The Ethics of Punching Nazis

So, I’m still seeing a bunch of people debating the ethics of punching Nazis. Now you’re all entitled to your opinions, and no one is saying that you have to punch Nazis, but allow me to answer a few questions I see floating around.

Are these people even Nazis?

Well, some of them call themselves the ‘alt-right’. Some might just be garden variety fascists. A whole host of them just cut out the middle man and call themselves Neo-Nazis. All of that is just semantics. It’s a group of racist, genocidal assholes trying to hide behind the guise of “a legitimate political platform”. These people are engaging in gross amounts of hate speech and are advocating genocide against minority groups that they feel ‘aren’t worthwhile members of society’ or are ‘less than human’. So yeah, they’re Nazis.

Doesn’t the Nazi Party believe in a strong welfare state and social programs like that?

Sure, the original National Socialist Worker’s Party kept the welfare programs that had been instituted by the Weimar Republic. They also created affordable automobiles for the people and believed in the strength of the working class.

So the ‘alt-right’ aren’t Nazis then, they don’t want those things, right?

The ‘alt-right’ believes in a limited government, low taxes, and strict law and order. They describe themselves as a populist right wing political movement. They also believe in white supremacy and white nationalism, ‘scientific racism’, anti-semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc. Members of the ‘alt-right’ have used Nazi propaganda terms and the Nazi salute in meetings and conferences. No one cares that the Nazis used to believe in a welfare state. The key parts of Nazi policy that are important to remember are the parts that caused the Holocaust. These are all policies that the ‘alt-right’ shares. They’re Nazis.

Ok, so they’re Nazis, doesn’t free speech protect their right to say what they want?

No.

But…

The answer is still no, but I’ll go into more detail cause you’ll keep asking. The First Amendment ensures that the Federal Government won’t infringe on your right to say things. This right does not protect you from how private citizens react to what you’re saying. Advocating genocide and engaging in hate speech is wrong, and while the US doesn’t have any laws saying that it’s illegal, it should. Germany understands the horror of that type of language and where it leads. Hate speech, genocidal rhetoric, and Holocaust denial are illegal in Germany.

But assault is still illegal, you’re assaulting someone who hasn’t offered you violence.

Yes and no. Technically they haven’t thrown a punch at me. They have offered violence though.

How? They’re just talking.

If you can’t understand the power of speech and how it affects people’s perceptions of the world then you haven’t paid attention to this last election cycle. Words are power. Words shape our reality. When people and government stand by and allow virulent hate speech and genocidal rhetoric, they endorse it. These people are advocating for genocide. The only way they could get more violent is by actually attempting genocide. The first step in genocide is always hate speech. Actually, it’s usually based in humor. Racist jokes are the first, most basic step on an eventual road to genocide. It is our duty as moral human beings to make a statement that such hate will not be tolerated in our country. That all people are endowed with certain unalienable rights among these life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But you’re still committing assault.

Yes

Why can’t you just talk to them? Refute their points and engage in debate?

They don’t want to debate us. They don’t want a dialogue. Sure, talk. Shoot down their points every chance you get. I’ll give you your line for this one. Every single person who exists deserves equality and dignity under the law. Shout that from the rooftops. It won’t convince the Nazis. Might convince some of the moderates or the privileged intellectual liberals who hold free speech up as the Golden Law of the Universe. Won’t convince Nazis though. I’m not saying don’t talk. I’m saying that it won’t be enough.

But won’t punching Nazis just add fuel to their fire?

Sure it will. They’ll try and paint us as the bad guys. They’ll hold up free speech and say that we’re trying to censor them. Technically I am trying to censor them. They’re advocating genocide. Their ideas are wrong and shouldn’t exist. There is no forum where that is appropriate. Punching Nazis will give them some fuel, it also might make them afraid. And they should be. We’ll lose some of these battles. They’ll convince the angry teenagers of America. They’ll convince part of the rural working class. The racists and bigots who want to feel vindicated. We weren’t going to win those people over in the short term anyway. What we can do is make a statement so clear that it cannot be ignored. Never again.

So much for the tolerant left I guess.

I believe that all human life is precious and should be preserved. I believe that every single human being deserves rights and dignity under the law. When someone steps up and says that certain people aren’t people, you bet your ass I’m intolerant of that. You bet your ass that I will fight against that. Nazis don’t deserve a voice. The last time they had one, they killed over 12 million people.

Look folks, I study genocide for a living. I am telling you, as an expert in the field, that the US is well on its way to being a genocidal state. We are in horrifically dangerous times right now. Legitimizing genocidal rhetoric as ‘just part of the political dialogue’ is unconscionable. Stand up to Nazis any way you can. Stand up to hate. Stand up to racists and sexists and anyone who stands in the way of LGBT rights. If you think that the best way for you to do that is to engage in dialogue and try and convince them out of their racism then I wish you all the luck in the world. If you think the best way to do that is to call your Representatives and Senators then please do that. If you think the best way to combat hate is to shut it down hard whenever you hear it. Do it. Punching Nazis isn’t the whole solution, but it is a vital part of one.

I’m tired of having to have this conversation, y’all don’t have to agree with me. I’m not trying to convince you. I’ve laid out my thoughts as an expert in the field. Take them or leave them.

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9 thoughts on “The Ethics of Punching Nazis

  1. This scenario certainly is a pressure test of ideals. Do you offer someone the benefit of the ideals you hold (non violence and tolerance) when that person tries to advocate concepts that go against those Philosophies? Admittedly what scares me isnt the nazi getting punched but precedent that it sets. Its not about what he deserves as much as its about how i conduct myself and most importantly the difference between a closed door on an issue (never turn discussions to violence) versus the consequence of wiggle room in that area. Its interesting for sure but ultimately it will be used by more than just the supremacist groups to justify violence against those whos words can easily be twisted into the appearance of violent rhetoric. Ultimately whats gained in the supremacists fear by being attacked will be lost by their preparation for violence in the future and reputation damage to the movement the attacker identifies with

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    1. So here’s the thing. I don’t hold ideals of non-violence. There are a huge number of problems that can only be solved with violence. Talking only works if the other person considers you an equal and cares about what you have to say. There’s a reason Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called riots “the voice of the unheard”. Sometimes people will only hear you if you talk with your fists. As for tolerance, I hold no tolerance for genocidal rhetoric. Ever.

      The rest of your points were addressed in the original post.

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      1. Yikes.. i dont think ive ever heard someone advocate for violence and invole martin luther king at the same time. Its interesting and if your game for a debate ill put some time into a response detailing why you really didnt respond to those points or at least not well. But i dont want to type it for my own benefit and not have a discussion. Let me know.

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  2. I went back and forth for a while stuck between the “It’s still technically assault” and “But their Nazi’s” in my own head and I finally found my own understanding of where the ethical line is drawn, because clearly it’s not wrong to take action against evils.

    That’s where I think the ethical line sits. Taking action. That’s not to say that the action can never be violence. Obviously stopping the Nazi’s the first time took quite a bit of violence. But, in order to be ethical, the action in question needs to reasonably have the chance to stop or inhibit the evil. Punching an individual Nazi who isn’t actively threatening someone may feel satisfying but it isn’t actually doing anything to stop or inhibit him/her, and you cannot reasonably expect it to have a life-saving impact. They take the punch, they call the cops, you end up arrested, and they continue spreading their message.

    Simple 1 on 1 assaults against evil are actions driven by hatred. Hatred for evil? Sure, but it’s still an action of hate. Life, and a love for life as the most sacred gift we have, is the only ethical motivator (IMO). As such, any action that aims to be ethical should be a direct attempt to preserve life. Surely you can understand that punching an individual nazi who has not directly broken the law is essentially making it You vs The nazi + the legal system. In that way, punching the nazi at best feels satisfying but ultimately doesn’t solve the issue and at worst causes you to be jailed, removing you from being able to protect life in the future.

    So overall, what I’m saying is this. There’s nothing wrong with fighting Nazi’s, it’s been done before and it seems like it may need to be done again. But there is a difference between fighting them as a unified force with the intent to defeat the threat they pose to life and letting passion cause you to risk your chance to be a part of the real fight.

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  3. Shockingly lazy despite the grand title, this is not a true attempt at analyzing the philosophy of ethics at play, instead just lazy off-the-cuff banter under the guise of an honest examination. You accuse our enemies on the Right of manipulating language, but then you do so throughout the whole article disingenuously. For a teacher who claims to understand the complexities on all sides of history, you are so willing to simplify things down to black and white, and ignore details things when it is convenient. This sort of pseudo intellectual writing paints us scholars [and progressives!!] in a poor light and weakens our arguments against such bigots. And even stranger, you are the one asking yourself these fake questions… Keep punching things, I think the brutish simplicity suits you better.

    > Are these people even Nazis?
    Your answer is that it is not even a real question because it is “just semantics… so yeah, they’re Nazis”. If I open up a paper about ethics and the author says “just semantics” you know he is not putting the effort in. Already at the start, this is low effort answer to your own soft ball question. There is clearly a point in making a distinction between Nazis and the rest of the Right. Why do you think that question is even being asked? How else can you point out that one set is worse than the rest… Way worse… if you keep lumping everyone together

    >Ok, so they’re Nazis, doesn’t free speech protect their right to say what they want?
    In a comical double-take, you first say no, then talk about the 1st amendment, then talk about how you wish there were laws like Germany’s so that this language wouldn’t be protected. Their RIGHT to say what they want is indeed protected, you admit it yourself. Even if you think people should be going around punching them, you acknowledge that this is committing assault, so that right is being protected even if the assault is morally justified. So why say No instead of Yes, answer the question honestly, instead of telling the reader what you wish the world was like?

    >But assault is still illegal, you’re assaulting someone who hasn’t offered you violence.
    You have the sense to say Yes but of course have to add in that you are partially justified in your mind because of their ‘offering of violence’ which sounds cryptic enough that it may very well be a legal term.

    >Why can’t you just talk to them? Refute their points and engage in debate?
    If you don’t think it is possible to convince Nazis (which you defined as half of the Right) why do you spend so much time trying to? Every single post you put on here or social media about this is trying to giving them a dialogue or debate or convince them.

    >But won’t punching Nazis just add fuel to their fire?
    You have the sense to say yes, and admit you are trying to censor people through fear. Also, that it may not even work as a tactic. But it could!

    >Look folks, I study genocide for a living. I am telling you, as an expert in the field…
    And of course you need to remind the world of your never ending appeal to authority. You are smart enough to know how lazy this is. You are the one legitimizing genocidal rhetoric as part of everyday dialogue by calling everyone our side does not like a Nazi…Somehow you do not see the irony of what you have become, and think that only the “angry teenagers of America” will be corrupted. You really do see the world in parodies and stereotypes for both sides.

    >Punching Nazis isn’t the whole solution, but it is a vital part of one.
    The article started with “you’re all entitled to your opinion and you don’t have to punch Nazis”, by the end, this is now a core tenant of your ideology that people need to embrace like it or not, even if it is not the best solution.

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    1. Wow, you somehow managed to address all of my points, while simultaneously missing EVERY SINGLE POINT. That level of mental contortion is impressive. I’d send a resume to Cirque du Soleil if I were you.

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