Social networks – Confidence in others – Solidarity – Tolerance – Permissiveness

Today’s western society suffers from a decline of civic life, a weakening of social bonds and a loss of social cohesion. At least, that is what many politicians and religious leaders proclaim. The thinning of social connections is in their opinion the distal cause of modern social problems such as a high level of crime, indifference, and social isolation. Yet, solidarity and tolerance are still typical European values.


Chart Solidarity, Source: Atlas of European Values

Closely linked with solidarity and trust is tolerance. Tolerance is generally accepted as a virtue, a common good. The European Value Study shows that seventy percent of all Europeans want to teach their children tolerance and respect for other people. Sociologists also recognize tolerance as an important value in a free and open society: the more tolerant people are of the rights of others, the more secure are the rights of all. And tolerance undoubtedly promotes a peaceful coexistence between groups. However, tolerance is a ‘slippery’ term. In essence, being tolerant means that one accepts the way other people live their lives even when they do not agree with the others’ lifestyles. Tolerance shouldn’t be confused with simple indifference to what other people do, but it often is. Intolerance can be widely present within a society, but it is often kept silent and remains untested. Furthermore, tolerance is not an absolute value, there are proper limits to what should be tolerated. This results in the ‘paradox of tolerance’: a defense of tolerance may require some degree of intolerance.

Perhaps the best way to measure the tolerance of people well is to challenge their living environment. The questionnaire of the European Values Study, therefore, includes the question: Who would you not like to have as neighbors? Drug addicts and heavy drinkers turn out to be the most despised neighbors in all countries, which may be a pragmatic rather than a moral choice as these are exactly the groups one may expect to cause the largest nuisance. Large differentiation among European nations is found in the tolerance towards people with HIV, homosexuals, and Jews, with the general trend that the northern and western countries are the most tolerant and Turkey the least.


Chart Intolerance, Source: Atlas of European Values


Chart Living and race, Source: Atlas of European Values