Peace Is A Delicate Flower!
Walking the razor-thin line dividing tolerance from intolerance
“I know the value of negotiation and compromise, but sometimes, I just can’t be diplomatic.”
A concept I am fascinated with is something that has been called ‘the liberal paradox’ or ‘the tolerance paradox’. Stated simply, this is where tolerance and the democratization of competing interests run into a contradiction. You might have heard the old saw, “I cannot tolerate the intolerant!”
The inconvenient and frustrating truth is that tolerance can really only be understood against a backdrop of intolerance. The opposite is also true. A despot, a bully, an autocrat, a dictator or any other strongman can only flourish or find support through a form of pre-existing liberalism which gives him permission.
And, of course, as history has taught us time and again, such ones frequently have their way undermining those liberal institutions that allow a space for them. So, there is a point where tolerance must impose limits. But this limit is now an instance of what?
When you become keenly sensitive to this balance, you will see it everywhere. I once interviewed the highly distinguished Professor Fish on this very subject. Here’s a clip of us exploring the concept:
Recently, I read a book which impressed upon me how seemingly impossible a situation this is. I was gifted an advanced reading copy of the work. It’s called Resolved, Uniting Nations In A Divided World. It was written by the former secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon. I want to deconstruct a scenario like this which illustrates just how delicate brokering peace is with certain individuals and regimes.
So the anecdote I will detail is going back some years already — although aspects of it remain ongoing. I want to talk about the conflict in Sudan while Ban was secretary-general.