The Reichstag Fire

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.

3 thoughts on “The Reichstag Fire”

  1. It’s ok to punch a Nazi, or anyone else, only if that Nazi is attacking you and your punch is for immediate self-defense. It’s ok to shoot a Nazi, or anyone else, only in the face of a deadly threat.

    The argument that if Germans had punched Nazis in 1932, Hitler would have been stopped, is first of all complete speculation: it could have hurt him or could have helped him through the resulting backlash. More importantly, acting like a Nazi in order to stop the spread of Nazism is completely self-defeating: even if you win, you lose.

    1. Sometimes I feel as though history is a long list of people saying, “In order to destroy the thing I hate, I must become the thing I hate.”

  2. Isn’t becoming the thing you hate in order to destroy it, just what the black block or the violent demonstrators at Berkley did?
    The left, during the campaign and since the election, has seemed to transform itself from merely uninterested in conforming to law, to compulsively (one might say convulsively) disrespecting any form of it.
    It is understandable, since law and form are so often and ubiquitously used to support the oligarchy and to exploit people, that this attitude should become common.
    Still, it is vile and stupid to riot and to attack innocent protestors and neutral bystanders.
    I, for one, am glad that people on the other side of these issues choose not to do that, but rather, are waiting it out to allow these fools to regain their senses.
    We will see more repression and harsher extremes (less individualized and more general) actions – like martial law, thanks to this flailing about and tantrum-like demonstrations initiated by fools.
    There’s a good use of resources. There’s a good standard for equal treatment. That seems like the best way to govern. Lock ’em all up!

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