Book Review: Tolerance among the Virtues, by John R. Bowlin

Date01 June 2019
Published date01 June 2019
Subject MatterBook Reviews
/tmp/tmp-18Zdxd7isIDSHL/input Book Reviews
more secular, pluralistic, and commercial age, but he is also convinced that
we require stronger medicine. Our contemporary political divisions are
deeper and more complex, he argues, since the hyper-individualism of a more
developed liberalism and capitalism has ostensibly made social connection
that much more difficult. But is our own current political situation really so
much more divided than that of eighteenth-century Europe? A chorus of
decapitated aristocrats begs posthumously to differ. Nor is it clear that people
in the past were less susceptible to moral fantasies, or more inclined to benef-
icent action. More likely, we simply feel our own moral and political ills
more keenly than we do theirs.
Whether one takes or leaves this moral nostalgia, Hanley is undoubtedly
correct that humans are far more willing to delude themselves into feeling
like they are moral than to really be so. Tackling this thorny bit of human
moral psychology is what makes Love’s Enlightenment such compelling
moral and political theory, since Hanley is not content with theorizing about
moral feeling, but insists on the more difficult goal of moral action. Love’s
tempers our collective optimism about sentiment with sober
analysis and challenges the reader to reevaluate the political thinkers she
thought she knew. In doing so, Hanley produces a significant and original
work of political theory.
Tolerance among the Virtues, by John R. Bowlin. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 2016. 280 pp.
Reviewed by: Stephen S. Bush, Religious Studies, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0090591718780688
When tolerance is a matter of policy and law, the relevant questions to ask
typically concern how the state governs the behavior of minorities that engage
in practices anathema to the majority. What exceptions are advisable, for eth-
nic or religious minorities for example, and how do we justify such excep-
tions? When we consider tolerance in terms of public discourse, we ask
which actions and practices deserve statements of approbation and which
deserve disapprobation? What societies get designated as tolerant and intol-
erant by public officials, and how do such designations construct allies and
enemies? We can also think of tolerance in terms of actions. How do citizens
assess the actions of their fellows when they find them deeply objectionable?

Political Theory 47(3)
How do they act in return? Or we can regard it in terms of affect. What sorts
of desires and aversions toward strangers circulate in the populace? What
disgusts us as opposed to merely amusing or puzzling us? These have been
the primary sites of inquiry about toleration.
John Bowlin’s entry into the debates surrounding these topics, Tolerance
among the Virtues, provides an original perspective that propels the discus-
sion beyond the preexisting, settled positions and predictable exchanges.
Bowlin asks us to think of tolerance not merely as policy, discourse, act, or
affect, but as a virtue, as a habitual way of responding to one’s situations that
enables one to achieve moral and political goods. Laws and policies that do
not find support in the dispositions of officials and citizens will ultimately
fall prey to the whims of the intolerant or indifferent. Attention to the virtue
of tolerance, as well as to related, supporting virtues, gives us...

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