Street fighting between communists and Nazis, 1933.
Dan Greenfield argues that what we’re seeing these days is the Left going Full Weimar.
A vocal rejection of civility is of course a call to violence. The slippery slope gets greased. And then it’s a small matter to go from harassment to assault. That’s what the left wants.
Some conservative commentators are saying that the left hasn’t thought this through. Sure they have. The grad student working on some bottom rung of the D.C. career ladder before getting bombed and joining some anarchist protest may not have thought it out, but the guys and girls pushing the buttons have.
What they want is to wreck America, go full Weimar, move to street violence, and then, by persuasion or force, impose their own system to deal with the emergency. What better way to trash most of the forms of government, the Constitution, checks and balances, than by burning everything down.
The excuses, border separation, police shootings, etc are just excuses for that endgame. They’re propaganda to achieve an end.
We got here because all the brakes came off the left’s train. It beat its liberal opponents. And now it’s going to scream endlessly that everyone on the right is a Nazi because that justifies its intended violence. And that violence is intended to further radicalize everyone to the left.
The whole purpose is an overthrow of the existing order in the name of a political emergency. It’s what every totalitarian system does. Set off violence, then seize power.
Greek Bronze Helmet, Northwest Greece, late 6th to 5th Centuries B.C.
Pascal Bruckner, in City Journal, contemplates Western Civilization’s contradictory attitudes toward Barbarism and violence.
For two centuries, the bourgeois has been a reviled figure, a kind of abstract prototype of ignominy. The whole history of antibourgeois mythology is a series of anathemas. Violently rejected by the nobility because of his prosaic nature, by the working class for his cupidity, by the artist who despises his enslavement to calculation and utility, the bourgeois is characterized by an ontological baseness. The only fault lacking from his catalog of negative traits was criminality, and since Hannah Arendt, we have known about the very normal bourgeois who ran the Nazi murder machine.
One must be either a monk or a soldier, Joseph de Maistre exclaimed, summing up the grandeur of an Old Regime driven by a few fundamental passions. …
As a young thinker put it in 1913, â€œWar: why not? It would be amusing.â€ For many Europeans of the time, war was more than amusing; it represented the most beautiful of syntheses, a combination of barbarian energy with feudal courage. In 1915, the sociologist Werner Sombart contrasted the shop-keeping mentality of the British with the heroism of the Germans, the descendants of the brave Teutonic knights. Adolf Hitler got down on his knees in 1914 and thanked God that war had broken out. He saw it as manâ€™s natural fatherland, a supreme test that would make the trenches a â€œmonastery with walls of fire.â€
To the vulgarity of Nietzscheâ€™s â€œlast man,â€ the bourgeois devoted to his little pleasures, the whole twentieth centuryâ€”from T. E. Lawrence to the Red Brigades, via the Futurists and the Freikorpsâ€”counterposed a Romanticism of volcanic spirits, impatient to lose themselves in â€œstorms of steel,â€ in Ernst Jungerâ€™s formulation. So many modern intellectuals, from Robert Brasillach on the right to Alain Badiou on the left, revealed a fascination with violence. â€œI want to live only in extreme situations. Everything that is mediocre exasperates me so much I could scream,â€ exclaimed the French collaborationist Drieu la Rochelle in 1935, on his way to Moscow after visiting Nuremberg and Dachau. Nine years later, in 1944, he noted in his journal, before committing suicide, how much he admired Stalin, the new master of the world, proven stronger than Hitler. Better to be a terrorist or criminal, it seems, than a little bureaucrat or petty stockholder. …
We do our best these days to raise our kids properly. We educate them, teaching them good manners, politeness, and benevolence. We cherish democracy, law, peace, and the great works of Western culture. But many of us nevertheless feel that our way of life, if it were generalized on a global scale overnight, would bring a soul-deadening dullness. To put it otherwise, we need monsters to fight against; we invoke what lies beneath in order to defeat it; our mind is shadowed by darkness. The civilized man must constantly look barbarism in the face, to remember where he comes from, what he has escapedâ€”and what he could become again.
Europe and America have been home to opposed attitudes in this context. Since 1945, Europe has been haunted by the specter of â€œexplosions of collective bestiality,â€ as Stefan Zweig termed them: a new Auschwitz, a new Gulag. Europe remembers Diderotâ€™s observation that it is easier for an enlightened people to return to barbarity than for a barbarous people to take a single step toward civilization. Violence has become Europeâ€™s most powerful taboo. Some observers even suggest that national anthems should no longer be played before soccer matches, to avoid arousing chauvinistic feelings. Yet how can one fail to see that soccer fields are substitutes for battlefields, or that scuffles among fansâ€”or even postgame riotsâ€”are preferable to the conflicts of infantry and tanks?
America, by contrast, displays its violence with a candor that forces us to indulge it, offering at times a savagery in the service of justice. What is fascinating in America for an older European is the nationâ€™s combination of violence and sentimentality, symbolized by those ambiguous American charactersâ€”the cowboy, the sheriff, and the vigilanteâ€”all on the brink of breaking away, of plunging everything into chaos in order to reorganize the law on juster lines. Order is never simply order in the United States, as it is in Europe; it always seems to be on the verge of disorder, of being carried away by uncontrollable violence.
Two dreams confront each other in our Western democracies. One, European, wants to eradicate human malice solely by means of dialogue, tolerance, and constant reminders of past horrors. The other, American, wants to put the darker powers of human nature in the service of social perfectibilityâ€”a creative barbarism, analogous to Greek catharsis. An angelism of niceness on the one hand; the channeling and sublimation of violence, on the other. Such is our predicament. We are urged to defend the law, civilization, and decency against savagery, while knowing perfectly well that we need savagery to awaken us. We want to defeat the barbarian and also preserve him, so as to preserve the energy he instills in us. He is both detestable and desirable.
[T]he Republican criminals in Wisconsin forced through their attack on workers’ rights. … At some point these acts of brazen viciousness are going to lead to a renewed philosophical interest in the question of when acts of political violence are morally justified, an issue that has, oddly, not been widely addressed in political philosophy since Locke. … [T]he attack [sic] on fundamental rights of collective bargaining, assuming they stand, are going to raise hard issues about civil disobedience and other forms of unlawful resistance on which philosophers might make a contribution. [emphasis added]
James Taranto, in the Wall Street Journal, was deservedly derisive about the intimidation value of the philosophical threat.
Having long viewed academia with a jaundiced eye, we’re inclined to view the Leiter post more with amusement than disgust. Just imagine if a Wisconsin businessman got a letter from a philosopher:
Please be informed that I have recently completed an article arguing that acts of political violence are morally justified when businessmen fail to support the dedicated public employees who serve our communities. As soon as the peer-review process is complete, I expect it to be published in the prestigious journal Terrorism & Political Violence.
Really strikes fear into you, doesn’t it? Leiter seems more like a character from Monty Python than “On the Waterfront.”
I humbly tug my academic forelock before Professor Leiter, whose greater brains and greater virtue Iâ€™ll cheerfully concede upfront. Still, the rapidity with which Professor Leiter reaches, however coyly or indirectly or teasingly or hintingly, to justifications, or thinking this suddenly would be a good moment for talking about justifications, for political violence did put me in mind of this news item from the Onion of several years ago.
In Retrospect, I Guess We Might Have Resorted To Cannibalism A Bit Early
I have no idea how long weâ€™d been marooned when we started edging toward Jerry. Twenty, thirty minutes, time has little meaning when youâ€™re in a situation like that. It wasnâ€™t a spoken decision, either. We just all looked at each other and knew something had to be done. …
I feel somewhat the same about Professor Leiterâ€™s call (purely in the philosophical abstract, you understand) to reconsider political violence â€” you know, this might be an appeal just a tad early in the saga of criminal and illegitimate and unjust oppression. I leave it to Professor Leiter to say definitively, but I wonder if Locke might not also agree.
Adam Freedman, at Ricochet, took Brian Leiter a bit more seriously.
[I]t is clear that Leiter thinks that Walker’s move to limit — not eliminate — collective bargaining rights for public employees is literally something that might justify, say, killing a bunch of Republicans. In an update to his blog, here’s how this philosopher-king explains his rationale:
“1. Collective bargaining is, per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a human right.
2. There are circumstances in which violations of human rights call for unlawful actions, including violence.”
And that’s it. Because the elected representatives of the People of Wisconsin want to pass a law that may conflict with some charter passed by a bunch of unelected UN windbags (but never enshrined in US law), Leiter wants blood.
On his return from the Very Important Conference on metaethics and legal philosophy which he had been attending, Professor Leiter rapidly retreated from the barricades, placing the bottle with a suspicious-looking rag at its mouth deep in his pocket, endeavored to look innocent, and explained in an update:
[I]t is quite natural for philosophers to ask (this is, after all, a blog aimed at philosophy teachers and students) whether the current circumstances–in which Wisconsin and other states are launching an attack on the human rights of organized workers–are ones in which unlawful resistance, violent or not, to the violation of human rights could be morally justified. Contrary to Professor Althouse’s invention of an answer, which she then attributes to me, I in fact do not know what the answer is to that question.
I do not advocate violence in Wisconsin. … I expect most philosophers are likely to conclude, even if they think Wisconsinâ€™s attack on collecting bargaining rights wrong, that violent civil disobedience would not be justified.