Politics & Policy

The Alt-Right Is Bad — And So Is ‘Antifa’

Since when is being less bad than the Klan a major moral accomplishment?

Fighting Nazis is a good thing, but fighting Nazis doesn’t necessarily make you or your cause good. By my lights this is simply an obvious fact.

The greatest Nazi-killer of the 20th century was Josef Stalin. He also killed millions of his own people and terrorized, oppressed, enslaved, or brutalized tens of millions more. The fact that he killed Nazis during the Second World War (out of self-preservation, not principle) doesn’t dilute his evil one bit.

This should settle the issue as far as I’m concerned. Nazism was evil. Soviet Communism was evil. It’s fine to believe that Nazism was more evil than Communism. That doesn’t make Communism good.

Alas, it doesn’t settle the issue. Confusion on this point poisoned politics in America and abroad for generations.

Part of the problem is psychological. There’s a natural tendency to think that when people, or movements, hate each other, it must be because they’re opposites. This assumption overlooks the fact that many — indeed, most — of the great conflicts and hatreds in human history are derived from what Sigmund Freud called the “narcissism of minor differences.”

Most tribal hatreds are between very similar groups. The European wars of religion were between peoples who often shared the same language and culture but differed on the correct way to practice the Christian faith. The Sunni–Shia split in the Muslim world is the source of great animosity between very similar peoples.

The young Communists and fascists fighting for power in the streets of 1920s Germany had far more in common with each other than they had with decent liberals or conservatives, as we understand those terms today. That’s always true of violent radicals and would-be totalitarians.

The second part of the problem wasn’t innocent confusion, but sinister propaganda. As Hitler solidified power and effectively outlawed the Communist Party of Germany, The Communist International (Comintern) abandoned its position that socialist and progressive groups that were disloyal to Moscow were “fascist” and instead encouraged Communists everywhere to build “popular fronts” against the common enemy of Nazism.

These alliances of convenience with social democrats and other progressives were a great propaganda victory for Communists around the world because they bolstered the myth that Communists were just members of the Left coalition in the fight against Hitler, bigotry, fascism, etc.

This obscured the fact that whenever the Communists had a chance to seize power, they did so. And often, the first people they killed, jailed, or exiled were their former allies. That’s what happened in Eastern Europe, Cuba and other places where Communists succeeded in taking over the government.

Because antifa suddenly has the (alt-)right enemies, they must be the good guys. They’re not.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this seemingly ancient history is relevant today because of the depressingly idiotic argument about whether it’s okay to equate “antifa” — anti-fascist left-wing radicals — with the neo-Nazi and white-supremacist rabble that recently descended on Charlottesville, Va. The president wants to claim that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the protest and that the anti-fascist radicals are equally blameworthy. He borrowed from Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity the bogus term “alt-left” to describe the antifa radicals.

The term is bogus for the simple reason that, unlike the alt-right, nobody calls themselves “the alt-left.” And that’s too bad. One of the only nice things about the alt-right is that its leaders are honest about the fact that they want nothing to do with traditional American conservatism. Like the original Nazis, they seek to replace the traditional Right with their racial hogwash.

The antifa crowd has a very similar agenda with regard to traditional American liberalism. These goons and thugs oppose free speech, celebrate violence, despise dissent, and have little use for anything else in the American political tradition. But many liberals, particularly in the media, are victims of the same kind of confusion that vexed so much of American liberalism in the 20th century. Because antifa suddenly has the (alt-)right enemies, they must be the good guys. They’re not.

And that’s why this debate is so toxically stupid. Fine, antifa isn’t as bad as the KKK. Who cares? Since when is being less bad than the Klan a major moral accomplishment?

In these tribal times, the impulse to support anyone who shares your enemies is powerful. But it is a morally stunted reflex. This is America. You’re free to denounce totalitarians wherever you find them — even if they might hate the right people.

READ MORE:

The Fascists Were Using Antifa against Conservatives

What Identity Politics Hath Wrought

Rebuilding the Public Square after Charlottesville

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

Most Popular

World

Trump’s Disgraceful Press Conference in Helsinki

On Monday, President Trump gave a deeply disgraceful press conference with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. The presser began with Trump announcing that although the Russia–U.S. relationship has “never been worse than it is now,” all of that “changed as of about four hours ago.” It was downhill from ... Read More
Culture

Questions for Al Franken

1)Al, as you were posting on social media a list of proposed questions for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, did it occur to you that your opinion on the matter is no more relevant than Harvey Weinstein’s? 2) Al, is it appropriate for a disgraced former U.S. senator to use the Twitter cognomen “U.S. ... Read More
White House

The President’s Do-Over

I agree with Jonah on all counts: On net, President Trump’s do-over of his Helsinki remarks is a good thing; regrettably, it is not sincere; and while I hope the revised version is the one he sticks to, I don’t have confidence that will be the case -- as posited in my column Tuesday on the folly of having the ... Read More
National Security & Defense

Trump’s Helsinki Discord

Donald Trump is not, and never will be, the Moscow correspondent for The Nation magazine, and he shouldn’t sound like it. The left-wing publication is prone to extend sympathetic understanding to adversaries of the United States and find some reason, any reason, to blame ourselves for their external ... Read More