Last night, Milo Yiannopoulos, an utter troll who is part of Breitbart News, was prevented from speaking at UC Berkeley by a large protest, which included at least one fire, though I'm having trouble piecing together what happened exactly.
Some people, like Steven Pinker, Jonathan Haidt, and John McWhorter, advocate for complete free speech on campuses, omitting the fact that this isn’t necessarily about free speech, but about paying people and giving them university-supported spaces to speak.
But even if it were just about “free speech” without any payment (say Milo was just a guy standing on a street corner on campus), would it then be okay?
I wanted to post the words of a Twitter user I came across just after Turnip’s inauguration. This was shortly after neonazi leader Richard Spencer was punched by an unknown assailant while talking on camera. (You may have seen it.) On January 22, @meakoopa posted this:
I just finished a Ph.D. dissertation about "reason" in relation to the public sphere, so with apologies, I might risk a short thread re: punching nazis because there is an unstated self-evident logic that I feel like might be clarifying.Oh, and hey — if it makes you feel any better, our current Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, was a campus troll in the Milo mode during his undergraduate years at Columbia. In 1987 he was advocating for apartheid in South Africa, among other charming right-wing positions.
Every liberal democracy realizes early on there are some positions which must prima facie be aggressively excluded from public discourse. You can't even articulate WHY they are unreasonable because to articulate WHY they are unreasonable is to itself open the possibility of reason.
This is why you can't allow "just hypothetical" questions about whether Jews or blacks, as Spencer posits, are innately inferior/destroyable. Nazi theorists like Carl Schmitt VERY QUICKLY diagnosed this weakness in liberal democracies—you can collapse a democracy by insisting the democracy had a right to end itself: Hindenburg to Hitler, "the peaceful transition of power."
Intolerance cannot be tolerated, because this corrosive effect means the law can be co-opted by, and so protective of, fascism. Fascism wriggles into democracies by insisting on the right to be heard, achieves critical mass, then dissolves the organs that installed it.
WHICH MEANS the stronger it becomes, it cannot be sufficiently combated with reason. Because "reason" becomes the state's tool to enforce. The Overton Window becomes weaponized—as we are seeing in Kellyanne Conway’s and Sean Spicer's "alternative facts." The state decides.
[Classical] liberalism literally cannot see this—its insistence on the rule of law, not genocidal lust, is what turned the German people into good Nazis. Some positions must be excluded from discourse. Some positions you do not listen to—you can only punch.
A society that begins to entertain why some members of its polis might not belong invites catastrophic decay. Those voices must be excluded.
TL;DR - punching a nazi is actually a supreme act of democracy because it will not tolerate a direct affront of a fellow citizen's citizenship. The term to interrogate in "should you punch a nazi?" is SHOULD - what is the status of that "should"?
Legally: no; ethically: fuck yes.
All of American history is an exercise in one debate: "who is the 'we' who are the people?" (The thing that used to solve this debate - "God decides what is reasonable" - is not on the table anymore, and was always a deferral of the question.)
You cannot take as given that allowing free and open debate about genocide will stop fascism. Because it never, ever has.
Yesterday, in response to the Berkeley protests, @meakoopa posted this to Twitter:
If you don't like riots, then don't create conditions in which a critical mass of people no longer feel protected by the conditions of order. Riots are, and should be, illegal. That does not mean they are not sometimes appropriate and even necessary. Western democracy was built by riots.And he noted:
Peace is something governments earn, not impose.
The Frankfurt School (those who managed to survive Nazi purges) almost all relocated to California and are printed by Berkeley's press to this day. Berkeley hates Nazis.__
Update: I just found out that Judge Gorsuch started his trolling at least a few years earlier, in high school, where he founded a group called Fascism Forever. He served as president for all four years at Georgetown Prep. The hijinks were intended to raz the Jesuit faculty, who were too liberal for Gorsuch's taste.
Update on the update: It sounds as though there may not have been an actual club called Facism Forever... that it was a joke entry in Gorsuch's yearbook text, referring lightheartedly to his reputation within the school.