It’s long been apparent that the West faces a special dilemma, which is expressed very well in the following passage by Roger Kimball (and “liberal” and “liberalism” in the following doesn’t just mean “liberals” as in “progressives,” but also “liberals” as in “classical liberals”):

Liberal regimes have always suffered from this paralyzing antinomy: Liberalism implies openness to other points of view, even those points of view whose success would destroy liberalism. Tolerance to those points of view is a prescription for suicide. Intolerance betrays the fundamental premise of liberalism, i.e. openness.

Of course (may I say “of course”?), there is a sense in which the antinomy is illusory, since any robust liberalism, i.e., a liberalism buttressed by a core of conservative backbone, understands that tolerance, if it is to flourish, cannot be synonymous with capitulation to ideas that would exploit tolerance only to destroy it. The “openness” that liberal society rightly cherishes is not a vacuous openness to all points of view: it is not “value neutral.” It need not, indeed it cannot, say Yes to all comers.

And yet that basic instinct for practical self-preservation, that paradoxical prohibition necessary for the general openness, is often ignored today. “Democracy is not a suicide pact”—at least, it shouldn’t be.

The origin of that last phrase lies in several statements by historic Americans, but the most specific one was by Supreme Court Justice Associate Justice Robert Jackson in 1949, in a dissent to the decision in the freedom of speech case known as Terminiello:

…[Jackson] wrote a twenty-four page dissent in response to the Court’s four page decision, which concluded: “The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that, if the court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.”

That’s a possibility we’re facing now. What used to be known as Western Civilization can’t seem to get out of its own way. But its enemies have no such problem; excessive tolerance in not their thing, and yet the excessive tolerance of the West is something on which they heavily rely.

[Featured Image submitted by reader Beloved, Roswell, NM]

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]