Fault Lines
14 August 2017

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.

6 Comments on this post.

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  • Scott Jacobs
    8 February 2017 at 9:15 am - Reply

    Sadly for the pugilisticly-inclined Left, they may find out that the folks they are punching aren’t as big of fans of non-violence as the likes of Gandhi and Dr. King.

  • CLS
    8 February 2017 at 10:18 am - Reply

    What the violent sort don’t get is it legitimizes those “Nazis” they want to silence so badly.
    I’d heard vaguely of Richard Spencer until he was sucker punched on camera. Now he’ll probably get a six figure book deal and a reality TV show.
    Milo’s got his six figure book deal, but every new violent outburst runs the risk of turning him into a martyr instead of a self-aggrandizing marketing machine.
    And the latest garbage with Gavin McInnes. I’d never heard of the guy until a “NYU Professor” demanded cops “beat the Nazi” as part of their job. Now I wanna look the guy up.

    Well said. Let’s hope people listen before someone gets killed.

  • SPM
    8 February 2017 at 11:16 am - Reply

    I would go a bit further, not only does violence fail to persuade, it often dissuades.

  • Richard G. Kopf
    8 February 2017 at 2:10 pm - Reply

    Andrew,

    I am not at all sure that I agree with your thoughtful piece. Violence may not persuade anyone but it is useful as a therapeutic technique (I think).

    It would take very little (the mere sight of Birkenstocks as an example) for me set a Toyota Prius ablaze. I would feel much better after having done so.

    Let me also make something else perfectly clear. Despite this talk of climate change, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with Soylent Green as a food source–it contains no GMOs.

    All the best.

    RGK

    • Jim
      8 February 2017 at 6:04 pm - Reply

      Soylent Green is gluten-free as well.

  • Paul Cantrell
    8 February 2017 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    It’s a very interesting question of whether violence works or not. Being a resident of Boston I once visited the Old South Meeting House and was interested to read a plaque talking about how at one point in our history politicians (I forget whether it was the Mayor or Governor) understood that part of being in a position of power meant that unpopular decisions would result in the occasional brick through the window. I admit to being a bit surprised to read that! Certainly it must have been a very direct way of receiving feedback prior to the modern poll.

    Notwithstanding the examples of Gandi and MLK, there probably are cases where violent behavior may well serve a purpose. Certainly we celebrate the Boston Tea Party which involved the destruction of private property. And there is little doubt in my mind that riots in LA may have served the useful purpose of convincing politicians that Something Must Be Done. Of course, you always run the risk that the Something may not be exactly what you had in mind. But perhaps that’s still better than just living with the status quo?

    My only other comment would be that our governments (local/state/federal) demonstrate time and time again that in fact violence is one of their first responses to… just about anything. From the beatdown citizens receive at the hands of the police, to the organized violence of the state in situations like Ferguson, to the Fed’s response overseas to the Enemy De Jour, if the government’s first or second response to a situation is violence, why should we be surprised when the population starts thinking similarly?