So y’all have seen the video (or the many gifs) of Richard Spencer punched in the head, yeah?
Anyone conflicted by the sucker punch? Anyone conflicted by their lack of confliction over the sucker punch?
I’m not conflicted. Mind you, I wouldn’t exactly recommend sucker-punching Richard Spencer or any run-of-the-mill Nazi, but I took perhaps too much satisfaction in seeing that fist upside this guy’s noggin.
As an Arendtian, I’m leery of the introduction of violence into the arena of discourse, i.e., if you’re able to talk, do that—but what if your opponents don’t accept the terms of that discourse? What to do, for example, about a white supremacist who thinks ethnic cleansing gets a bad name, has advocated for the forced sterilization of black people, whose website ran an article called ‘Is Black Genocide Right?, and who is using the instruments of democracy to undermine said democracy?
What do you do with a guy who would get rid of you just for being you?
That longstanding dilemma in liberalism—how to deal with illiberalism—is longstanding precisely because there is no easy answer. I tend toward the civil libertarian view, which says tolerate the intolerant, because I don’t want the state to throw people in jail for bad views. Clear, direct threats—sure, but general espousal of an abhorrent world-view, even a Nazi world-view? No.
But what about in political society? How may we as citizens respond to our fellow citizens who would seek to strip us of our full status as citizens? If you (Nazi, ISIS fighter) say you want to get rid of ‘my kind’, can I hit you?
Legally, no. If I hit you and I get caught, I ought to be charged with assault.
And tactically, that might not be the wisest decision, for all kinds of reasons, not least because it could lead to greater violence, which will lead to the breakdown of politics right quick.
Finally, if you believe as fervently in politics as I do, then one ought to act politically, i.e., through speech and coordinated public actions, not violently.
Yet for all that, I honestly cannot condemn the guy who walloped Richard Spencer. This is one of those cases where the better angels of my nature are nowhere to be found.