Monday, January 23, 2017

On Punching Nazis

[What follows is an exchange with an acquaintance on my Facebook page, prompted by the celebration (which has gone viral on social media) of the sucker-punching of "alternative right" and white nationalist spokeperson Richard Spencer], thus prompting the recent debate on whether it is now socially acceptable to resolve political differences in civil society with displays of brute force. In short, whether or not it's acceptable to go around "punching nazis", as emotionally gratifying as it might be to many of us].
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First, let's get this out of the way:

Irrespective of what a person is saying or the person’s age — be he 6 years old or 60 — “sucker punching” a person without warning is the tactic of a bully and a coward, and made even more cowardly by somebody being masked and refusing to disclose his identity.

I’d have a great deal more respect for the assailant if he revealed his identity and challenged Spencer to a proper fistfight.

“If you portray a Nazi as simply having different political views, you legitimize genocide as a political position. … Once you advocate genocide, you lose your seat at the table for civil society.”
In terms of law, it’s generally understood that “hate speech”, including racially or religiously offensive statements, still fall under the constitutional protection of the United States (such as a picket sign, a blog or even in the context of a televised interview; genuine threats and the incitement to imminent illegal conduct is another matter entirely).

The right to free speech — including political expression — is especially hard to defend if you find those views particularly odious and morally reprehensible, but I believe it should be upheld nonetheless.

That’s not to say I think Richard Spencer should be actively ASSISTED in expressing his position by way of a platform, podium or as much free press as he’s been given lately.

By all means, let him enjoy his right to speak, but you’re not bound to have to stand there and listen. I often question whether we are doing the alt.right a favor by giving them as much attention, discussion and free mainstream media publicity as we currently do.

If anything, suckerpunching Richard Spencer has just made him that much more intriguing — up until the time of the Trump campaign and the alt.right's rise he could barely command an audience of a few hundred people. At this point in time, his videotaped reaction to being physically assaulted has now garnered 133,000+ views (and counting) on Twitter, courtesy of mainstream media coverage of the incident. (Congrats on that, BTW if you think that punch was something to be lauded).

“If you think violence against Nazis is bad, don't read about World War Two. It will upset you.”

There is acceptable criteria for legitimately going to war against an enemy that has arisen in society over time -- you might have heard of the “just war” ethic determining when to go to war, and how conduct during war should be governed.

As a society we also distinguish between laws governing war and laws governing civil society — with respect to the latter, being Americans, we turn to the constitution and a bill of rights to which we are all held accountable (at least we should be). And as far as the settling of political disagreements go, the consensus among most people in civil society is that the expression of ideas, however noxious it may be judged at times, does not justify suppression by physical violence.

The embrace of violence as an acceptable means of responding to ideas we find morally objectionable is a slippery slope that historically culminates in vigilantism, lynch mobs, “secret police” and yes, the institution of fascism.

“thanks for stating that I'm pretty much equal to a Nazi.”

If you study the history of political movements, the far “right” and “left”, over time becomes indistinguishable once they adopt violence as a means of suppressing / dispensing with political opposition.

In this respect the KGB is no different from the Gestapo, and if self-styled “anti-fascists” want to behave like jack-booted thugs administering street-level justice by beating down political opponents, whatever verbal qualifications they may wish to make about their respective “political positions” are lost in the language of brute force.

Our current President is now infamous for having expressed the sentiment that his supporters should “knock the crap out of” protestors, to “rough [them] up”; he nostalgically longs for the “good old days” when people settled [political] disagreements with blows.

There are those on the left who emulate Trump in physically beating down their opponents, but I prefer to think (hope, rather) that we’ve progressed beyond that level of interaction, at least in civil society.

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As unpopular as the stance is nowadays, especially in academia or on the street ... I'm still in agreement with Robert P. George:

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