Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Publication Title

The Marcusean Mind



Publisher Name


Publisher Location

Cambridge UK


Herbert Marcuse’s essay Repressive Tolerance (RP) has been praised by the Left and vilified by the Right for its alleged promotion of censorship targeting reactionary opinions and actions. I argue that this interpretation of the text is mistaken. According to my alternative reading of the text, RP should be understood as an exercise in provocation and irony aimed at defending civil disobedience and dissent. Marcuse’s defense of dissent, however, appeals to a critique of pure tolerance that exposes the unavoidably partisan practice of tolerance, which invariably favors the reigning undemocratic status quo. The choice whether to tolerate in a manner that discriminates in favor of opinions and actions that are likely to advance the democratic conditions essential to a more just and epistemically sound exercise of toleration or to discriminate in favor of those that hinder them ---a distinction, as Marcuse sees it, that corresponds to the distinction between the Left and the Right---is dictated by reason itself, whose exercise depends on toleration. Because toleration must discriminate in the absence of full reason, its fallible exercise in favor of reason and democracy must proceed cautiously, not by suppressing voices on the Right so much as selectively encouraging those on the Left. I conclude that because this equation of impartial reason with a partisan view of society is unavoidable regardless of one’s political sympathies accusing Marcuse of being elitist and hypocritical is itself hypocritical.


This is an original manuscript of a forthcoming book chapter published by Taylor & Francis in The Marcusean Mind in 2024.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Available for download on Wednesday, January 01, 2025