This essay takes issue with the common assumption, ably represented by Herbert Marcuse and Wendy Brown, that tolerance belongs only to the powerful and is deployed to prevent access to political redress on the part of vulnerable groups or persons. But tolerance can also be understood as an unstable concept that does not finally support a sustainable sovereignty among those claiming a position to extend it. Engaging with the work of Wendy Brown, Rainer Forst, and others, a case is made for adding an “endurance conception” of tolerance that restores the early sense of the term as specifying a capacity to bear degrees of pain and suffering. Examples from William Wordsworth and Adam Smith, and from contemporary South Africa and the United States, suggest that such an expanded conception can lead us to imagine political agency as thinkable for persons more usually described as passive and subordinate.

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