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Why is tolerance so important to liberals?

The claim that tolerance is important to liberals is not controversial. Voltaire famously declared that “I detest what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it”. This reflects the idea that liberals are committed to protecting freedom of expression and human rights, regardless of whether another person or group’s moral values conflict with their own.

Tolerance is so important to liberals because they are committed to protecting equal individual liberties. For example, liberals want to protect people’s freedom to practise certain religions and follow different moral codes, which requires toleration of points of view that might not be classified as strictly “liberal”. When this tension arises liberals have to weigh up which value is the most significant for a healthy society. It is important for the state to defend human rights and to tolerate different points of view and ways of living. This is the way to achieve a pluralist society which tolerates and protects radically diverse interpretations of the good life. Cultural, moral and political pluralism are necessary for a healthy and free society (J S Mill).

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