America can survive crappy ideas.
America can survive nasty statues.
America can’t survive normalization of political violence.
That should be the takeaway over the last two weeks. The latest round of racial and political recriminations began with a horrifying alt-right white-supremacist torchlight rally around the base of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Virginia, developed into a street brawl between white supremacists and antifa thugs, and culminated in one of the white supremacists ramming his car into a crowd of innocent counter-protesters. President Trump exacerbated tensions by failing to clearly condemn the white supremacists, then condemned them, then seemed to un-condemn some of them by stating that there were some “very fine people” marching with them.
And then it escalated. Over the past two weeks, we’ve seen antifa attacking police officers in Boston and Dallas, vandals breaking a Christopher Columbus statue and tearing down Confederate monuments, and one man attempting to bomb a Confederate statue in Houston.
Meanwhile, members of the mainstream Left have excused violence in the name of “anti-fascism.” Chris Cuomo of CNN, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, Hillary Clinton spokesperson Brian Fallon — all of them compared antifa thugs in Charlottesville to World War II Allied soldiers invading beaches at Normandy. In the pages of the Washington Post, historian Mark Bray of Dartmouth University gushed over antifa’s “willingness to physically defend themselves and others from white supremacist violence” Professor N. D. B. Connolly of Johns Hopkins University called for Americans to “start throwing rocks” at white supremacists.
So, what’s scarier: a thousand pasty and pathetic would-be tough guys marching around in the middle of the night shouting, “Jews will not replace us,” then weeping openly when arrest warrants are issued for violence, or the mainstream Left embracing violence in the streets? Some college-age dweeb goose-stepping around with a flag created 50 years before his birth, or somebody punching that guy, to the cheers of the media?
Words can be awful; ideologies can be evil. But violence breaks a society in half. The Nazis could never have risen without the specter of violent Reds on the loose to fight against. The Confederacy could never have gained steam so quickly without the abolitionist vigilantism of John Brown. Violence — even in the name of wiping away evil ideologies — tends to breed more violence, unless it is a legitimate last resort.
What’s more, the initiator of violence in the streets tends to offend the sensibilities of those who oppose violence in a civilized society. He thereby creates sympathy for those who defend themselves — even if those who defend themselves are disgusting cretins. That’s because most people in a civilized society agree with Max Weber’s essential dictum that the state’s existence rests on its monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force. Whoever violates that covenant destroys the state.
The Founders believed this, too. They were revolutionaries who had used violence in order to cut their ties with a state; they knew the dangers of violence. One of the earliest tests for the new republic came in 1786, when Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays led a rebellion against the federal government. Constitutional representatives responded to Shays’ Rebellion by strengthening the federal government; as George Washington wrote:
Precedents are dangerous things; let the reins of government then be braced and held with a steady hand, and every violation of the Constitution be reprehended: if defective, let it be amended, but not suffered to be trampled upon whilst it has an existence.
Any attempt to undermine our republic through reliance on political violence is nothing more than terrorism.
We still live in a republic. Any attempt to undermine that republic through reliance on political violence is nothing more than terrorism, and the mainstream Left’s willingness to associate with that terrorism draws us closer to conflict. Yes, Nazis should be vigorously opposed — with words. If they break the law, the police should arrest them. But if we begin to legitimize political violence, where will the Left draw its lines? Antifa believes that all of its enemies are fascists, from actual white supremacists to normal Republican marchers in Portland, Ore. We’ve already seen the Left shrug off political violence in Boston at a rally labeled white supremacist — even though the rally organizers explicitly denounced white supremacism publicly. How far will the Left go to wink at violence?
And if the Left winks at violence, how long until the Right responds in kind?
In 1964, Malcolm X stated that it was incumbent on black victims of racism to use the ballot. The choice, he stated, was “either a ballot or a bullet.” We’re now 50 years beyond the Civil Rights Act of that year. Ballots have proved effective means of change in a constitutional republic; never have the number of Nazis and white supremacists in America been so small. They will continue to shrink quietly into the hellish ether whence they came. But not if they’re brought back from the brink of death into vicious life by violent opposition that destroys the social compact in search of monsters to slay.