OK, so I know I’m late to the whole discussion of whether or not we can punch Nazis but, so long as the world harbors Nazis, so should the internet harbor amateurish essays on morally appropriate methods of defeating them specifically with violence. I know I’m not the only one who CAN’T FUCKING WAIT to punch Nazis. I even fantasized about buying a nice old-timey wooden baseball bat with the engraved words “This machine destroys fascists” because I always felt guitars didn’t have enough mass. It’s a pleasant fantasy that gives me a sense of righteous purpose until I remember that I only occasionally break 125 pounds around the holidays, I bruise easily and I am not generally well positioned to survive an all out rage-war scenario. This affects my decision making process with regard to attending a large counter demonstration in Berkeley that everyone knows will get rough. Still.
Unless you look at photos of the aftermath of Antietam with a wistful tear in your eye, we should probably consider the strategic implications of the tacit approval of violence against even reprehensible people. But let’s take a moment and explore how a slim political majority of liberals might regain political power from such a coalition in the awesomest way possible.
There are several approaches:
- Punch Nazis in self defense. eg. Subway sleeper hold guy If a Nazi is beating someone up (other than another Nazi- let that shit play out as it will) then intervene with whatever force or maniacal glee deemed necessary. This one stands on its own merits. You should probably be doing this already for all of the times you witness shocking acts of political violence at the expense of your neighbors. Have fun!
- Punch only the hardcore Nazis. eg. Guy who punched Richard Spencer Sever the head and the body will follow. When Nazi leaders no longer feel safe enough to walk in public without a hefty security detail it is said that we won’t have as many Nazis on the street. No Nazis on the streets however does not mean an absence of Nazis in American civil discourse because America contains a multitude of forums for speech that don’t rely on public thoroughfares at all. Ideological movements recruit mainly online in anonymity and until the glorious day arises when we can punch people through twitter (c’mon Jack! Remember when Silicon Valley used to be disruptive?), I remain unimpressed by the prospects of keeping Nazism not only underground but politically impotent in a country with secret ballots, PACs and open elections. Nazis have done quite well for themselves in the late 20th century without venturing into the open much at all. Sending Nazis underground with a newfound sense of self righteous indignation and a victim complex is not a good communications strategy. While the phrase “Fear will keep them in line” is both catchy and a pop culture reference (which I’ve been told is requisite in all modern political arguments) it should be pointed out that this philosophy has an unfortunate context that not only undermines its moral high ground but also set a moderately terrifying precedent in a country with as many guns as ours has, especially when being reminded who, by and large, owns them.
- Punch anyone who sympathizes with Nazism. Our situation today is that we live in a democracy that just so happens to contain several million people who either genuinely or ironically (the distinction is irrelevant) support dehumanizing other members of that same democracy. Nazis/KKK/white supremacists are a minority with substantial political power in part because of an apathetic or unconcerned acquiescence of millions who at least tolerate them in exchange for political power and advancement of their own agenda. That is, there is a small (?) number of hardcore adherents and a massive number of people for whom Nazi rhetoric is either tolerable or unappealing but not necessarily a deal breaker either way. Taking a broader definition of the target has the benefit of having orders of magnitude more opportunities for punching. It has the drawback of having many more enemies to contend with. So I guess that’s kind of a draw? By my estimates there are about 90 million punchable people, many of whom are very well armed. With the battle lines being drawn so widely and because literally anything can be compared to Hitler (including Obama in many right-wing circles) the “Punching Doctrine” will be picked up by every political perspective that has heard of and has an opinion about Nazism. Now that we’ve established that violence is an effective tool, we are just left with the task of negotiating terms. For the purposes of greater political intimidation, I’ve considered the morality of also stabbing Nazis to produce a more compelling psychological deterrent to hate groups but this suggestion has yet to be received with broad enthusiasm. Yet.
The liberal muscle required to enact this plan is a limiting factor. When it comes to muscled champions, the left has Dwayne Johnson and Arnold Schwarzenneger (sometimes) and a handful of disaffected anarchists. Right wingers form militias. Liberals write long winded essays on Medium. I don’t anticipate this course of action ending well.
- Literally kill all or most of the Nazis. eg. 1939–1945 This is the option no one likes talking about despite how much fun we’ve been having bringing up Steven Spielberg movies and World War II propaganda imagery. The reason that Nazi-punching worked in the 1940s is because we didn’t just punch them. We bombed, shot, exploded, starved, asphyxiated, burned, stabbed AND punched them. When that was over, we even hanged a few. We physically destroyed millions of people with a particular ideology (not because of that ideology necessarily but) because they were obstacles to peace, democracy and basic human rights. To join that fight was a grisly but altogether appropriate commitment to decency and dignity and the US probably should have made it three years earlier than it did and it should have played nicer with the people who beat us to the punch as it were. The consequences of this option should not be taken lightly nor should they be dismissed.
In conclusion, outright violence would be deeply satisfying in a “Wretched of the Earth” sort of way and not particularly productive to our long term goals of justice, peace and a stable political environment to secure them. We have three choices. We can persuade, intimidate or eliminate.
Punching Nazis is probably not an effective means of persuading them. Punching Nazis is probably not effective at dissuading apathetic bystanders to the Nazi-punching cause. Punching Nazis does not even effectively eliminate the punched Nazi (unless you do that thing where you punch the nose bone up into the brain. I heard about that in 5th grade- is that a thing? That could work.)
Punching does not keep them from voting. It does not keep them from sponsoring hate. It might stem their ability to hold public demonstrations somewhat. It will surely improve the recruitment prospects of Nazi groups to be the persecuted underdogs.
Not punching Nazis is not a doctrine that necessitates that we listen to them, sympathize with them or in any way respect them beyond sanctity of human life blah blah blah. It is not a coward’s way out, but combined with serious messaging it has a better chance of winning justice than just throwing a rock or two. Either stand tall and keep your hands to yourself while staying busy on voter registration or finish the goddamn job. This is not an age for half measures.