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My Two Cents: Is It Okay To Punch a Nazi?

It says something about the times we live in that this question has come up at all.

Is it okay to punch a nazi? Is it a morally permissible act to commit violence against somebody expressing even the most objectionable opinions?

I believe nazi is the perfect word to describe the sort of people I am talking about here. But let's call them what you will: alt-right white nationalists, fascists, whatever. There is nothing new under the sun, and we have seen their worldview before. They are nazis. Is it okay to punch them?

The sort of milquetoast liberal argument goes like this: we have freedom of speech in this country, which means all people have the right to express their views. Which means even though I don't like it, the neo-nazi movement (which has never been stronger, nor had more access to power) has every right to express its views and people who punch them are committing an immoral act.

To which I say I'm sure we'll have lots of time to hash this argument out when we're sitting in camps for dissidents and undesirables.

Say there is a person repeatedly saying cruel and threatening things about your family or loved ones. They insult your wife, your husband, using the most insulting language they know. I think most people would agree that, if you were to punch them in response to this provocation, it would technically be an immoral act (it is wrong to commit violence against somebody) however that immorality would be weighed against the immorality of the person deliberately crossing lines to try and piss you off. Most people would probably agree that at least some of the blame is on that person, and nobody would try to argue that "freedom of speech" should protect somebody from getting punched if they are going to insist on going around insulting somebody's family.

A nazi is that person times a hundred. Leaders of the alt-right movement, the ones being punched in high profile incidents, have literally (not implied, but openly) called for the subjugation and genocide of non-white races. In the context of that, why is the morality of the punch the thing we are discussing at all?

I am not a violent person and I do not advocate violence as the remedy for almost all problems -- though I acknowledge that throughout history violence has often been the only way to achieve any kind of justice . I personally do not think I would punch a nazi if given the chance. But I understand why somebody would, and as in the example above I believe the nazi himself holds much of the moral blame here. Freedom of speech means we can't simply arrest somebody for saying he would LIKE to commit genocide if he hasn't actually DONE anything yet. But it doesn't prevent people who find that understandably horrifying from responding in a very natural way. If you want to say that genocide is okay, then a little punching in response seems trivial -- and we should be talking a lot more about the calls for genocide than about a punch here or there.

I mean.... right??


Lou G. said…
I agree with your overall thesis, but this has the potential to become a slippery slope. If we start making exceptions for certain crimes based on the evil of the victim, things can escalate quickly. Theft is wrong. We all know that. But what if, say, oh I dunno, just throwing this out there, what if there was some sort of well-organized militaristic agency that developed a gigantic orbital weapon capable of blasting holes in the surface of planets or blowing them up completely. If a small group of people were to break into a data warehouse and steal the plans to that weapon for the express purpose of learning how to dismantle it, those people would still be thieves.
Do they deserve a pass just because their intentions are noble, or because they're scrappy underdogs, or even because Felicity Jones is gorgeous? I don't know if I want to make that call.

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