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JSPES, Vol. 44, No. 3-4 (Fall-Winter 2019)
pp. 318-338

The End of Tolerance: The Age of Revenge  

Paul J. Jackanich
Université de Montréal

Quodsi ea mihi maxime inpenderet tamen hoc animo fui semper, ut invidiam virtute partam gloriam, non invidiam putarem. (Cicero, In Catilinam I, §29-30)

The concept of liberal tolerance once drew much of its inspiration from the New Testament. For G.W.F. Hegel, the Christian spirit of forgiveness is mirrored in the resolution of the master and slave dialectic, which becomes the first step in forming a liberal society. Only when the master and slave—or oppressor and victim, to use more contemporary terms—set aside their injuries and differences, and recognize one another as individuals equally desirous of freedom, do they become bearers of rights. I argue the following in this paper: in the post-World War II era, the Christian narrative has been (1) supplanted by the logic of the victim, who seeks revenge rather than reconciliation, and (2) subverted by a secular doctrine of collective guilt, through which revenge is carried out. In order to prove (1), I focus on several contributions to the Cambridge companion on Collective Guilt, showing how the authors’ “outrage” and desire to harm lawabiding citizens satisfy Robert Nozick’s definition of revenge. I then demonstrate how (2) is carried out by Critical Theorists such as Max Horkheimer—and more recently Critical Race Theorists— who psychologically prime particular groups to forsake their identity and liberal rights. My goal is not to reaffirm Christian or liberal values, but simply to diagnose their abandonment.