Monday, 23 January 2017

Why it's not OK to punch political opponents (even if they are Nazis)

It became a thing. A laugh and a joke - "I don't care how many different songs you set Richard Spencer being punched to, I'll laugh at every one." chortled one chap on Twitter. Others - respected journalists (is that an oxymoron these days?) included - justified punching Nazis with images of Second World War troops landing on Omaha beach, cleaning weapons and generally sticking it to those Nazis in that great war. Fortunately no-one's mentioned caster oil yet.

Problem with all this is that it valorises violence as a tool of political engagement. And to put it pretty bluntly, that's pretty much (at least in orthodox left wing definitions) the whole thing about Fascism. Despite Fascism and National Socialism being bastard children of social democracy, the "left" define them in terms of their fetish for violence - in language and out there on the streets. The "Far Right" is all about boots, flags, marches, banners and direct action something it shares with Trots, Black Bloc anarchists and other "Far Left" grouplets.

If you decide that it's fine to thump someone what you do is grant them the permission, in a manner of speaking, to thump you back. And don't come over all noble here - any circumstance in which violence is accepted represents a negation of democracy, of the idea that we are civilised enough to use discussion, consensus and the vote to resolve political dispute. Where does this end? We start off thumping real Nazis like Richard Spencer and then move to reporters from right of centre websites or people next to us on aeroplanes. Before we know it the people who like those right of centre websites are making common cause with Richard Spencer.

I'm reminded of Thurber's Very Proper Gander:
Not so very long ago there was a very fine gander. He was strong and smooth and beautiful and he spent most of his time singing to his wife and children. One day somebody who saw him strutting up and down in his yard and singing remarked, "There is a very proper gander." An old hen overheard this and told her husband about it that night in the roost. "They said something about propaganda," she said. "I have always suspected that," said the rooster, and he went around the barnyard next day telling everybody that the very fine gander was a dangerous bird, more than likely a hawk in gander's clothing. A small brown hen remembered a time when at a great distance she had seen the gander talking with some hawks in the forest. "They were up to no good," she said. A duck remembered that the gander had once told him he did not believe in anything. "He said to hell with the flag, too," said the duck. A guinea hen recalled that she had once seen somebody who looked very much like the gander throw something that looked a great deal like a bomb. Finally everybody snatched up sticks and stones and descended on the gander's house. He was strutting in his front yard, singing to his children and his wife. "There he is!" everybody cried. "Hawk-lover! Unbeliever! Flag-hater! Bomb-thrower!" So they set upon him and drove him out of the country.
The only winners from punching Nazis and Fascists are the Nazis and Fascists. And if you think punching people who you disagree with is just fine and dandy then you're part of the problem not part of the solution. If your mythology tells you - and left wing mythology does just this - that violence is central to Fascism and Nazi-ism then your punching that Nazi makes you one and the same as him.



asquith said...

Punching Richard Spencer is not acceptable, on its own terms, and because it allows him to look like a victim and cement his support for a president who doesn't deserve support.

Donald Trump is, in fact, punching his own supporters in the face by his reckless and irresponsible policies. If he does become anything approaching a statesman, it will be by breaking his own promises.

As someone who has defended Israel's right to exist and defend itself against terrorism, I'm mystified by who thinks appointing David Friedman and moving the embassy to Jerusalem could possibly be a good thing and further the cause of world peace. Hopefully it won't happen, but that itself would prove that Trump tries to be all things to all men and betrays them all in the end.

Richard Spencer has the right to express his views and be protected when expressing them, the same as any of Trump's opponents who are expressing their right to peaceful protest. The fact is, he and the rest of the "alt-right" movement are already on the way to a huge betrayal and I'd rather they blame him than these "activists" who, while unpleasant, aren't president of the United States.

The whole reason Hillary didn't win is that she was a neocon and also gained support from distasteful "oppressed" "intersectionality" "activists" of this kind. They need to get their act together, stop punching people and start focusing on pointing out to those betrayed by Trump's lies that he is making their conditions worse, not better, and they should turn against their own leaders and be offered a plausible alternative that doesn't include punching people.

The moment, and I think you'll end up being opposed to Trump to, needs to be seized by people who have viable alternatives of their own. They need to defend free trade and peace, acknowledging that Obama has been a disappointment to foreign policy realists and a move against neoconservatism and all forms of "interventionism", including the nationalist and protectionist kinds, is called for.

Obama has disappointed but I regard, for instance, the Iran deal as achievements that Trump irresponsibly puts at risk, not because he believes they are wrong (he doesn't believe anything) but simply as a blowhard.

And let me reiterate, that punching people in the face is not a good thing, in case some people need to be told that!

Radical Rodent said...

Was it not Churchill who said that the next time, the fascists will call themselves anti-fascists? How prescient.

James Higham said...

And if you think punching people who you disagree with is just fine and dandy then you're part of the problem not part of the solution.


Ralph Musgrave said...

Radical Rodent, Had Churchill made that prediction, it would have been one of the most brilliant every made. In fact I don't think there is good documentary evidence for him having said it, though.

Anonymous said...

"If your mythology tells you - and left wing mythology does just this - that violence is central to Fascism and Nazi-ism..."

Surely violence is fairly central to Fascism and Nazi-ism?