The intolerance of relativism

[I]t is not unusual to meet people who think that not to believe in any truth, or not to adhere firmly to any assertion as unshakeably true in itself, is a primary condition required of democratic citizens in order to be tolerant of one another and to live in peace with one another. May I say that these people are in fact the most intolerant people, for if perchance they were to believe in something as unshakeably true, they would feel compelled, by the same stroke, to impose by force and coercion their own belief on their co-citizens. The only remedy they have found to get rid of their abiding tendency to fanaticism is to cut themselves off from truth.

Jacques Maritain, Heroic Democracy

2 thoughts on “The intolerance of relativism”

  1. Great quote. This sort of relativism seems to me to be one of the foundations of the Modern/Enlightenment project. It is at the core of modern representative democracy – namely, that every ideology has the equal right to be in parliament as long as it is elected, no matter how utterly false its perception of the world can be. It is also important for the building of a pluralistic and multicultural civil society – all things ultimate (such as ultimate meaning, value or purpose) are private beliefs to be dealt with by each individual (i.e. they are socially
    irrelevant), while only data concerning purposeless raw matter is to be accepted as a collective belief.
    Of course, no one wants to hear the ugly truth – that relativism inevitably leads to nihilism (which itself is anthropologically intolerable). People find that this will exclude irreligious people from society, and that’s just intolerant – the question of it being true is seen as irrelevant. And this misplaced tolerance-as-a-first-principle is the reason why any religion-based suggestion about ethics is directly rejected by most people in “post-Christendom”.
    It is also because of this relativism-as-a-first-principle that I’ve given up discussing things that are based on unshared premises with irreligious/modernistic people – in the end, I’ve distanced myself from them because my beliefs about almost everything that I am serious and passionate about depend on my theological/existential beliefs. Kinda “we’ve taken a different leap of faith, mate, your way is not mine, neither is mine yours. We’ve got nothing of ultimate importance to say to each other”. It’s easy to understand why the early Christians formed communities, almost like a society-within-society. Confucius was also right – “Mingle not in projects with a man whose way is not thine.”
    So yes, relativism is intolerant – society is inevitably intolerant towards those who don’t share its first principles. It is also frustratingly often taken for granted, no matter that during most of the history of man it would’ve been seen as absurd (because it is).

Leave a Reply

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