I just re-read this wonderful essay by Wally Olson on Thomas Babington Macaulay, the 19th-century British historian, essayist, and Parliamentarian. I’m struck by Macaulay’s observation that the attitude of too many people on religious toleration boils down to this maxim:
When you are the stronger, you ought to tolerate me; for it is your duty to tolerate truth. But when I am the stronger I shall persecute you; for it is my duty to persecute error.
And Macaulay’s insight about religious toleration applies, I fear, to political toleration. If any faction grows sufficiently powerful it will aim, self-righteously, to use state power to persecute error, wrong thinking, and wrong-doing – even if the alleged wrong-thinkers and wrong-doers never interfere with the persons and property of others. If this same faction loses power, it will demand, self-righteously, to be tolerated by those who disagree.
For many reasons it is unwise to use the state in social-engineering projects such as overseeing the ethnic make-up of private-firms’ employees. But one reason surely is that, once uncorked, this same power will eventually be seized by others and used, say, to punish homosexuality, to prohibit abortion, and to outlaw valuable forms of bio-medical research. Power to do good is power to do ill. Best for blue-staters and red-staters each to take back power from Uncle Sam and then live together in peace. Happily, the actual text of the U.S. Constitution provides a good framework for peaceful co-existence.