Front Page Titles (by Subject) Political Intolerance - Literature of Liberty, Winter 1980, vol. 3, No. 4
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
Political Intolerance - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Winter 1980, vol. 3, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
This work is copyrighted by the Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, and is put online with their permission.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
“Political Intolerance: The Illusion of Progress.” Psychology Today (February 1979):87–91.
Americans have not become more tolerant of dissent and nonconformity. Contrary to recent surveys, a new study by the authors claims that Americans are just as intolerant today as in the early 1950s. Only the targets of intolerance have changed.
Samuel Stouffer's pioneering work in the empirical study of intolerance (1954) revealed that substantial majorities of Americans were unwilling to grant Communists, socialists, or atheists civil and procedural rights (the right to speak in public, be immune from wire tapping, etc.). Has tolerance increased since Stouffer's time? Two studies (that of James Davis in 1975 and that of Nunn, Crockett, and Williams in 1978) purported to track liberalizing trends of American tolerance to the extent that “citizens who are most supportive of civil liberties have emerged as the majority in our society...”
Such conclusions, however, go beyond their studies' empirical findings. Intolerance towards Communists, socialists, and atheists may have declined, but this is because people now are as intolerant toward different groups or ideas. These findings of intolerance are supported by two new surveys conducted in Minneapolis and St. Paul in 1976. The results showed greater tolerance toward allowing Communists and atheists to have their books in libraries. However, when the survey allowed respondents to pick those groups they least liked (e.g. Ku Klux Klan, homosexuals, or Black Panthers) and substitute these for Communists, the levels of intolerance toward the new groups was substantially as large as towards the older targets of hostility. New undesirables have replaced the old undesirables. We need to be more careful in conceiving and measuring intolerance over time.
The authors believe it is impractical to believe that greater tolerance in a democratic society will come as a result of respect for an abstract principle such as allowing for the free competition of ideas. They subscribe to James Madison's belief that the very diversity and “multiplicity of sects” and interests provide the best safeguards against intolerance. The “diversity of targets of intolerance prevent an immediate threat to civil liberties” even though levels of intolerance are alarmingly high in America.