There are all sorts of reasons why it is a bad idea to justify or encourage violence against those who hold repugnant views. Here are a few of them.
The first problem is one of definition. The word “fascism” has been robbed of all meaning through years of overuse. In fact, as long ago as 1946, no less than George Orwell wrote that, “the word fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable'”.
To listen to the activists of the Left and Right, both John Key and Barack Obama were fascists. No doubt Bill English will get the same treatment. When the man who attacked John Banks with animal excrement was convicted for assault, he responded by throwing more excrement at the judge, saying she was a “fascist judge”.
When everybody calls everybody else a fascist at the drop of a hat and violence against fascists is justified, how are you not inviting violence by all against all?
I’ve been called a fascist. Almost everyone on the right of politics has been. And I’ve had many threats of violence over the years, including death threats,
Secondly, the history of actual fascism shows that it thrives when fists start flying. The Nazis rose to power in an environment where physical brawling was part of the culture. When it comes to fighting in the street, ideologies committed to thuggery and passionate intolerance tend to have the advantage over the gentler forces of moderation and liberalism.
So if you are really concerned that fascism may rise again, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to applaud behaviour that recreates the conditions that enabled it to grab power in the first place. Don’t throw Brer Rabbit into the briar patch.
Then there’s the simple fact that it’s immoral to physically assault people on the basis of their political views – however gross they happen to be.
In the aftermath of the Spencer attack, it was truly weird to see outlets like The New York Times, Washington Post and Vox Media wrestle with this notion like it was a serious ethical question. Even popular comedy site Cracked weighed in, asking, “So are we allowed to just punch Nazis now?” Their answer? “It’s complicated.”
It really isn’t.
The whole point of liberal democracy is that political questions are resolved through votes and laws and not mobs and violence. People have the right to be grievously wrong and, as long as they do not call for the illegal overthrow of the state, to voice their wayward views. We really have no choice but to trust the public and our governing institutions.
Because if you think it’s OK to punch someone in the head because you think they’re a fascist, then you might be one yourself.
Well they’re not fascists but they’re certainly not liberals.