Marcuse / Repressive Tolerance

Marcuse / Repressive Tolerance

Repressive Tolerance is a term coined by Herbert Marcuse in a 1965 essay by the same title. Marcuse believed that the media wrongly pays as much attention to non-news as to real news. This kind of tolerance for irrelevant news was considered repressive by Marcuse, because it diminishes the relative importance of the real news.

Today, repressive tolerance is understood differently: it is said to be a technique applied by a ruling power in which ideas or organizations that are undesirable for that power are given a place in order to render them harmless. In the 1970s, authorities are said to have used this tool to institutionalize and thus erode social resistance. Repressive tolerance is then not real tolerance, but a strategy to combat ideas that are not tolerated.

Marcuse first used the term in 1965 in his essay Repressive Tolerance in which he portrays capitalism and democracy as totalitarian and repressive systems. One form of repressive tolerance Marcuse mentions is tolerating (under the guise of neutrality and freedom of expression ) opinions that are regressive, repressive, or objectively incorrect. Giving “stupid” and “ill-informed” regressive right-wing people the same platform as “well-informed” progressive left-wingers does not promote tolerance, according to Marcuse, but only the status quo which leaves the ruling power structures untouched. Marcuse concludes that therefore undemocratic means (such as certain forms of direct action ) can promote tolerance and break through repressive tolerance.

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