eipcp gerald Die Grammatik der Toleranz

The Grammar of Tolerance

Gerald Raunig

Gerald Raunig


first published in: Gefährliche Kreuzungen. Grammatik der Toleranz, München 2006

Translation: Silvia Bauer and Jon Smale

The general theme of tolerance should not be considered here as a personal quality, as an individually inherent predisposition, as a character attribute of individuals: However, tolerance, as an ideological programme should neither be made the subject of discussion here – at least not solely, nor as a partial aspect of Christian doctrine, as an ideological programme, as an integral component of enlightenment such as of enlightened absolutism, nor as a supplement of political liberalism. Rather, the concern here should be tolerance as a grammar.

Amongst other things, what this focussing of tolerance as a grammar suggests, is that it enables something which scrutinizes also such structurally diverse theoretical paths such as the later of Foucault’s texts, the Governmentality Studies, Queer Theory or the more ambitious notions of Critical Whiteness Studies: This is not a view upon the others which initially creates and produces the others, somewhat like subjects or objects of racist practices or anti-Semitic and Islamophobic discourses, but rather a view that immanently examines the white, male, hete­rosexual, colonial constant in its practice of ‘Othering,’ of the production of the Other, quasi from within, as a constant which sets itself as a norm and reproduces itself time and again. It is not a matter here of a technique of self-incrimination, and neither of a theory which aims to clarify the essence or the origin of the evil of racism, sexism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Rather, we intend here to propose considerations which subject the relationships between the tolerated and the tolerating, the practices of tolerance, to examination, and furthermore also to draw lines of flight which break through the asymmetries of these relationships and practices.

What is it specifically, not to understand tolerance as a personal characteristic or a political programme, but as a grammar? Let us begin traditionally with etymology and linguistic aspects of the term: In a stricter sense the grammar of tolerance would mean it is concerned with putting tolerance in writing. In Old Greek gramma stands for letter or script, which comes from grafein, to score, to scribe, to engrave. The gramma is therefore literally the product of a practice that inscribes or etches a trace into something. On this linguistic level, grammar means a connection between these inscribed, etched traces of the script and the language, the relationship of these traces to one another. It is less a matter here of the ascertainment, the identification, the arrangement of subject and object as phrases, or in our case of subjects and objec­ts of tolerance, but also more particularly a matter of that shift of the meaning which is produced through the predicate, namely “to tolerate.” With all instances of the application of tolerance, it should then be asked how exact is toleration to be set as a grammatical function, and this not only as a question of the subject and object of tolerance, simply according to the maxim “who is tolerating whom?” A differentiated examination of this grammatical function should begin before this question and continue beyond it, and it should not follow a method of definition but rather one of the shift of its meaning.

Allow me to illustrate the mobility and changeability of the grammatical function of tolerance with a brief history of the term. The term tolerance appears for the first time as a substantivization of the Latin verb tolerare (to bear, to endure, to suffer): as tolerantia by Cicero, namely in a lesser work which Cicero had written in 46 BC, the stoical Parado­xa ad Marcum Brutum, and it is probably not a coincidence that the word appears precisely from Cicero, at the transition between politics and philosophy. Tolerance appears here in a series of virtues of the wise man, for instance in the extent of his advice, magnitudo consilii, or in the contempt of fate, contemptio fortunae, and as tolerantia rerum humanarum, tolerance that is, toward all human affairs. In its universality this tolerance is toward all that which is human, a clarified, almost objectless, absolute tolerance, and it alludes to something that we refer to in everyday speech as stoic calm. In Cicero’s stoical philosophy, tolerance is a virtue of the wise man latent within himself, quite similar to the concern for one's self, as Foucault would later call it. There is however a significant difference between Cicero and Foucault: While Foucault above all develops a practise of concern for the self which conceptualizes the self not as subject but as a manner of subjectivization – implying movement, both in regard to an ever changing relation to oneself as well as in regard to all possible transversal exchange relationships – the absolute subject of tolerance for Cicero remains static, latent, a virtue in itself. While Foucault understands subjectivization as a process, the self as a relationship, this movement in the philosophy of Cicero tends to appear inoperative: Tolerance emerges as an absolute virtue which does not simply tolerate anyone or anything, but literally amounts to enduring everything.
This stoic form of tolerance as a characteristic of the nature of the subject is also the basis for later emphatic tolerance terms in which tolerance is invoked as an expression of reciprocal respect among individuals who in spite of all differences regard themselves in relevant respects as equals. But also via such an abstract invocation and beyond, the practice of tolerance has proved its worth over unbearable impasses of the proliferating conflict. The genealogy of tolerance as a positive term leads from the various pre-modern, religiously connoted rationales of tolerance and the edicts coupled with it – via Spinoza, Locke, Mill, Rousseau, Voltaire and Lessing – right up to the many invocations of tolerance in the present day. The positive conception of tolerance can therefore have recourse to a good and theoretical basis developed over a long period, and to an equally convincing historical but also current practice: Humanist-liberal tolerance discourses and the political campaigns resulting from them, lines of light-carrying demonstrators, anti-racist demonstrations, manifestations and declarations of solidarity, have proved themselves time and again as handy, immediate measures against racism and anti-Semitism and in the last few years also against the ever more successful ideology of the “clash of the cultures.”

Despite their evident effects, or perhaps also directly because of them, arguments in opposition to this affirmative tolerance discourses occur – with similarly good justification and almost from the time the term exists – that exercise criticism on the phenomenon and the term of tolerance, by which they refer to its inherent relationship settings: Within the long history of tolerance, there develop namely exactly those relationship settings that describe tolerance not as a self-relationship or as a transversal movement of reciprocal exchange but as a hierarchical, vertical relationship setting towards others.
Thereby, in the original, neutral-absolute Latin meaning of the words tolera­re and tolerantia the transitivity, the hierarchy of the tolerated and the tolerating is inscribed, that unequal grammar of tolerance, which distinguishes policies of tolerance from, e.g. egalitarian policies. The object of tolerance is by the act of tolerance precisely so construed as if it were naturally marginal, inferior, different, outside the norm, outside of society. The virtue of the wise, an expression of humaneness and respect, a temporary practice against abrupt conflicts therefore turns into a paternalistic gesture by individuals, groups, or state institutions and authorities which sets up a gap between subject and object as an unavoidable prerequisite. Since antiquity, criticism of tolerance repeats itself therefore through such diverse spirits as Symmachus, Hobbes, Kant, Goethe, Marx, Nietzsche, Thomas Mann – and this then affects themes which, in the passage of modern times, through the classical terrain of earlier tolerance theories – that is, religious freedom –  and beyond, draw other political freedoms into consideration. Even clerical tolerance in the Re­naissance endured not much more than marginal deviations within ecclesiastical identity, even the state practice of enlightened absolutism included this simultaneously with the granting of limited freedoms, e.g. for Jewish and Protestant denominations, but at the same time made it invisible with this form of limited inclusion. Also in the 19th century with regard to tolerance as a granting of political freedoms a similar process can be verified: The governmental technique of limited permission was often accompanied by a practice of proscription. 
Along with all the prominence within the above cited, long list of tolerance critics, I now quote in this context a somewhat unknown author, the individual-anarchistic “Young Hegelian” Max Stirner, who in 1844 in The Ego and his Own and primarily with regard to questions concerning freedom of assembly and freedom of the press wrote: “People talk of the tolerance, the leaving opposite tendencies free, and the like, by which civilized States are distinguished. Certainly some are strong enough to look with complacency on even the most unrestrained meetings, while others charge their catchpolls to go hunting for tobacco-pipes. (…) The lauded tolerance of States is simply a tolerating of the "harmless," the "not dangerous"; it is only elevation above pettymindedness, only a more estimable, grander, prouder — despotism.”[1]
The grammar of tolerance had consolidated itself here in the Germany of the 19th century: From a practice which aspired to soften the severity of the clashing identitarian factions within and beyond the Christian faith, a humanist-universal discourse had developed which established "the human” as an abstract norm: Max Stirner attacked this norm of “the human” with its exterior of the inhuman and the uncivilized, and the “toleration of the harmless,” a toleration that is, in bearable doses which was thwarted through the despotic practices of censorship and of political persecution – not only in the German Vormärz era in which these lines of Stirner are written. This means the governmental tolerance term is never – and certainly not in the 19th century – a concept of equality, but rather a Polizey-concept. Already in the attestations of the 18th and 19th centuries it became clear that this protective-administrational Polizey-practice with its sufferance and augustness “above the literary struggles”[2] only creates an ostensible contrast to the authoritarian restraining of the “mobs that ‘endanger’ the State.”[3] The tolerance of cultural divergence stands in a complimentary relationship to radical repression of political struggles. Polizey as a complete administration of the populace extends not only far beyond today’s concept of the police, but also beyond a purely repressive practice.

The concept of repression leads me directly to the 20th century and to Herbert Marcuse’s criticism of “repressive tolerance” from the year 1965[4]: Marcuse sees the main function of tolerance for liberal democracy – and this aspect was also gladly taken up by the rebelling students of 1968 – in the increasing concealment of exclusion and exploitation as well as in a reversal of the demand for tolerance. The political location of tolerance has changed, says Mar­cuse. Tolerance depletes itself in nothing but passivity via-à-vis authority. It is thus no longer those in authority who are called upon to tolerate, but on the contrary, it is the minorities. The subordinate groups may tolerate those who govern them, by abstaining from antagonistic practices and discourses, and passively accepting their dominance. This aspect of the reversal of the demand for tolerance is then the fertile feature of Mar­cuse’s theory still today: in times of Zero-Tolerance-Propaganda getting out of hand in respect of minorities, from New York to the Bavarian provinces, even more unbearable today than in the 1960’s. Mar­cuse’s theory however, becomes problematical at the point where he introduces the figure of an autonomous subject – in possession of a free will and capable of appraisal – as a precondition which once prevailed but now due to repression is no longer to be found.[5]


Michel Foucault’s considerations are directed against this hypothesis of a power formation which can only be understood primarily or only as repression against a subject originally considered autonomous. Foucault’s argument against the “re­pression hypothesis” is based on the challenging of repression as a central moment for the cohesion of society and the securing of authority. Without denying that repression existed and exists Foucault insists on emphasising the productive and creative aspects of power. More complex governmental mechanisms function not (only) via simple exclusion, but – beyond discipline and control – also via a structure of provision and at the same time limitation of freedoms.
The grammar of tolerance acts here as a supplement to repression, as a continuation of authority by other means. Since the modern age tolerance represents a part of the formation which Foucault calls bio-power: that form of power which achieves repression of the body and the control of the populace not through the threat of death but through the regulation of life. Tolerance thus becomes a practice of deciding about what should be excluded as non-integrable and abnormal, but primarily of deciding about what, as marginal, although deviating from the norm, should nonetheless be included in the norm. Thereby tolerance more and more becomes one of a number of techniques of “exclusive inclusion.” The grammar of a now no longer only humanist-liberal tolerance, but also no longer only of a repressive-disciplining tole­rance, is to be understood here less through solidarity or pure exclusions as through mechanisms of integration and normalisation. Bio-power as a manifold, providently governing and productive power which primarily produces normalities, does this not essentially by repressing and incarcerating the marginal, but by means of simultaneously enduring the marginal and integrating them without equal rights. Normalisation is generated exactly here in the assimilation and in the exclusive inclusion of the margi­nal-peripheral.


When tolerance in the setting of bio-power expresses and consolidates a specific norm, it turns out that all that which is tolerated is also a part of that which this norm secures and maintains. The object of tolerance firstly establishes the naturalness and the authority of the norm and of those who exercise tolerance. Therefore, tole­rance manifests itself by the granting of all freedoms, particularly in rules, restrictions and conditions which define what those practicing tolerance can accept without endangering their authority. At the same time the pose of tolerance on the side of those tolerating cloaks, disguises and veils that very authority and normativi­ty which is inherent in it. Tolerance organises not only the subjects of tolerance through normative marginalization, it conceals also the process of identification of differences and of inclusive exclusion. Tolerance is at the same moment the exercise of power and its disguise.


The grammar of tolerance establishes then not only a regime of identification of the ‘other’ and his/her inclusion, but creates a multiple surplus. How far the tolerant “authority” of the bio-power capitalises from the identification of the ‘other’ and from the integration of all forms of difference, can be identified via a brief look at the present stage of neo-liberal capitalism and its affirma­tion through pseudo-scientific literature: A typical document is the “Euro-Tolerance-Index”[6] introduced by Richard Florida and Irene Tinagli which has become relevant for the official urban development policy of many European cities, a bizarre attempt to quantify tolerance on the basis of comparisons of European nations. An advantage arises here not only from the disguise of the authoritarian position of those ‘tolerating,’ but conversely also from the visibility of varying – even if still included/excluded – positions of the ‘tolerated.’ Even in his bestseller The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Flori­da has ‘analysed’ the relationship of culture, creativity and economic growth, and has ‘verified’ that creativity as a location factor decisively contributes to economic success: “The key to understanding the new economic geography of creativity and its effects on economic outcomes lies in what I call the 3T’s of econo­mic development” – the three capital T’s thus as the most important factors of urban eco­nomic development: “Technology, Talent and Tolerance.”[7]


Technology and talent are perhaps understandably – even if on completely different levels – eco­nomic factors, but how does tolerance function within this constellation? “Tolerance… is critical for the ability of a region or nation to attract or mobilize creative talent.”[8] Tolerance toward gays, “bohemians,” migrants and women is propagated as a decisive factor for location policy and economic growth according to the authors of the study Europe in the Creative Age and hence praised as a competitive advantage for regions and cities.

Not that the above mentioned groups identified as minorities through their participation in the produc­tion process could contribute to economic growth, their pure “presence” as a pre-productive function of tolerance leads to furtherance of the “ecosystem of creativi­ty.” “The point here is not that immigrants, gays or bohemians literally ‘cause’ eco­nomic growth. Rather, their presence in large numbers is an indicator of an underly­ing culture that’s open and conducive to creativity.”[9]
What is to be learned from such empty, neo-liberal propagandist lyric if we take the results of the study seriously for a moment? On the one hand that the grammar of tolerance as a governmental technique is not only relevant in the conventional political sphere, but also poses as a regulator of economic resources. On the other hand this example shows once again how the grammar of tolerance presupposes specified identities and at the same time creates them in real terms. One need not directly go so far in order to understand tolerance in “liberal multi-culturalism” as a “renounced and inverted form of racism” as with Slavoj Zizek in his A Plea for Intolerance.[10] However: As the demand for tolerance toward others, which are declared as “different”, strengthens the totalising characteristics of these subject- and identity-formations, thus the economically positive affirmation of multi-culturalist discourses also naturalises and exaggerates the otherness of those tolerated, in order to exploit it.


To conclude. I once again return to my initial considerations about grammar: Grammar, I said, is a connection between the inscribed, etched traces of the script and the language, the relationship of these traces to each other. In the forming of these connections, the subjects and objects of tolerance are not only defined, identified and stratified, but also – and principally – the shift of the meaning is initiated which is created by the predicate. In doing so it is necessary and possible to understand the grammar not as a simple practice of determination of the positions of the tolerating and the tolerated, but rather to think of it beyond identitarian ascriptions and fixations of hierarchy.
In „Theatrum Philosophicum“[11]  Michel Foucault speaks of the necessity of a grammar constructed in another way, a grammar of occurrences, a grammar which is not bound to the predicate noun, but to the verb in its infinitive, pre­sent tense. Infinitive, present, becoming. It depends here on the flexibility of the verb, of a becoming, which can accept other names – other than those that Immanuel Kant called “the arrogant title of tolerance”[12]: And the concern here is more than about a name that is to be put in place of tolerance, it is a matter primarily of practices which do not consist of determining identities, transforming political, social and economical inequalities into absolute differences and to utilise them as such. What is at stake, not least in the artistic projects of “Ge­fährliche Kreuzungen,” (Dangerous Crossings) is, as the title says, a practice of dangerous and offensive contradiction, in which symmetrical forms of cooperation and allian­ces of equality are thought of, are possible and are made.


[1] Max Stirner, The Ego and his Own, New York: Benj. R. Tucker, 1907

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] Herbert Marcuse, “Repressive Tolerance,” in: Robert Paul Wolff, Barrington Moore, jr., and Herbert Marcuse, A Critique of Pure Tolerance, Boston: Beacon Press 1969.

[5] cf. here and also for the following Foucault interpretation: Wendy Brown, “Reflections on Tolerance in the Age of Identity,” in: Aryeh Botwinick, William E. Connolly (Eds.), Democracy and Vision: Sheldon Wolin and the Vicissitudes of the Political, Princeton University Press 2001

[6] Richard Florida; Irene Tinagli, Europe in the Creative Age, February 2004, http://www.creativeclass.org/acrobat/Europe_in_the_Creative_Age_2004.pdf

[7] Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, New York: Basis Books 2002, 249.

[8] Richard Florida; Irene Tinagli, Europe in the Creative Age, 25.

[9] ibid.

[10] Slavoj Zizek, "A Plea for Leninist Intolerance", in: Critical Quarterly (Winter 2002).

[11] Michel Foucault, „Theatrum Philosophicum,“ in: Michel Foucault: Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press 1977, 165-197.

[12] Immanuel Kant, "An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?," in: Perpetual Peace and Other Essays, Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company 1983, 43.