Monday, April 26, 2010

The Popularization of Tolerance [i]

(more on musical form soon, if anyone is interested)

If we take it for granted that the unity of a morally divided political body is worth working for, and that the remedy for moral division is the development of broad-mindedness, how should we inculcate this virtue in the people? I believe that we have seen the failure of simply expounding this principle by direct promulgation (preaching to schoolchildren), narrative exempla with the moral readily extractable (the after-school special), and habitual disapproval of anything smelling even faintly of "fundamentalism" (passim). Ask around and I'm sure it won't take you long to find someone who will affirm for you the absolute necessity of transcending one's own perspective while they themselves can demonstrate no idea of anyone else's. The political party which in America currently fuels itself with the sentiment (you know what I'm talking about by now, if you've been following the current administration's practice of "bipartisanship") satisfies itself and its constituents with emphatic (no doubt sincere) pronouncements of it--while often evidencing no greater understanding of their rivals' principles than their rivals do of theirs. Getting a moral principle into people's heads gets them no closer to principled moral behavior. Broad-mindedness in particular becomes nothing more than an especially stupid narrow-mindedness when it makes its way into politics by way of an explicit concept.

But didn't Joseph Addison notch down the rancor of the political rhetoric of early eighteenth century England, and encourage a common ethic of tolerance, by teaching the people to read John Locke? It seems he did. But close examination of the methods by which Addison influenced the people, and of his explications and clarifications of Locke's thinking, reveals the incommensurability of his success with Lockean principles of education.

More to follow.