Is it okay to punch a Nazi? This question has become quite popular every since white nationalist Richard Spencer was decked by people who didn’t like what he was selling. Supporters of punching Nazis claim that standing idly by is what allowed the Nazis to rise to power and that the only way to prevent Nazis from rising to power again is through preemptive violence. This logic was also used by supporters of the UC Berkley rioters who caused Milo Yiannopoulos to cancel his talk.
But did the Nazis rise to power because good people stood by and did nothing? As with most things, the rise of the Nazi Party wasn’t so simple.
The Nazi Party’s rise to power was due to many factors. One of those factors was the party’s ability to exploit the actions of its opponents. For example, the Nazi Party used the Reichstag fire to suspend civil liberties. The Reichstag building was burned down, supposedly by a communist named Van der Lubbe, which gave the Nazi Party grounds for asking President Hindenburg to suspend civil liberties. He did so with the passage of the Reichstag Fire Decree.
While I don’t claim that the rioting at UC Berkley was the same as the Reichstag fire I feel the need to point out the similarities. Both the rioting at UC Berkley and the Reichstag fire were supposedly perpetrated by communists. Both events were used by nationalists. In the case of the Reichstag fire the event was used by nationalists to suspend civil liberties. In the case of the rioting at UC Berkley the event has been used by nationalists to galvanize their supporters and discredit their opponents.
Is it okay to punch a Nazi? If it is then how far can one go? Is it okay to kill a Nazi? Is it okay to burn down an entire college campus to prevent a Nazi (note that I’m not claiming that Milo is a Nazi but he is seen as such by many of his opponents) from speaking?
I understand the appeal of violence. It’s expedient and far easier than using rhetoric to convince people of your cause. But it’s also a double-edged sword. It can silence your opponents but it can also be used by your opponents to discredit you. The Reichstag fire was a great example of this. If the Reichstag building hadn’t been burned down it’s possible that the Nazi Party would have been unsuccessful or only somewhat successful at getting civil liberties suspended.
You might see violence as the best means of achieving your ends but your opponents might also see you using violence as the best means of achieving their ends. Be cautious of traps.