In academic debates and popular political discourse, tolerance almost invariably refers either to an individual moral or ethical disposition or to a constitutional legal principle. However, for the political actors and ordinary residents of early modern Northern European countries torn apart by religious civil war, tolerance was a political capacity, an ability to talk to one’s religious and political opponents in order to negotiate civil peace and other crucial public goods. This book tells the story of perhaps the greatest historical theorist-practitioner of this political conception of tolerance: Michel de Montaigne. This introductory chapter argues that a Montaignian insistence that political opponents enter into productive dialogue with each other is worth reviving and promoting in the increasingly polarized democratic polities of the twenty-first century.
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