Recognition and Power
Axel Honneth and the Tradition of Critical Social Theory
By Bert van den Brink
By David Owen
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 2007
Online Publication Date:July 2009
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511498732.009
In contemporary political discourse, the concept of toleration plays an important role, ranging from questions of the toleration of cultural and religious minorities within states to the alleged global “clash of civilisations.” But while for some, toleration appears to be the magic word invoking a peaceful and cooperative way of living together in mutual recognition and political equality, for others it is a word signifying power, domination, and exclusion. And this ambivalence about the concept of toleration is not a recent phenomenon, for if we go back to the classic discussions of toleration in the Age of Enlightenment, the latter critique is what Goethe meant when he said: “Tolerance should be a temporary attitude only: it must lead to recognition. To tolerate means to insult.” And the former praise of toleration is expressed by Voltaire, who spoke of toleration as l'apanage de l'humanité, as a sign of true humanity (though also as the fate of humankind).
To gain a deeper understanding of this ambivalence, I want to tell two stories about toleration – a dark and pessimistic one and a bright and optimistic one – and I want to argue that from a sufficiently complex historical perspective, both of them are true. More than that, they are not just historically true; they still inform the contemporary meaning and practices of toleration.
Reference Type: bibliography