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Tolerance of Civil Liberties in a New Democracy

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image of Comparative Sociology
For content published from 1960-2001, see International Journal of Comparative Sociology.

How tolerant of the civil liberties of people who advocated various unpopular political stances were the citizens of Taiwan, a new democracy in the late 1980s? Are the reasons some Taiwanese were more tolerant than others the same as in other societies? A 1992 survey of a representative sample of the population of Taiwan (N = 1,408) is used to answer these questions. Of the four political stances studied, communism and Taiwan's independence from China were perceived as "more harmful to Taiwan" than the immediate unification of Taiwan with China and the restoration of martial law.

Of the hypotheses tested in multivariate analysis, two were largely confirmed: (1) the more one subscribes to the value of democracy as the correct political system for Taiwan, the more tolerant one is of the civil liberties of the "harmful" target groups, but (2) the greater the perceived threat of the harmful political stance, the more intolerant one is of the civil liberties of those advocating the stance. The remaining hypotheses concern the effects of sex, age, ethnicity, education, occupation and income on tolerance.

I contextualize the theoretical causal model by reviewing the political history of Taiwan as it changed from an authoritarian one-party state into a democracy. In conclusion, I suggest that the reason the level of intolerance in Taiwan in 1992 has not lead to a diminution of democracy and civil rights between 1992 and the present may be due to "pluralistic intolerance," i.e., the public does not agree on which group to target for intolerance.


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