Why Toleration Is Not the Appropriate Response to Dissenting Minorities' Claims



For many liberal democrats toleration has become a sort of pet-concept, to which appeal is made in the face of a myriad issues related to the treatment of minorities. Against the inflationary use of toleration, whether understood positively as recognition or negatively as forbearance, I argue that toleration may not provide the conceptual and normative tools to understand and address the claims for accommodation raised by at least one kind of significant minority: democratic dissenting minorities. These are individuals, or aggregates of them, who oppose, on principled grounds, the outcomes of the majoritarian decision-making process. I argue that democratic dissenting minorities' claims are better understood as calls for respect for a person's capacity for self-legislation. I view respect as the cornerstone of justice in a liberal democracy: all norms resulting in a constraint on a person's conduct should be appropriately justified to her. I argue that the reconciliation of democratic dissenting minorities' claims requires an enhancement of the justificatory strategies of democratic decisions by enhancing in turn citizens' rights to political participation. This should be done both during decision making and after a provision is enacted by also securing space for contestation through such forms of illegal protest as civil disobedience and conscientious objection.