I’m a big fan of Warren Ellis’ comic books. Transmetropolitan made me appreciate comics again. As well as journalism. And Hunter S. Thompson as a writer. And it did definitely influence my approach to reporting 1.
So I usually enjoy his newsletter. The recent one had the following lines, which infuriated me (which is a good thing, having news that get you out of your comfort zone. Though maybe I get too much of that these days).
Sorry for quoting all of them, but seems fair not to take anything out of context:
I understand there’s been some confusion online as to whether it’s ever right to punch a Nazi in the face. There is a compelling argument that all speech is equal and we should trust to the discourse to reveal these ideas for what they are and confidently expect them to be denounced and crushed out by the mechanisms of democracy and freedom.
All I can tell you is, from my perspective as an old English socialist and cultural liberal who is probably way to the woolly left from most of you and actually has a medal for services to free speech — yes, it is always correct to punch Nazis. They lost the right to not be punched in the face when they started spouting genocidal ideologies that in living memory killed millions upon millions of people. And anyone who stands up and respectfully applauds their perfect right to say these things should probably also be punched, because they are clearly surplus to human requirements. Nazis do not need a hug. Nazis do not need to be indulged. Their world doesn’t get better until you’ve been removed from it. Your false equivalences mean nothing. Their agenda is always, always, extermination. Nazis need a punch in the face.
Now personally, I enjoy permission to punch people in the face. I never thought I needed it, but now that I have it, I admit it feels better that way. And if a free speech activist with an actual medal for services to such tells me, even more so: I could say I am happy as clam. A murderous clam on steroids that’s reportedly quite good at punching people. Dirk Anger doesn’t have anything on me.
I just wonder whether I need to stop at just punching nazis? I am pretty sure I get to punch Stalinists, too. And Maoists. Killed a wee bit more, those two, and for a similar agenda of exterminating everyone with an opposing view. It would be simply wrong not to be allowed to punch them, too. That one should not even be up for debate.
Now for practical reasons I won’t find any actual Nazis to punch, since they are nearly all dead (the 3rd Reich ended 70 years ago and even my one remaining grandmother was only 18 at the end of it) and the few ones alive don’t spout any nazi propaganda. Best case, they shout at young people to get off their porches or -average case- nurses to switch the TV channel. Stalinists and Maoist might be a tad bit younger, but not much.
So there’s not much potential punching-bag padding to be procured there. I assume what Warren said does therefore apply to neo-nazis, too, otherwise there’d be no point to waste two paragraphs on that. It follows that the same applies to modern Stalin admirers. In case you have no contact with the former Soviet republics, Stalin is still quite admired there. That’s what we call wide target selection. Another thing I am fond of. 2
Maybe I am just to hung up on words though, and maybe the distinction I made between neo-nazis and nazis is utterly unnecessary. So this might be about punching everyone with national socialist views. And in parallel extension not just Stalinists, but communists. Who, if we are precise in our terms, are classist socialists (nazis tried to build socialism based on nationality, hence the name; communists based their socialism on class. No one ever said there’s only one way to be stupid.). Even if I hate to limit my options, I have to ask where does this end?
So, Warren, remind me, where do self-identified “old English socialists” stand in that regard? Can we go for a little slap there at least? I will try not to hit too hard. Though I have to warn you, I might pick up a little too much speed on that slippery slope you put me on.
Okay, seriously: I know that this is all wrong. An old curmudgeon spouting something about punching people in the face is endearing 3, it is not an incitement to violence 4. And if someone allegedly honoured for free speech activism says something that is blatantly obviously the opposite of free speech activism, we’ll not take away his medal or punch him in the face, we’ll just ignore him until he regains his wits, even if he called us “surplus to human requirements”. That guy even gets bonus points for rattling his medals.
Meanwhile, we will continue to let neo-nazis speak like all other people. Because, as a great German Landtagspräsident once pointed out, the best recipe against idiots is to let them speak and convince the world of it. 5
And if you believe that people cannot make the right decision for themselves after hearing neo-nazis speak, this seems to confirm my opinion that all flavours of socialists are totalitarians at heart.