Peter Singer decries the use of violence against racists

I’m still horrified that more than one commenter on my site has said (or implied) that “first-strike” violence is justifiable for odious people like white supremacists and Nazis. I simply can’t fathom the desire to hurt another person because of their speech, or think that such tactics could accomplish any worthwhile aims. Yes, white supremacists and Nazis may themselves want to attack blacks, Jews, and the like, but we’re supposed to be better than they. I can live with people criticizing my views on free will, music, and the like, but it’s much harder for me to see violence promulgated or approved of on this site.

With that digression, on to the topic, which is germane. (I almost wrote “German!)

I haven’t disagreed with much that philosopher Peter Singer has said, as he’s a clear-thinking Leftist and an empathic man who’s carefully considered the views he holds. Nor do I disagree with his short piece at The Syndicate: Is violence the way to stop racism?” His answer is “No!”

Singer begins by construing Trump’s remarks about “both sides” being to blame for Charlottesville’s violence more “charitably” than have others. After making a clear statement that there is obvious moral inequality between racists and white supremacists on one side versus anti-racists on the other, Singer gives a possible interpretation of what Trump said:

Rather than putting the racists and anti-racists on the same footing, Trump was saying that both sides were to blame for the violence that broke out. In support of that claim, he said that some on the left “came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs,” and added: “Do they have a problem? I think they do.”

That statement still ignores the fact that a white supremacist used his car as a weapon, with lethal results. Nothing comparable was done by any of the anti-racists.

While I didn’t construe Trump’s remarks like that at the time (and I still think he was avoiding indicting bigotry), I still saw both sides as culpable for the violence. Clearly, only one side was culpable for murder, but there were a lot of fights and beatings. And just as clearly, some of the anti-racists were to blame, for it’s now clear that many (not all!) of the counter-protestors came spoiling for a fight, ready to do battle. Yes, perhaps more of the supremacists carried guns than did their opponents, but guns weren’t used. Can we even apportion who is most to blame for the violence? I don’t see how: I wasn’t there and can’t even figure it out from the news I’ve watched.

But that doesn’t matter, nor do both sides have to be equally to blame.  What is clear is that the Left holds some responsibility for initiating violence, and yet many refuse to admit it, pointing to the car murder. To do that is putting your fingers in your ears and saying “nah nah nah nah.” The far Left is becoming more violent, and those closer to the center seem more willing to condone violence or turn their heads to it.

That’s unacceptable.  It’s not only morally unacceptable, since I see no justification for beating up someone for what they say, but, as Singer points out, it’s tactically unacceptable, as he doesn’t see violence achieving anything for the Left. I agree.

Singer (my emphasis):

In interviews, antifa activists explained their position. “You need violence to protect nonviolence,” said Emily Rose Nauert. “That’s what’s very obviously necessary right now. It’s full-on war, basically.” Other antifa activists said that it is not unethical to use violence to stop white supremacists, because they have already, by stirring up hatred against minorities, caused violent attacks on individual members of those groups.

. . . Let’s grant that the antifa activists are right about the irrationality of hard-core racist fanatics. It remains true that in the United States, and other countries where elections are the path to power, the far right can achieve its goals only by winning over middle-of-the-road voters. Even if many of these voters are also not completely rational – few people are – they are not likely to be won over to the anti-racist cause by seeing footage of anti-racists hitting racists with clubs or throwing urine-filled water bottles.

Such images convey, more than anything else, the idea that anti-racists are hooligans looking for a fight. Dignified nonviolent resistance and disciplined civil disobedience are more conducive to demonstrating a sincere ethical commitment to a better, non-racist society than clubbing people and hurling piss at them.

Violent resistance is particularly dangerous in the US because some states allow anyone to carry a firearm. In Charlottesville, a large number of white supremacists paraded through the streets dressed in camouflage and carrying semi-automatic assault rifles. If the antifa activists are going to match the racists in violence, will it be possible to hold the line at clubs? How long will it be before the deadly weapons now openly on display are also used?

I’ve heard justifications for Antifa-style violence based on history: that antifacists fought against Hitler in Germany and pro-Hitler groups in England. But, as several readers have already pointed out, that analogy breaks down, and Singer tells us why:

Some antifa activists trace the origin of the movement to groups that fought against fascists in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. In Germany, in the years before Hitler came to power, the Nazis’ paramilitary Sturmabteilung (Stormtroopers, also known as the “Brownshirts”) beat up, sometimes fatally, Jews and political opponents. In self-defense, the left responded with its own militias: the Communist Party’s Red Front Fighters and the Social Democrats’ Iron Front.

The result was an escalation of street violence, and a sense, among the wider public, that law and order were breaking down. Many came to believe that a firm hand was required to restore order and stability. A firm hand was exactly the image that Hitler was trying to project, and as the violence worsened, the Nazi vote rose. We all know how that tragedy played out.

Is it far-fetched to think that history could repeat itself in this way? To antifa activists who see violence as the answer to the far right, it should not be. They are the ones who are drawing the historical parallels. The Times quotes an antifa activist: “If we just stand back, we are allowing them to build a movement whose end goal is genocide.” If that is the danger, we need to find a better way of combating it than the tactic that so plainly failed in Germany.

Well, I’m not very worried about a new Nazi Party in the U.S., as, like Pinker, I see that as increasingly unacceptable. What worries me more is that Trump will act in a Hitlerian fashion by quashing people’s civil rights. Even the American Civil Liberties Union seems to be reconsidering its position on defending the right to utter “hate speech.”

Now is not the time for the Left to give in—after all, we’ve had white supremacy and the Nazi Party with us for some time, and they haven’t grown despite consistent enforcement of the First Amendment. (Trump has made them more visible rather than swelling their ranks.) Rather, it’s time for us to hold the line on free speech, as Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ did in her statement yesterday.


UPDATE:  this is what happens when violence is “normalized”; you get criminals saying that felony assault is justified against a non-aggressive “neo-Nazi”  (click on screenshot to go to article):


  1. Posted August 24, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Anarchists during the Second World War refused to fight actual Nazis. They were prepared to go to prison for their pacifist beliefs.

    Antifa’s actions aren’t rooted in principles, they are rooted in macho fantasies about beating the world into submission.

    • eric
      Posted August 24, 2017 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. Also the civil rights activists of the the 60s were notably willing to go to jail for defying racists law they strongly believed shouldn’t exist in the first place.

      I don’t think people should be punching Nazis. But if you’re going to do it, at least stand before the judge and say “yeah I punched a Nazi. I have no regrets. Give me my weeks in jail and let’s get this case over with.”

  2. Randy schenck
    Posted August 24, 2017 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I see no advantage to using violence against the KKK or the Nazis and white supremacist. Let the laws we have confine them to their own demonstrating. Stay away. What reasonable person goes into the streets to argue and confront people with guns? The only thing achieved is to make the job of the police more difficult, much more difficult.

    I would say that confrontation is only worse because that is what the bad guys want. Ignoring them will hurt more than anything.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 24, 2017 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      I agree. When you watch the excellent Vice video, you see that the white supremacists etc are really just a bunch of losers looking for notoriety. Physically fighting them is what they want, and Antifa has played into their hands. As a result, the Nazis have the ability to cry victim and it gives their apologists valid talking points.

      Antifa has once again done damage to the cause they purport to be fighting for. We don’t know if they have a limit to what they’ll do either.

      They remind me of the IRA members who justified bombings etc by their political opinions. Once an agreement was reached, many continued their lives of brutal violence as part of criminal gangs. The politics was just an excuse.

  3. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 24, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Asa I understand it, the American Civil Liberties Union wants to stop defending the rights of armed protesters.

    If so, I have no problem with that, and tentatively suggest this is compatible with JAC’s overall position here.

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 25, 2017 at 12:25 am | Permalink

      Although the ACLU claims to support the Constitution, and gun rights are right there in it…

      (Yes, I know there’s a variety of opinion as to the meaning of “a well regulated militia.”)

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 25, 2017 at 1:15 am | Permalink

        Is the ACLU automatically obliged to defend/support all parts of the Constitution equally?

        For example 11th amendment that prohibits out-of-state individuals suing a state in federal court? 16th Amendment that enables federal taxation?

        I’m not sure either of those could be said to promote ‘civil liberties’.


        • Diane G.
          Posted August 25, 2017 at 1:50 am | Permalink

          Oh, of course they’re selective. Nonetheless they do define themselves thusly on their website: “For almost 100 years, the ACLU has worked to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

          And don’t you know a Devil’s advocate when you see one? 😉

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted August 25, 2017 at 2:13 am | Permalink

            “the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws”

            – which is obviously a subset of what the Constitution and laws say 🙂

            I oughta know a Devil’s advocate, my own efforts can be pretty diabolical at times. Or so I’m told 😉


            • Diane G.
              Posted August 25, 2017 at 2:57 am | Permalink

              “– which is obviously a subset of what the Constitution and laws say”

              As I said–selective.

              I think we’re on the same page here…

      • Posted September 28, 2017 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

        You need a really broad definition to encompass the swastika guys and/or Antifa!

        • Diane G.
          Posted September 29, 2017 at 1:45 am | Permalink

          Indeed. And one that certainly would redefine “well-regulated.” 😀

  4. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 24, 2017 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    It takes a special skill to come up with counter-speech to hate speech, and many otherwise civil decent people may feel helpless in this regard- we need an experienced sage here.

    I normally admire most of the social sentiments of Woody Allen, but here he is giving into temptation in the film “Manhattan”. He is, of course, right about the limits of satire, much as I love good satire of Nazis.

    • BJ
      Posted August 24, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      I really don’t think Antifa and the regressives who support them feel helpless, but the opposite. Charlottesville is far from the first time they showed up to a demonstration with weapons and committed violence. There have been multiple peaceful, non-racist protests and demonstrations by those they consider their opponents in the recent past at which they showed up and beat, maced, and threw objects at others.

      At what started as a peaceful pro-Trump rally in Berkeley, a man (a former college professor!) hit seven different people in the head with a big, U-shaped metal bike lock, severely injuring some. The rally had been peaceful until Antifa and its allies showed up with the express purpose of starting violence.

      Here’s the first article that shows up when you search for the incident:

      (Interesting that only about a quarter of the article is about the vicious attacks, and the rest devoted to how awful 4Chan and the right are)

      Anyway, Antifa has done this at multiple protests/gatherings/demonstrations now, and they started well before Charlottesville. I think the last thing they feel is helpless. In fact, in Berkeley, the cops stood by for some time while Antifa members beat people, waiting to intervene until they apparently felt enough of the “right” (no pun intended) people had been hurt.

      So, to Jerry’s point: this is what happens when we decide that violence against people with certain views is justified. First it’s “lets dox them and get them fired from their jobs,” then it’s “let’s beat the shit out of them.” What will be next if we continue to justify such actions? Will we have mobs roaming the streets beating people for wrongthink, as at Evergreen? I don’t know where or how far this is going, but it’s very frightening. This violence has already been extended beyond people with odious views to police officers simply doing their jobs. It seems just about any group could be next.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 24, 2017 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      Peter Singer, Alvy Singer … ice berg, Goldberg.

      (Ok, different movie, but still.)

    • starskeptic
      Posted August 25, 2017 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      “It’s hard to satirize a guy with shiny boots.”

  5. Curtis
    Posted August 24, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    “Clearly, only one side was culpable for murder.”
    No, only one person was culpable for murder. The rest of the neo-Nazis (repugnant as they are) are not responsible for his action.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 24, 2017 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      But several have spoken out justifying and excusing the murder.

      Chris Cantwell, for example, clearly states in the Vice doco that he thinks the murder was justified.

      Further, the violence was over when it happened. The two groups had separated and those ploughed into were no threat whatsoever to their ideological opponents.

      • Craw
        Posted August 24, 2017 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        True, but there is still no collective guilt. That’s Curtis’s point.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 24, 2017 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

        It’s quite misleading to say that ‘one side’ was guilty, IMO. For the ‘right’ to be collectively blamed, that assumes that they did, or could, or should have known what one nutter was going to do.

        Suppose one Antifa had done it instead. (Would anyone care to bet there’s nobody in Antifa unstable enough?) Would all the Left have been immediately guilty?

        Of course, if (some of) the right want to put themselves in the frame by trying to justify it, that’s up to them.


        • Heather Hastie
          Posted August 25, 2017 at 12:15 am | Permalink

          I’ve said clearly everywhere that whoever perpetrates violence is wrong, including Antifa. So is anyone who justifies is after the fact, including those who support Antifa. I’m pointing out here that those on the right who say justify what the driver of the car did cannot divorce themselves from responsibility.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted August 25, 2017 at 12:42 am | Permalink

            The sentence Curtis and I quoted was PCC’s, not yours Heather.

            I think the point is, that the driver of the car was an unstable individual who (I think) could just as easily have come from either side. So saying ‘only one side was culpable of murder’ is – IMO – a distinction that is not justified. Certainly both sides (or many among them) were culpable for violence, and you can blame both sides (not necessarily equally!) for creating the climate in which this individual acted, but that falls short of being collectively culpable for murder IMO. It might be more direct and clear-cut if someone had been shot during the event, but nobody was.

            Of course those on the right who are trying to excuse it – and thereby painting themselves into the frame – are dumb, I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes unless they were bulletproof boots, but even that doesn’t make them responsible for the act itself.

            (Just to make it clear, I detest neo-Nazis. Don’t interpret this comment as supporting them).


        • Curt Nelson
          Posted August 25, 2017 at 8:20 am | Permalink

          It’s not misleading to say that one side is historically guilty of terrible violence, though. And that Trump not only failed to notice that the killing that did occur was done by a white nationalist and to denounce white nationalism.

          • Posted September 28, 2017 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

            Leftists calling themselves “antifascists” are also historically guilty of terrible violence in my region (Eastern Europe). Leftists have carried out terrible violence also in China, Indo-China and much of Africa and Latin America.

  6. Mark R.
    Posted August 24, 2017 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Now if only antifa members and leaders would read Singer’s reasoned argument.

  7. ploubere
    Posted August 24, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    This is what I’ve been arguing about with any number of leftists on other sites. My sense is that they are mostly young 20s, even teens. I wonder to what degree popular culture is to blame, when they see Captain America and Wonder Woman beating up Nazis, and otherwise solving societal problems through violence.

    • BJ
      Posted August 24, 2017 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      “I wonder to what degree popular culture is to blame, when they see Captain America and Wonder Woman beating up Nazis, and otherwise solving societal problems through violence.”

      Probably to no degree at all. This has happened throughout history, and comic books/superheroes didn’t exist for most of that time. Pop culture is often a convenient scapegoat for any number of social ills, but it’s rarely even a slight contributor.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted August 24, 2017 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        I agree. In fact, I think the opposite is true. There has been a marked decrease in violence this century as violent video games have become popular and widespread. I believe that for many, young men in particular, they provide an outlet for their aggression.

        • BJ
          Posted August 24, 2017 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

          Oh, absolutely. It’s the same with porn: while correlation doesn’t equal causation, sex crimes have gone down as access to porn has gone up. At the very least, the statistics show us that these types of media certainly don’t increase violence and sex crimes.

          Still, there will always be morality police who will claim that violent media and pornography are destroying the moral fabric of society, creating psychopaths and rapists left and right.

          If only Frank Zappa were still here to tell them off 🙂

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted August 24, 2017 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

            Prostitution is legal in NZ and has been for almost 15 years. It hasn’t seen any kind of moral decay, and it has made women safer. Pimping is illegal still of course.

  8. Toby
    Posted August 24, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Peter wrote the most sober assessment of that event that I’ve seen. I’ll tell you, Dr. Coyne: I’m on Reddit a lot & the support for “pre-emptive” violence [supposedly to prevent the coming Holocaust II] against neo-Nazis is widespread among Left-wing millenials, especially among Europeans.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted August 24, 2017 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      the support for “pre-emptive” violence [supposedly to prevent the coming Holocaust II] against neo-Nazis is widespread among Left-wing millenials,

      I’m starting to get the impression that “millennial” is a synonym for “young, dumb and full of shit”.
      And people wonder why I’ve never been tempted to Reddit.

  9. Posted August 24, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Might I suggest…

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted August 24, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      Is that someone squatting a domain that the English Defence League (a recent British Nazi party cover organisation) would like?

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 24, 2017 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

        Well yes, their website says exactly that.


  10. David Duncan
    Posted August 24, 2017 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Regarding the female Californian teacher…

    I think she’s taking advantage of the fact that most guys don’t like to hit women. If the victim had fought back and floored his assailant what would have happened to him, and what would the regressive left had said?

  11. Taz
    Posted August 24, 2017 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Nothing is more overblown than the threat of Nazis in the US. But people, especially young idealistic people, want to feel like they’re doing something – fighting the good fight. Antifa is attractive because you can imagine you’re on front lines in the battle against evil, but also a rebel.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 24, 2017 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      True, US nazis are a pathetic and risible bunch, small in number and largely feckless. But the US far right, of which they are but a constituent part, is not. It is an omnipresent pathogen in the American bloodstream, often in remission, but flairing from time to time into contagion.

      A few decades ago, the Republican party flung open its doors to these extremists, and they’ve been pouring in ever since. This left the Party vulnerable to a hostile takeover by a demagogue like Trump. And now, with Trump in the White House, the extremist wing is energized and emboldened, on the cusp of appreciable political power. No one knows precisely what its numbers are, but whatever they are, they’re sufficient to cow the Republican establishment.

      That’s why the Republican mainstream in congress — what little is left of it anyway — has been petrified of Donald Trump, so chary to criticize his performance in office. They know that a word tweeted from Trump will send the thundering hordes of Breitbart to social media, to vilify them there as “cuckservatives” and “RINOs.” They fear, as well, a primary opponent coming at them from their right, and if they survive the primary, facing an electoral shortfall in the general, should the far right abandon them. This has driven the GOP evermore rightward, held hostage there by its extremist wing.

      Collectively, these extremists pose a significant danger to our nation, one too grave to be gainsaid or ignored.

      • Taz
        Posted August 24, 2017 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

        When it comes to elections, visible Nazis are bad for Republicans – visible Antifa are good for them.

  12. improbable
    Posted August 24, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Brownshirts”) beat up, sometimes fatally, Jews and political opponents. In self-defense, the left responded with its own militias: the Communist Party’s Red Front Fighters and the Social Democrats’ Iron Front

    Can anyone recommend serious balanced things to read about this time & these battles? And perhaps their relation to events further East?

    Singer presents it in the direction which suits his rhetoric, but how clear is this? The communists were trying to invade Warsaw around the same time the Nazis founded a party. How well was the german communist party of those times connected to Moscow? Have any interesting documents have emerged post-1990? These are the things I’d like to understand better.

    • Tom
      Posted August 24, 2017 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      The core leadership of the German Communists followed the Moscow line. Stalin and his cronies believed the Nazis represented the last gasp of rotten capitalism and wanted violent revolution on Moscows terms.
      Ironically by not forming a united front with the social democrats in the Reichstag they probably made a revolution from the Left impossible, though had they done so there would probably been an army takeover and a civil war with unimaginable consequences.

    • Craw
      Posted August 24, 2017 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

      Richard Evans’s books on the rise of the nazis are good. Karl Bracher’s The German Dictatorship is my favourite. Tooze is good but focused on economics.

      Singer is wrong that communist violence arose in response to the brown shirts. There was communist violence before the formation of the NSDAP. There was right wing violence before the nazis too.

      • improbable
        Posted August 25, 2017 at 3:48 am | Permalink

        Thanks, I will look these up.

        • Posted September 28, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

          You can also try Mises’ Omnipotent Government (available free online).

  13. Posted August 24, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    I completely agree!

  14. ladyatheist
    Posted August 24, 2017 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure that the left initiated violence in Charlottesville. What is considered “violence” to one person with a water bottle loaded and ready to retaliate with may not seem so to another. These things get out of hand quickly, so I give a pass to both sides for potentially being the first victim.

    The brilliance of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and early 1960s was the use of nonviolence in the face of violence. Doing so made it impossible for anyone to say “both sides are guilty.” Only one side was guilty, and they looked even worse by attacking people who didn’t fight back.

    With coalitions of various groups showing up to these things, the true “responsibility” is upon the police to keep them at a safe distance from each other. There are too many nutjobs out there who want to make a name for themselves.

  15. Posted August 24, 2017 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I can live with people criticizing my views on free will, …

    With that permission (even though this may not be the appropriate thread):

    That’s unacceptable. It’s not only morally unacceptable, since …

    I’m just interested what an incompatibilist means by the phrase “morally unacceptable”?

    I’ll then suggest that incompatibilists are de facto compatibilists in everyday life (NB, I’m suggesting they think like compatibilists, not that they think like dualists).

  16. Posted August 24, 2017 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    To be precise, “one side” was not “culpable for murder, at least as far as we know. What happened was that one individual from one side, on his own, for reasons unknown — perhaps fear, insanity or stupidity — killed someone, separate from and after the main events. Nobody on the right, that we know of, plotted that event.

    Seems to me, given the horrific level of violence and hatred on the left, the murderer could have easily come from that side. But, in this case, did not.

    The American neo-nazi right has been, so far, surprisingly non-violent. They are often compared to rightist thugs in nazi Germany, but I think that is preposterous. Almost all of the burning, looting and attacks on police in this country have been done by the anti-fa left. Clearly, in this battle, they are the thugs and the neo-nazi right is just a bunch of poseurs.

    I think, if there is an actual rightist uprising or “resistance” and they start using those guns, the story will change dramatically. For one thing, we will see how many snowflakes turn themselves into hard snowballs. Not many, I suspect.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 24, 2017 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

      On the one hand you say, “given the horrific level of violence and hatred on the left, the murderer could have easily come from that side.” On the other, you absolve the klansmen and Nazis (despite their manifest hatred and history of violence) of any responsibility for the murder of Heather Heyer by one of their own.

      That’s patently inconsistent. Either a group’s hatred and violence can be a contributing factor to the violent acts of one of its members (how else can such violent acts “easily have come from” such advocacy?), or they can’t.

      Personally, I think the advocacy of hatred and violence renders those so advocating — on either side of the political spectrum — morally responsible for the violent acts of any individual influenced by that advocacy, but not legally culpable (unless that advocacy rises to the level of “aiding and abetting” under law).

  17. Jesus Figueroa
    Posted August 24, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    “I’m still horrified that more than one commenter on my site has said (or implied) that “first-strike” violence is justifiable for odious people like white supremacists and Nazis. I simply can’t fathom the desire to hurt another person because of their speech, or think that such tactics could accomplish any worthwhile aims.”
    Common Man, when your burning in the oven of Nazi Concentration Camps you will be really horrified. I can see you living in Nazi Germany Peace and love, Peace and love as they drag you to the concentration camp.

    • BJ
      Posted August 24, 2017 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Your comment is pathetically insulting to Jews like me, who had direct ancestors die in concentration camps, and who defend freedom of speech. Guess what regime didn’t defend freedom of speech? The Nazi regime, and the regime previous to it which allowed it to rise. People like me actually understand the consequences of denying free speech, as well as the slippery slope of denying civil rights.

      Despite your feeble-minded idea that somehow shutting down speech will make people stop thinking it, what you want has the opposite effect.

      And since nobody is defending the idea of beating up minorities or ethnic cleansing, you have done nothing but post a non sequitur of zero relevance and which makes you look overemotional beyond the point of being able to make a well-reasoned argument for your beliefs. Maybe calm down, have a cup of tea, and then come back and try to make a real argument. Naked attempts to appeal to base emotion don’t work well here.

  18. Posted August 24, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    I think Antifa is miscalculating. Instead of getting their opponents to give up and go home, they are more likely to radicalize them and inspire their opponents to respond in kind. They also risk radicalizing a few on the right who are currently more moderate.

    • Posted August 24, 2017 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

      I made exactly this point recently and the response was for some of my leftist friends to declare I am, in fact, a Nazi sympathizer. This was despite my claim that they are giving the Nazis propaganda. Somehow, this part was ignored and because I don’t think all people with vile views should be doxxed and fired, I may as well be a Nazi. Then, there are those falsely accused by the rabid mobs, such as the professor at the University of Arkansas. The chance of misidentifying one person this way should be enough to dispense with this method altogether.

    • improbable
      Posted August 25, 2017 at 3:47 am | Permalink

      They’re only miscalculating if their goal is to make their opponents to give up and go home.

      I’d suggest that like almost every organised group everywhere, their actual goal is something more like having a bigger such group. Not their stated goal, that is just advertising, but the one implied by their actions.

      Rioting is exciting, and if you feel you have a noble cause then there is no need for regret. Being the leader of a small-town group is great for the ego, but imagine becoming a founding member of a nationwide organisation, with activities every weekend… anyone think the Antifa leaders would really rather just have a quiet weekend at home?

      • Diane G.
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 1:29 am | Permalink

        “Rioting is exciting, and if you feel you have a noble cause then there is no need for regret.”

        Exactly, and let’s not forget their youth. During the 60’s/70’s Viet Nam protests (when I was an undergraduate, then a graduate student) I remember getting caught up now and then in the calls for revolution! and totally thinking it was a great idea. Happily there was some innate brake in my head that kept me from getting much more involved in the radical factions beyond that frisson of attraction, but it’s easy to see how some passionate young adults can be easily manipulated. The scary part of this is just how easily the impressionable can be swayed by charismatic agitators.

        (The same social/developmental dynamics appear to be what’s attracting many youth to ISIS these days…)

  19. Posted August 24, 2017 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    “we’ve had white supremacy and the Nazi Party with us for some time, and they haven’t grown despite consistent enforcement of the First Amendment. (Trump has made them more visible rather than swelling their ranks.)”

    This is what really worries me. It seems that fewer and fewer people actually understand this point. I have seen no evidence that white supremacy is growing in the US, but it has obviously become far more visible. That’s a problem, clearly, but not one that is best addressed by waging war. By refusing to recognize this, I fear the militant left will indeed make people more sympathetic to candidates promising “law and order”.

    Personally, I have friends who seem to be drifting more towards the militant left, and others who seem to be shutting themselves in more out of frustration and a general sense of futility (I feel very much the same). These are toxic combinations that promise nothing good.

  20. Posted August 24, 2017 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad to see Singer reiterates the points I made in a debate over this with some people I know recently. If law and order were breaking down, I would say it may be sensible to consider other tactics. But we have a pretty clear line when it comes to free expression versus actually implementing Nazism in America. What’s more, “white supremacist” is a much more apt description. These people aren’t politically organized in any way remotely approaching the National Socialist Workers Party of the Hitler era.

  21. Historian
    Posted August 24, 2017 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    I agree that we have little to fear from Nazi Stormtroopers goose stepping down Pennsylvania Avenue. But, nevertheless evidence exists that racial identity is becoming more prominent in American society, particularly among white people. Tom Edsall, whom I consider one of the most perceptive political analysts now writing, has posted a column on the NYT in which he argues that one of Trump’s great strengths in the 2016 election was that he promoted white identity. Edsall notes:


    “It is no secret that the president has capitalized on the increasing salience of race and ethnicity in recent years. The furious reaction to many different historical and cultural developments — mass immigration; the success of the civil rights and women’s rights movements; the election and re-election of a black president; and the approaching end of white majority status in the United States — has created a political environment ripe for the growth of white identity politics.”

    This is a very disturbing trend when people define themselves by racial identity. It divides people and is a potential source of conflict because they tend to think in terms of a zero sum game: if another group is gaining, mine must be losing.

    Edsall concludes:


    “As Trump abandons his campaign promises to end endless war, to provide “beautiful” health care, to protect Medicaid, to restore American industry, jobs and mines, to make Mexico pay for a border wall, he has kept his partially veiled promise to focus on white racial essentialism, to make race divisive again. He has gone where other politicians dared not venture and he has taken the Republican Party with him.”


    So, Trump has exacerbated the perilous times we live in. We teeter on the precipice of an orgy of violence. I hope we don’t fall off the cliff.

    • Taz
      Posted August 24, 2017 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

      The left certainly shares the blame for the rise of white defensiveness. When universities are offering courses called “The Problem of Whiteness” and people are presumed guilty of racism based on their skin color, demagogues are going to take advantage.

      • Posted September 28, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        + 1. Not to mention Black Lives Matter.

  22. Max Blancke
    Posted August 24, 2017 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    If you study the history of Germany in the Great War period onward, organized Communist action was occurring when Hitler was still an enlisted man in the Bavarian army. A reasonable case can be made that much of the popular support that enabled the Nazis to rise to power was a direct result to the campaign of violence perpetrated by Marxist/Leninist organizations attempting to overthrow the German government.
    It may well be that the Nazis would have manufactured a Communist threat if one had not existed.
    It seems pretty clear to me at least, that the neo-Nazi threat in the US is wildly exaggerated. I saw one guy with a Nazi flag at Charlottesville, and a small number of berobed Klansmen who a few years ago would have only been seen on Jerry Springer. Those misfits and anti social personalities have always existed in small numbers in the margins of society.
    I was personally shocked during the campaign to see organized leftists spitting on people attending a Trump speech. And quite a few of those being spat upon had attended just to see someone famous in person. But the angry crowds outside felt that it was perfectly reasonable to attack people for listening to a political candidate for one of the major parties in the city auditorium. These were not Klansmen who had just attended a cross burning. These were mostly normal elderly people.
    I totally sympathize with those who see our current President as non optimal. For those of us who have served in the military, we respect the office, and our constitutional system above any person who might be in a particular office. Disruption of the laws and process is far more dangerous than having to endure four years of poorly though out tweets.
    If you read the published agendas of the groups promoting violence, most of them have in common the stated desire to disrupt and overthrow the whole system. Elevating the threat of fascists is simply a means to that end.
    “The issue is never the issue, the issue is always revolution”

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 24, 2017 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

      “we respect the office, and our constitutional system above any person who might be in a particular office.”

      I do hope that respect doesn’t extend to launching a nuke at North Korea because the orange loony says so.

      How can you ‘respect the office’ when the holder of it is obviously bananas. Not least of Mr T’s crimes must surely be to bring the office of Prez into greater disrepute than ever before.

      I do hope that ‘four years of poorly thought out tweets’ is the worst we all have to endure.


      • Max Blancke
        Posted August 25, 2017 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

        Assuming we are not actually incinerated in a nuclear war, most of the issues we are fretting over would be considered trivial for most people through history.
        The biggest advantage of our system is that it allows people to hold wildly different opinions on issues, while enabling us to live and work side by side without conflict. An important part of that is accepting that people might have valid reasons for disagreeing on an issue, without having to fall back on the assumption that they must be ignorant or evil to hold conflicting views.
        Respecting the office is one of the things that holds the system together. My background is military, and I have often dealt with higher ranking officers who are idiots. But as long as the orders they issue are legal, you salute and say “yes sir”. You are not making a personal judgement about their abilities, you are showing respect for their position. This is because the damage that they are likely to do with their moronic order is less than the damage to the system should discipline and order break down. Obviously it is more complicated than that, but that is the basic idea.
        As soon as we stop treating each other with some measure of civility, cooperation becomes impossible.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted August 25, 2017 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

          “This is because the damage that they are likely to do with their moronic order is less than the damage to the system should discipline and order break down.”

          Well, if the order is “Nuke Pyongyang” I would say demonstrably not so.


    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 25, 2017 at 7:20 am | Permalink

      “… see our current President as non optimal.”

      You’ve got a real gift for understatement there, man.

      Calling Trump “non-optimal” is like calling hurricane Harvey a mild summer shower.

  23. Posted August 24, 2017 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Two things.

    I will always advocate for the non-violent approach. But a devil’s advocate thought occurred to me: what would Singer say about the American Revolutionary War? Is non-violent resistance always more conducive to progress?

    And concerning “both sides”: I don’t like that Trump put it that way because without the aggressors there wouldn’t even be any resistance/defense. It’s like blaming both sides when a bully’s victim finally fights back. If the bully hadn’t engaged in bullying to begin with there would’ve been no fight.

    • Historian
      Posted August 24, 2017 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

      Violence should always be the last resort. In the case of the American Revolution, for a decade prior to hostilities, colonial leaders had peacefully but fruitlessly petitioned the British government for redress of grievances. Only after this was violence resorted to. In America today, violence should be avoided because of tactical reasons, if not out of principle.

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 25, 2017 at 1:07 am | Permalink

      I must admit, I’ve occasionally wondered whether the colonial grievances against the British were enough moral justification for a shooting war and such loss of life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for much of what arose from that episode, not least of which were the principles spelled out in the Declaration of Independence and the means of realizing those principles set forth in the Constitution.

      But really, did Canada or Australia turn out that badly for not revolting? I rather think I’d have been at least a conscientious objector had I lived in Colonial times.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 25, 2017 at 1:26 am | Permalink

        Well, leaving aside the American Revolution – how about the D-Day landings? Were they ‘good’ or ‘bad’?

        I don’t think there’s a generic answer to violence vs non-violence, it all depends on the circumstances.

        I think non-violence works best in a generally peaceful environment.

        (P.S. Wearing my official Kiwi hat – Australia is always revolting.

        Sorry ’bout that… 😉

        • Diane G.
          Posted August 25, 2017 at 1:57 am | Permalink

          I will say that the fight against the Nazis seems far more morally justified that that against taxation without representation.

          But I’ve gotten more pacifistic with every decade…In an ideal world, humans by now would have learned to solve their disagreements without murdering each other.

          (Where’s Gene Roddenberry when you need him?)

          And LOL @ your joke. 😉

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted August 25, 2017 at 7:54 am | Permalink

            The colonists didn’t invade England. They merely declared their independence from it (and wrote ol’ King George a pretty good letter ‘splainin’ why). The British sent an invasionary force over here and took up arms against us (hell, even before the colonists declared their independence — remember the Boston Massacre? How ’bout Lexington & Concord?)

            Damn, now I hear “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in the background playing on the fife and drum. 🙂

          • Posted September 28, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

            I think that, if the majority of the population in a territory wants to secede, it has the right (self-determination). For Americans, judgement in these matters is influenced much by the acts of the odious South in the 19th century. For me, the rule of thumb is: If you do not wish to live under the domination of X, do not tell others that they should.

    • Bruce Gorton
      Posted August 25, 2017 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      Post the revolution America spent decades in the economic doldrums, with growth of around 0.38%. The first US government failed, and it took until the 1800s for growth to really start getting going.

      This is roughly what you see in most of Africa – the revolutionaries ‘win us our freedom’ and form shitty governments.

      While violence proved effective at destroying the old system, it wasn’t exactly a good thing for the new one.

      In South Africa we have the term “Born frees” for people who were born after the end of Apartheid.

      As much as the US ultimately proved a success, it wasn’t really until that “born free” generation came along that it started moving in that direction.

      The upshot of this being, if you want to tear down a system violence may well work, but if you actually want to achieve making things better, it takes something other than a revolutionary mindset.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 25, 2017 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

        I seem to remember a quote along those lines concerning the parliament under Cromwell (who of course deposed the royal line) – “They were all in agreement about what they wouldn’t have, but could never agree what they would have”.

        It seems to be an endemic characteristic of many revolutions.

        (Eventually of course the country got so sick of them – and Puritanism – it invited a king back in).


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