Tolerance and Liberal Justice



    1. *Tilburg University
      Department of Philosophy
      PO Box 90153
      5000 LE Tilburg
      The Netherlands
    Search for more papers by this author
    • For helpful comments and suggestions I am grateful to Graínne de Búrca, Neil Walker, Rainer Forst, Jeremy Waldron, Wojciech Sadurski, Cormac MacAmhlaigh, Claudio Michelon, Hans Lindahl, Robin Loof, Camil Ungureanu, Florian Roedl, and Katherine Worthington.


This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: Erratum Volume 24, Issue 1, 109, Article first published online: 22 February 2011

  • Note: The author's affiliation has been changed in the online version of this article on 1 December 2010 following publication in Ratio Juris volume 23 issue 4.


Tolerance, the mere “putting up” with disapproved behaviour and practices, is often considered a too negative and passive engagement with difference in the liberal constitutional state. In response, liberal thinkers have either discarded tolerance, or assimilated it to the moral and legal precepts of liberal justice. In contradistinction to these approaches I argue that there is something distinctive and valuable about tolerance that should not be undermined by more ambitious, rights-based models of social cooperation. I develop a conception of tolerance as a complementary principle and an interim value that is neither incompatible with, nor reducible to, rights-based liberalism. Tolerance represents a particular, non-communitarian expression of the general dictum that the liberal state, having released its citizens into liberty, rests on social presuppositions it cannot itself guarantee.