Tolerance is at once a celebrated and a highly contested term of political discourse and social practice. How can it be seen on the one hand as an attitude of superiority as well as a practice of domination, and on the other hand as an instrument in the fight for justice, a stepping stone towards recognition and the realization of ‘the good society’? What is the difference between the attitude of tolerance and the practice of toleration? What kind of social identities does tolerance produce?
In the third ICI Spannungsübung, Wendy Brown (UC Berkeley) and Rainer Forst (University of Frankfurt/Main) discussed different discourses of tolerance, their normative premises, limits, and political implications. The main focus was on social and political conflicts over the recognition of differences in civil societies, national politics, and transnational relations.Wendy Brown is Emanuel Heller Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. She received her Ph.D in political philosophy from Princeton University in 1983 and taught at Williams College and at the University of California Santa Cruz prior to going to Berkeley in 1999. Brown’s interests include the history of political theory, critical theory, and cultural theory (including postcolonial, feminist, and critical race theory). Her current research focuses on the relationship of political sovereignty to global capital and other transnational forces, including those identified as religion, law, culture and morality. Brown’s most recent book is Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire (Princeton UP, 2006).
Rainer Forst is Professor of Political Theory and Philosophy at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt/M., and one of the most original representatives of the younger generation of the Frankfurt School of critical theory. He received his doctorate under the supervision of Jürgen Habermas in 1993 (engl. Contexts of Justice, Univ. of Calif. Press 2002, German 1994). His areas of research are moral philosophy and political theory, esp. issues of tolerance, democracy, political and social justice. Forst’s book on tolerance (German edition in 2003) provides a comprehensive study of the controversial, but highly relevant topic: Tolerance in Conflict. History, Content and Presence of a Controversial Concept (Cambridge UP 2009). His most recent book is The Right to Justification (Columbia UP 2009, German 2007).
Sigmund Freud introduces his notorious concept of the ‘Todestrieb’, the ‘death drive’ in his famous essay ‘Jenseits des Lustprinzips’ (‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’) of 1920. This text has intrigued and puzzled many readers as it relates the death drive to both the so-called ‘Nirvana principle’ aiming at a state without tension and the repetition compulsion, the almost mechanical kernel of the drive itself. If Freud’s death drive stands here philosophically between negation (Schopenhauer) and affirmation (Nietzsche) of the will, Slavoj Žižek insists that we should not confuse the death drive with the craving for self-annihilation, for the return to the inorganic absence of any life-tension. As his The Parallax View states, the death drive is, on the contrary, ‘the very opposite of dying – a name for the “undead” eternal life itself, for the horrible fate of being caught in the endless repetitive cycle of wandering around in guilt and pain.’ In Žižek’s Lacanian reading, the (death) drive represents a ‘diabolic’ dimension of human beings in opposition to a desire for the lost object that would overcome all differences and tensions. Its articulation as a philosophical concept is certain to lead us also to a deeper understanding of the concept of tension.
Slavoj Žižek is Professor in the Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and member of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts. He has gained wide recognition with his characteristic combination of high and low, of Lacanian theory, pop cultural issues, and Post-Marxism. He has published many books, edited several collections, and published numerous philosophical and political articles.