3. Graham says:

    While Stenner’s conclusion is probably sound as far as societal management goes, even obvious to most people prior to today, I note that the medicalization quotient has gone up again,with all those references to “aberrant”, “passionate” and “irrational” intolerant people. I still hold to the idea that reason is a tool to attain a desired goal. The goal, whatever it is, is inherently pre-rational. That applies whether the goal can be defined as “tolerant” or not.

    I assume I will soon be locked in a Soviet style asylum for the irrationally intolerant.

    Also, the definition of liberal democracy has changed again.

    “exposure to difference, talking about difference, and applauding difference — the hallmarks of liberal democracy ” was not the working definition of liberal democracy I knew 25 years ago.

    I noticed in earlier posts from Jonathan Haidt in the American Interest that as early as 2007 preference for one’s own citizens, race notwithstanding, had been redefined in certain quarters as itself racist. I think I started to check out of the world at that point.

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