CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

'LIMITS OF TOLERANCE'

Daily Telegraph – 16 August 2005

Now that Lord Falconer is subscribing to Michael Howard’s argument as Home Secretary that the rights of individual extremists must be balanced against those of their innocent potential targets in society (report, Aug. 13), may I draw the attention of our judiciary – and my fellow parliamentarians – to the following passage by the late Sir Karl Popper which I first read almost 35 years ago?

In Volume 1 of The Open Society and its Enemies (p.265), he noted:

"[The so-called paradox of freedom is the argument that freedom in the sense of absence of any restraining control must lead to very great restraint, since it makes the bully free to enslave the meek. … Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance.] If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed and tolerance with them.

"… I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be most unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols."

[Sir Karl’s wisdom, grounded on the experience of totalitarians of the past, should be in the forefront of our minds when dealing with those who menace our democratic freedoms today.]

Yours faithfully,

Dr JULIAN LEWIS MP
Shadow Defence Minister
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

[NOTE: The sentences in square brackets were not included in the published version.]