From the prominent French political theorist (and author of a political history of religion in America) Denis Lacorne comes this new book of intellectual history: The Limits of Tolerance: Enlightenment Values and Religious Fanaticism (Columbia University Press). Lacorne’s thesis seems to be the rather familiar one that tolerance is a distinctively 17th and 18th century idea emergent in the views of such people as Locke and Voltaire (Locke is perhaps a more familiar source on this score than Voltaire, whose writing about toleration is rather more uneven in its commitment). There also seems to be a very practical and how-to side of the book, as the description suggests, applying Enlightenment wisdom to contemporary problems. It would be interesting to put Lacorne in conversation with Robert Wilken, whose recent book on a similar theme offers a very different view.

“The modern notion of tolerance—the welcoming of diversity as a force for the common good—emerged in the Enlightenment in the wake of centuries of religious wars. First elaborated by philosophers such as John Locke and Voltaire, religious tolerance gradually gained ground in Europe and North America. But with the resurgence of fanaticism and terrorism, religious tolerance is increasingly being challenged by frightened publics.

In this book, Denis Lacorne traces the emergence of the modern notion of religious tolerance in order to rethink how we should respond to its contemporary tensions. In a wide-ranging argument that spans the Ottoman Empire, the Venetian republic, and recent controversies such as France’s burqa ban and the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, The Limits of Tolerance probes crucial questions: Should we impose limits on freedom of expression in the name of human dignity or decency? Should we accept religious symbols in the public square? Can we tolerate the intolerant? While acknowledging that tolerance can never be entirely without limits, Lacorne defends the Enlightenment concept against recent attempts to circumscribe it, arguing that without it a pluralistic society cannot survive. Awarded the Prix Montyon by the Académie Française, The Limits of Tolerance is a powerful reflection on twenty-first-century democracy’s most fundamental challenges.”

Leave a Reply