The Inclusion of the Other? Habermas and the Paradox of Tolerance

Political Theory 34 (4):439 - 462 (2006)
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Abstract

In his most recent work, Jürgen Habermas has proposed a deliberative account of tolerance where the norms of tolerance--including the threshold of tolerance and the norms regulating the relationship between the tolerating and the tolerated parties--are the outcomes of deliberations among the citizens affected by the norms. He thinks that in this way, the threshold of tolerance can be rationalized and the relationship between tolerating and tolerated will rest on the symmetrical relations of public deliberations. In this essay, and inspired by Jacques Derrida's work on the concept of hospitality, I propose a deconstructive reading of Habermas's writings on tolerance. I argue that Habermas is ultimately unable to provide a rational foundation for tolerance and that his conception of tolerance encounters the same problems he is trying to avoid, namely, the contingency of the threshold of tolerance and a paternalistic relation between tolerating and tolerated. Yet, contra Habermas, the deconstruction of tolerance does not result in its destruction and does not force us to give up on the concept and practice of tolerance.

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