Monday, February 20, 2017

Fascism can't survive majority opposition

Steve Randy Waldman briefly takes on a point I made recently:
Carl Beijer writes, “If you are seriously willing to entertain sympathy for a Nazi for any reason, it was probably just a matter of time until you found an excuse [to support a fascist crackdown]” If that is true, no political harm can possibly have been done by the violence and there is no reason to worry about politics or “think globally”. You are free to fight locally, by any means necessary and with no apology. 
But Beijer’s claim is not, actually, a supportable view of human affairs. Lots of people who under almost no circumstance would support a fascist crackdown oppose freelance political violence even against people whose views they actively abhor.
I'm not sure that the "view of human affairs" Waldman takes aim at here actually corresponds to my position. It's true that there are people who insist on civil rights for fascists who would nevertheless never actively support a fascist regime - but insisting on civil rights and acting out of "sympathy" are two very different things. And in fact, proponents of civil rights for fascists usually insist that they are not acting out of sympathy, but rather out of principle.

Here, my focus is simply on the genre of person who actually does become part of Trump's "support base" because they are "sympathetic to thoughtcriminals." That's the concern Jeremy Harding raises in this piece; one of his arguments against punching Nazis is that some people will actively support Trump in reaction to the attacks. My response, again, is to simply observe that this reeks of post hoc rationalization - if you decide to support Trump, and if all it took was some random guy punching Richard Spencer, you were probably always going to end up supporting Trump anyway. Perhaps there are good arguments against punching Nazis, but "doing so will create more Nazis" is not one of them.

Finally, it is always worth calling into question the notion that "supporting a fascist crackdown" just means actively putting on a brownshirt or wearing the swastika. Paxton:
To understand fully how fascist regime works, we must dig down to the level of ordinary people and examine the banal choices they made in their daily routines...For example, consider the reactions of ordinary Germans to the events of Kristallnacht...It is clear now that many ordinary Germans were offended by the brutalities carried out under their windows. Yet their widespread distaste was transitory and without lasting effect...If we can understand the failure of...citizen opposition to put any brakes on Hitler in November 1938, we have begun to understand the wider circles of individual and institutional acquiescence within which a militant minority was able to free itself sufficiently from constraints to be able to carry out genocide in a heretofore sophisticated and civilized country.
Certainly we are not at the point of Kristallnacht, but the point stands: fascism is historically a militant fringe movement, and it can only survive if the majority ties its hands with principles against "freelance political violence." This is particularly true once fascism has seized control of the state. None of this implies that punching fascists is always a good idea - but it's pretty difficult, from a historical perspective, to insist that punching fascists is never a good idea.