For the mainline liberals and conservatives who lament the punching of Richard Spencer, the young white supremacist activist who coined the term “alt-right,” Nazism remains a theoretical construct, an “idea” that can be debated and defeated without a shot being fired in anger. For the rest of us — for many Jews, for ethnic and religious minorities, for queer people — Nazism is an empirical fact with the solidity of iron roads leading to walled death camps.
The camps are Nazism’s endpoint; it is what Nazism is for. Nazism serves as a refuge for whites dislocated by mass society and modernity, who seek someone to blame for their anomic dread. With that in mind, we must be very explicit about what Nazism’s relationship to democracy must be, and refuse dangerous, whitewashing euphemisms when discussing it (e.g. “you support punching someone who disagrees with you”).
Such generalizing language is intellectually lazy at the best of times; here it is outright deadly. Yes, it could be said that I “disagree” with Spencer that a genocide of Black Americans is desirable, but I believe he should be punched because of the very real risk that he could galvanize such an event into actually happening. This is a fear supported by the tremendous weight of our history, and by the fact that we had to fight the bloodiest war of our species’ existence the last time Nazism came into conflict with modern democracy. To call this a “disagreement” is an unspeakable slight against millions of dead.
[…] Fascism is a cancer that turns democracy against itself unto death. There is no reasoning with it. It was specifically engineered to attack the weaknesses of democracy and use them to bring down the entire system, arrogating a right to free speech for itself just long enough to take power and wrench it away from everyone else. Simply allowing Nazis onto a stage, as the BBC did when it let British National Party leader Nick Griffin sit and debate with political luminaries on its Question Time program, is to give them an invaluable moral victory. Like creationists who debate evolutionary biologists, the former benefit mightily from the prestige of the latter.
In using this tactic, Nazis abuse the democratic forum to illegitimately lend credence to something that is otherwise indefensible, the equality of the stage giving the unforgivable appearance of “two sides” to a position that is anathema to public decency. This is not because Nazis love democracy or free speech, but because they know how to use this strategy to unravel them.
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