You're Probably Wrong About Punching Nazis

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

—Martin Luther King, Jr


"War. Good God, y'all. What is it good for?"

Edwin Star


A couple weeks ago, one of my Monday Recommendations here included a clever bit of fiction, "The Practical Guide to Punching Nazis," by Alex Shvartsman. I’m opposed to violence as a general rule, but after what happened in Charlottesville, the idea of punching some Nazis—at least in a work of fiction—seemed maybe not so bad after all.

I think I let my emotions get the better of me, and I’ve spent a lot of time since then reconsidering. Given my continued ambivalence about this topic, I would almost prefer to keep my mouth shut and leave the opinionating to those with greater moral certitude. But my endorsement of that story means it’s too late for that. To set the record straight, here’s what I think today:

  1. Everyone has a right to defend themselves from a violent attack.*

  2. However, when activists on the left uses violence to disrupt and suppress white supremacists--regardless of whether they feel justified—it actually enables white supremacists by reinforcing their white victim narrative, by making it easier for people to draw a false equivalency between the two sides, and by helping the forces of darkness to undermine our political institutions, which leads to greater instability and the need for greater defensive violence. In some cases, for reasons of survival, it may be necessary, but... 

  3. Violence almost always leads to more violence. As a tactic by activists on the left, it may win the battle, but it will lose the war.

  4. Ergo, violence should be only in self-defense as an absolute last resort—i.e. in response to a violent attack or the clear and immediate threat of a violent attack.

  5. People spewing a hateful ideology in and of itself does not count as a violent attack or the clear, immediate threat of one.

With all that said, a few caveats:

  1. As a straight, white, cisgender male, I am not a primary target of white supremacist violence or threats of violence.

  2. I’m not absolutely convinced that I’m right.

  3. Whichever side of this debate you come down on, if you are absolutely convinced that you’re right, you’re probably missing something. I would encourage you to consider opposing arguments until you have room for at least a little bit of doubt about your position. (Remember, nobody loves certainty more than fascists and fundamentalists. A little doubt is a good thing.)

For those who are certain that violence from the left should be condemned, check out “How Liberal Attacks on Antifa Uphold White Supremacy.” Here’s a sample:

"As a Black woman and survivor of domestic and sexual violence, I am heartened to know there are people like the Antifa who will recognize that the police isn’t here to save us. The police violence against counter-protestors and leniency on white supremacists in Charlottesville and Boston only further undermines that—and that’s without diving into the police brutality, murder, sexual assault and other abuses that occur across the country. How can you expect me to feel protected by the institution that dehumanizes and abuses the most vulnerable in our society—and complains that they’re the true victims because now we want them to be held accountable for their actions on duty? They see Trump protestors as a bigger threat than KKK members."

Also consider:

For those who are certain that violence from the left should be encouraged, check out “No, Don’t Punch More Nazis,” (like the first piece quoted above, also written by a woman of color).  Here’s a sample:

“Some people think that the ends justify the means, but this is false. To believe this is to put oneself in the position of a dog chasing its tail. You can never get there from here — never reach justice by setting your face toward injustice. Worse still, to accept or to fail to repudiate political violence, supposedly in pursuit of justice, is like trying to climb a mountain by walking steadily downward. Once political violence activates, shutting it off is exceptionally difficult.
Why should anyone believe that people who have been committed to political violence will change their minds and recommit to peaceful forms of litigating conflicts? That kind of distrust erodes the foundations of stable political institutions. The path to justice always lies through justice, including the basic moral idea that immediate self-defense is the only justification for the use of force.”

Also consider:


*(Addendum: the defense should be in proportion to the attack: if a someone pushes you, shooting them in the face is out of proportion.)