Hostname: page-component-cd4964975-g4d8c Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-28T16:44:24.347Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Defending the Rawlsian League of Peoples: A Critical Comment on Tan

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 January 2006


In his well-written and well-argued paper ‘International Toleration: Rawlsian versus Cosmopolitan’, Kok-Chor Tan raises the important question as to where the limits of toleration are to be drawn. This is an important issue not only from the perspective of international law, but also for any domestic society. Toleration is never an automatic element or quality of any society, but has to be defended against the ever present danger of intolerance and repression. This is especially the case in the post-9/II era with regard to Islam, as it is not always easy to separate serious analysis of this religion from outright prejudices against its believers. With regard to Islamic minorities, the present attitude of some ‘Western’ majorities does not always reflect an attitude of respect, although this is not often admitted. It is not argued that Islamic minorities and other immigrants should adapt to the culture of the majorities because minorities have to give in to majorities on the basis of democracy; instead, it is claimed that Western majorities live in accordance with universal values. As Western societies have incorporated universal values formulated for the first time in the age of Enlightenment, they can rightly require from immigrants and minorities that they give up part of their values and identities without any real loss on their side. In forcing immigrants to adapt to Western values, majorities are merely liberating them from outdated particularistic codes and worldviews, thus enabling them to be free in accordance with truly universal values. This, obviously, is a peculiar way of understanding the Enlightenment, not with Kant as a perpetual challenge (‘we do not live in an enlightened age, but in an age of enlightenment’), but as something that is achieved and stably embodied in ‘our’ Western societies. Immigrants and minority members can reasonably be asked to identify with such societies. Although such a demand to assimilate might at first glance be seen as testifying to intolerance, in reality this is not the case. Why should we allow others to live in error? In the face of truth, toleration is a superfluous virtue. It goes almost without saying that this view, which is deemed by some as Enlightenment fundamentalism, contradicts the spirit with which Locke and Spinoza in the seventeenth century proclaimed the superior value of tolerance. They argued that all religions claim for themselves to be the one and only true religion and that the best attitude among the contenders of different beliefs would be one of tolerance: nobody can prove convincingly to the other side of the religious divide the truth of his own religion and the falseness of all other religions; and since ‘no man can conform his faith to the dictates of another (since) all the life and the power of true religion consists in the inward and full persuasion of the mind’ (Locke), the use of earthly powers is inappropriate and unjust.

2005 Foundation of the Leiden Journal of International Law

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)