I’m not going to bother going over the gory details of the national disgrace that unfolded in Charlottesville, VA on Saturday. It’s been hashed out over and over again, and there’s nothing to be gained by putting it under a microscope here. But I do have some observations that I’d like to share.
First, there are a lot of people out there who want to punch Nazis. Fair enough, I’ve wanted to do the same thing since I first watched Raiders of the Lost Ark. My zeal for crushing National Socialists only grew with my first play-through of Wolfenstein 3D and then after learning my maternal ancestry is virtually impossible to trace because of the Holocaust.
But in a climate of escalating violence and hate, is more violence and hate really the answer? Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t think so, and I’m inclined to agree with him. You can punch a Nazi in the face as many times as you want, and it won’t persuade him to abandon his beliefs, but it would likely embolden him. It would reinforce every terrible thing that he already believes about whomever is punching him. His wounds would heal in time, but in his mind, the assailant will always be a villain whose underlying ideological fervor is abhorrent and worthy of defiance.
Punching Nazis accomplishes nothing, and only makes the situation worse. It encourages a greater response which will in turn encourage an even greater response. It perpetuates the cycle of violence and hate. It’s completely self-defeating. Only someone with a small and hateful mind would believe that more violence is the solution to Nazis marching and spewing their vile rhetoric. It’s a tragedy that someone was murdered over the weekend. It’s unacceptable, and it should never have happened, but she never would have died if she just stayed home. Sometimes the best way to beat a Nazi, or anyone for that matter, is by ignoring them rather than inadvertently justifying their vehemence by matching its fanatical ferocity.
And let’s face it, many, if not most, of the people out there talking about punching Nazis are fluffy couch jockeys and WiFi tough guys whose bark is far worse than their bite (and even their bark is remarkably flaccid). For the most part, these website-warriors will never do violence against so-called Nazis. They’re big mouths and imbeciles, and they just need to shut up.
That brings me to the second observation: the overuse of the word Nazi.
Dismantling an argument, even a faulty one, takes time and effort and can be tricky, so why bother with all that work when you can just write someone off as a racist, a sexist, a xenophobe, or a Nazi? Nazi is now a catch-all epithet that discourages debate and does an egregious disservice to our national political discourse. It’s a lazy and harmful way of dismissing and marginalizing everyone on the Right without lifting a finger to truly challenge their opinions and presuppositions. The word Nazi should be used judiciously, only when it’s appropriate and accurate. The Left threatens to use the the word so frequently that it is quickly losing all its meaning. Orwell pointed out in the 1940’s that the words “fascist” and “fascism” had already undergone such a transformation. If we allow the same fate to befall the word Nazi, we run the risk of reducing or completely depleting its potency.
The appropriate use of the word Nazi is the third observation.
I’ve seen the videos, I’ve seen the flags, the big mouths, the “Heil Hitler” salutes, the white polo shirts, and I’ve listened to all the rhetoric. These people aren’t Nazis, I don’t care how many swastikas they sport or how often they throw up their right hands in reverence to the Fuhrer. These people are really Nazis the same way Elvis impersonators are really Elvis. They’re cheap knock-offs; inauthentic replicas that don’t stand up to even the slightest bit of scrutiny. These people might root for the bad guys in The Handmaid’s Tale but they aren’t the bad guys in The Handmaid’s Tale. Calling them Nazis is both buying into their own self-aggrandizement and insulting to real Nazis who at least walked the walk in addition to talking the talk.
And what of the talk? That’s the fourth observation.
Nazis have never been typified by their love of limited government, free markets, individualism, and distrust of the state. National Socialism was a collectivist movement that sought the expansion of an interventionist state under the control of an authoritarian ruler. They despised capitalism and markets. They despised freedom of speech and the press. There aren’t many on the Right who share those sentiments. In our national political discourse, the only socialists available are on the left end of the spectrum. The white-nationalist movement seems to have borrowed only two aspects–broadly speaking–of Nazism: the aesthetic and racial chauvinism. The rest of the Nazi ideology has been taken up by the Left: consolidation of power under an expanding central government, collectivism, hatred of capitalism and private property rights, etc. If we’re going to go down this road, it can be said both the alt-right and the Left are Nazis in their own unique and warped ways.
It needs to be reiterated that there is plenty of blame to go around. Antifa, Black Bloc, BAMN, and BLM have been stoking and engaging in political violence for a while, and the alt-right is happy to play along. Everyone needs to calm down and begin conducting themselves as mature, civil adults or this is only going to get worse. That starts by people of disparate political minds coming together and telling everyone to calm down without exceptions. The only way we can fix this mess is by all of us coming together, regardless of our politics, and having the courage to admit that each of us has failed in elevating what we share in common above our differences.
We’re all guilty. We’ve all failed, but we can overcome this if we have the courage. Not the courage to throw a punch or take one, but the courage to admit that each of us were wrong, and that we can finally make things right by coming together.