Violence Persuades No One
February 8, 2017 (Fault Lines) — Progressives love recycling. Bottles, cans, paper, and now, the notion that some people’s ideas are so dangerous they can be met only with violence, rather than debate. All this is morally justified, apparently, because these people are Nazis. And not just justified, according to one author, but “imperative.”
Don’t be misled into thinking you can fight a disease without killing the carrier, without destroying the bacillus. Don’t think you can fight … tuberculosis without taking care to rid the nation of the carrier of that … tuberculosis. This … contamination will not subside, this poisoning of the nation will not end, until the carrier himself… has been banished from our midst.
Actually, sorry. That was an excerpt from a Hitler speech. Here’s what the courageous Nazi puncher wrote:
Punching a Nazi, by contrast, reveals it. It reveals they are no masters, but quite eminently capable of fear, of pain, of vulnerability. And that takes the shine off; it eliminates their mystique, and it puts the lie to the idea that their ideology is an armor against the pains of modernity.
See? Punching Nazis is good because it proves to people that they don’t like being punched in the face. Notably, this was the same method by which the British government and southern cities managed to delegitimize and humiliate Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. People totally give up on ideas once they learn that people holding those ideas will keep advocating for them after being physically beaten.
Thus, people cheer as Richard Spencer gets punched. They root for a group that sets fires so that a speaker they disagree with can’t be heard. And they justify all this with a rhetoric of danger. Some people’s ideas are so antithetical to American values, we can’t tolerate them with anything less than violence. As the author notes:
We need to make sure that anyone coming here doesn’t believe their mission is to bring with them an antiquated and barbaric system to impose on us. We have the authority under current law to stop members of totalitarian ideologies from infiltrating and working to subvert our free system.
Whoops, sorry. I accidentally took that from an article on Breitbart.com. Here’s the author’s view:
As I noted earlier, Nazism is democracy’s anti-matter; coming into contact with it is often destructive for our institutions because it is the personification of bad faith with malice aforethought. The only nonviolent solution is to marginalize Nazism from public life in our society — one may be free to hold these views, but not to try and spread them at the highest echelons of our public fora. When, however, someone like Spencer does come along and is being feted in the mainstream, there are no other options available to us.
For all their talk about progressivism, these authors are simply repurposing the rhetoric of fascists throughout history and replacing the nouns. It’s justifiable violence Mad-Libs, except you get glared at if you write in anything fun. Why can’t we tolerate Jews/Gays/Communists/Nazis? Because they are actively working to undermine our democratic institutions. Not attacking them is just giving them what they want!
So what makes violence against Nazis acceptable, when it would be theoretically abhorrent against anyone else? Well Nazis, you see, are historically “incorrect.” You know who else justified violence with historically “correct” positions?
In the 1930’s the German government passed a law requiring everyone to give the Nazi salute at suitable times. Germans who violated the rule were punished.
Foreigners, in theory, were exempt. The German government wanted to create a moderate facade for diplomats and ambassadors who were visiting from other countries. But still, from time to time, when a foreigner failed to salute, someone from the crowd would assault him, and police officers would stand by, doing nothing to help.
See, even though the foreigners were legally allowed not to salute, there was still the power of the heckler’s veto. They were being jerks, the crowd reasoned. No reason not to knock a little sense into them and keep them in line. And so, after a time, foreigners learned that the better course of valor was to either salute when necessary, or to avoid parades and buildings that would require the gesture.
The history of violence against unpopular minorities shows that it is generally not that effective at shutting them up. People who stand up for their beliefs after being physically attacked are considerably less ridiculous than the people hitting them without fear of retribution. Ironically, in their pursuit to make Nazis less publicly acceptable, they’ve dragged their garden variety jerkishness into a place where those who believe in non-violence and free speech are forced to stick up for them. Do you think anyone likes having to advocate for Nazis? It sucks.
At the same time, when someone throws a brick through a store window so that some poor worker has to clean it up the next day, it delegitimizes whatever idea prompted it. As David Frum notes, if you want to persuade people to like your cause, wave flags and show solidarity. When someone gets out of line, don’t rally around because it’s your team. Integrity means owning bad behavior, and working to stop it.
The alternative poses little chance of success. Adopting a norm advocating violence against those who advocate violence is unlikely to end well. And for those who believe that setting fires prevents tyranny, you might want to check a history book.