The value of tolerance in a Union based on the rule of law


by Professor Alessandra Silveira, Editor

For several weeks following the terrorist attacks in Paris, especially against Charlie Hebdo but somewhat also after Friday, November 13th, the “Treatise on Tolerance” (Voltaire, 1763) was the top best-selling book in France. The correlation between the terrorist attacks and the free exercise of religion is a fallacy to be tackled. Yet, the success of Voltaire´s book is explained by the currentness that the subject of tolerance has achieved. Due to the same reason, a new Portuguese edition of the book was published (Relógio d’Água publishers). Well, assuming the premise that the tolerance, as Voltaire contextually described, stands for a pre-juridical status of acceptance and recognition of the other, then we wonder. What would the present significance of the value of tolerance (article 2, Treaty on the European Union) be, given that alongside pluralism and non-discrimination (among others), it establishes the common axiological grounds upon which the European integration is founded?

In his “Treatise on Tolerance”, Voltaire calls out for the mutual leniency amongst Christians of that time. More precisely, he urges the Catholic France of middle 18th century to bear or to consent the right to profess the Protestant faith. It would be an absolute absurd to intend to lead every man into thinking under a uniform manner about metaphysical issues, he argues. Inspired by the barbarism, the eight judges of Toulouse’s Parliament ordered against the protestant Jean Calas (driven by fanaticism they ruled his torture), Voltaire questions the catholic majority if it would not be possible to tolerate and assimilate Calvinists, rather in the same conditions Catholics are tolerated in London, once the more factions there is, the smaller risk there will be because multiplicity weakens them. Voltaire claims that it becomes permitted to each citizen to practice their faith solely based on their own reason. Moreover, he writes, may each one think whatever this enlightened or misguided mind dictates, as long as public order is not disturbed. It is not a crime not to believe in the mainstream religion, he says, even though the Catholic Church is the “only religion made by God”, all others being “man-made”. Hence, Voltaire´s speech warns to the “terrible consequences of a right of intolerance”. It matters, however, that “men in order to deserve tolerance must begin by not being fanatics”. Fanaticism would be a case in which “intolerance seems acceptable”.

Continue reading “The value of tolerance in a Union based on the rule of law”