Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Limits of Tolerance

It was on this day in 1594 that Henri IV was crowned King of France at Chartres Cathedral, about 50 miles southwest of Paris. He is remembered as a tolerant king, one who was vilified by the intolerant of his own time but more respected after his death as people became more dispassionate and, perhaps, more tolerant themselves. For those who are not experts in French history, if they know at least the basic facts, they will recall that King Henri IV is most famous for having been a Protestant but who converted to Catholicism in order to be king, supposedly saying that, “Paris is worth a mass”. I cannot help but think that part of his popularity in recent times is due to his reputation for not taking religion very seriously. This is, needless to say, completely wrong. First of all, I would not swear on the Gospels that Henri IV ever said that nor do I think his conversion was driven entirely by ambition or political concerns. I may not swear to it either but I think it is at least highly possible that his conversion, even if prompted by politics to a degree, was genuine.

What earned King Henri IV his reputation for tolerance was that, even after his conversion to Catholicism, he issued the Edict of Nantes which granted freedom of religion to French Protestants. Needless to say, there were Catholics who were upset by this but, then again, one can also still find Catholics who are critical of King Louis XIV for revoking the Edict of Nantes. For many, whether tolerance is a positive or a negative seems to be a rather subjective question. In the case of France, tolerance seemed to be the only solution to their problem. The edict came at the end of the long and brutal Wars of Religion in France, the last being known as the “War of the Three Henries”. This saw Henri (IV) of Navarre and the Protestants battling against Henri Duc d’Guise and the Catholics with King Henri III in the middle, all fighting against each other, none being strong enough to defeat the other two. France was being shredded by these conflicts and since there seemed to be no end, tolerance was the answer Henri of Navarre found. In order to be king, he would become Catholic but he would also insist that Protestants be free to worship as they pleased so long as they remained loyal to the king and loyal to France, which in those days were taken to be the same thing.

One reason that Protestantism was able to take hold in France was because of the degree of tolerance that existed in the Catholic leaders of the country such as the famous King Francis I who tolerated the Protestants at first only to later come to regret it as a faction, primarily aristocratic Protestants, began to aim their opposition at the monarchy. There were similar problems across Europe as Protestantism spread throughout the continent. However, one will notice that similar wars of religion did not occur in places such as Spain or Italy. It is interesting to look at the realms of the House of Habsburg in this time which included both Spain and Germany. In Spain, the rather unfairly notorious Inquisition made sure that Protestant ideas never found a firm foothold, whereas in Germany, ruled by the same monarch but under a very different political system, this was not possible. The decentralized nature of the first German Reich meant that Martin Luther was able to defy the German Emperor and King of Spain right to his face at the Diet of Worms and freely walk away without being arrested thanks to the protection of his local prince Frederick III, Elector of Saxony.

The result was that while Spain had no wars of religion, Germany had plenty of them, culminating in the disastrous Thirty Years War which left central Europe in ruins for decades. The fact that tolerance can make things worse instead of better was not lost on the Protestants themselves. Despite their persecution at the hands of intolerant Catholics, for what they called, ‘following the dictates of their conscience’, once in power they were not prepared to fully embrace tolerance themselves. In countries such as England or The Netherlands, while the Church of England or the Dutch Reformed Church had special status, they were generally tolerant of Protestants who did not adhere to these churches but that freedom of religion did not extend to Catholics. It is obvious to see why. Such tolerance would lead to division which would lead to conflict, sometimes decade after decade of ruinous conflict that could devastate entire nations. Today it often seems necessary to repeat the obvious; differences cause problems. Differences about the fundamental nature of society, the world, loyalty and so on can certainly cause very, very serious problems.

These lessons are not only to be drawn from the monarchies of the Old World. They were seen just as often in the United States of America. On the religious front, Maryland was founded as a Catholic colony but not enough Catholics wanted to move there, so they were tolerant and allowed Protestants in as well. As soon as the Protestants became a majority, they decided to be tolerant of everyone except Catholics. In the political sphere, when the thirteen original colonies won their independence, they were not prepared to be very tolerant of those hated loyalists who had taken the side of the King in London. As I have proposed before, I think this was one reason why the United States did not suffer the same chaotic fate as Mexico post-independence. In America, the people who were different were gotten rid of so that everyone who remained were basically in agreement on the fundamental, republican, nature of the new country. Thus there were no royalist coups in America. Other differences and thus other problems arose in due time and there was not an abundance of tolerance. The concept of the rights of the states in America was based on tolerance, a ‘live and let live’, almost libertarian sort of attitude. Yet, just as those opposed to slavery would not tolerate it in another state, so too with a long list of successive issues all the way up to gay “marriage”. Making it legal in their own state was never enough, ALL states had to make it legal and if the people would not do it willingly, the courts would do it by force.

This all underlies a fundamental point I have tried to impress upon people many times. Tolerance is rare and tolerance on the part of governments is practically non-existent. No ruling power ever has or ever will tolerate anything which is a direct challenge to them. They will not tolerate any sort of attack on that which they hold most dear. In Muslim countries, this means that anything anti-Islamic will not be tolerated. It is why, in Germany or Austria, questioning the Holocaust is not tolerated. It is why the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy would not tolerate opposition to their ruling parties. It is why Thailand does not tolerate disrespect toward the monarchy, because that is the foundation of their society. Liberal regimes today, be they republics or monarchies, tend to think they are immune from this. Not so. The rulers of Great Britain, for example, allow republican groups to attack the monarchy because the monarchy is not fundamental to their world view at all. Most European countries, the United States, Canada and so on do not have something so obvious as Islam in Iran or the King in Thailand but they very clearly have a narrative that is fundamental to their worldview and they will tolerate no opposition to this narrative.

Because of liberalism, they have to be more duplicitous about this than Chairman Mao on the left or General Franco on the right but they are just as intolerant as either of those examples were. They must show some restraint in order to maintain their charade but we have all seen the truth. If you challenge the narrative, you will be vilified, lose your job, perhaps even face criminal penalties. Your life can be destroyed for doing this because when it comes to that which they hold most dear, they are just as intolerant as any Spanish inquisitor, Soviet secret policeman or Nazi Gestapo agent. This is a fact of human nature. We can be tolerant but generally only for select periods of time and when all other options have failed. Even then, the tolerance doesn’t really stay but rather becomes unnecessary. The reason for this is that when something is tolerated for long enough, it generally becomes accepted and, even when it is not, the ultimate end is that people stop believing such differences matter and replace them with new ones. Religious tolerance did not lead to Protestants and Catholics truly respecting each other. It led to people just giving up on Christianity altogether. Monarchies which tolerate republicans has not led to republicans embracing the monarchy out of gratitude but rather an increasing number of people being indifferent to their monarchy.

Tolerance is a lie and, all too often, a fatal one.

1 comment:

  1. The tolerant's fallacy is that they always can quell the intolerant who make full use of their tolerance.
    When they do finally realize that they are not roaring at these threats, instead they are bleating at them is probably too late for all of us.


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