A lot of people have asked why shouldn’t we debate people like white nationalist Faith Goldy instead of shutting down their events? Don’t we care about free speech? Doesn’t shutting down their events make us as bad as them? Here’s an answer to all of these questions.
To start, we need to differentiate between disliking and opposing the far-right. A lot of people just dislike the far-right. They disagree with them, but are willing to tolerate them. Others oppose the far-right, fighting them intellectually and materially.
If you’re willing to tolerate the far-right, you have the privilege of assuming they won’t come after you. Other people don’t, and they’re the ones that matter in this conversation. Read Maclean’s columnist Andray Domise’s thread on this.
A lot of people who believe they oppose the far-right only do so in theory. In reality, they actually just dislike them, and tolerate them in practice. Here’s why.
If you seriously oppose the far-right, the question you need to ask yourself is, what is the best way to oppose them, and minimize the harm they can do in concrete, material terms?
A lot of people (like Maclean’s contributor and Canadaland’s “Oppo” podcast co-host Jen Gerson in a recent article, though she staunchly opposes this framing of her work) believe defeating the far-right in intellectual debates is the best way to oppose them.
They do so because they confuse “should” with “is.” They believe the best way to defeat the far-right “should” be with ideas, because that’s consistent with the liberal framework they view the world through, and their morals.
“Should” defeating the far-right with ideas be the ideal way to do so if it worked? Sure. Violence should never be fetishized, and it would be great if the world worked like a debate club at your stuffy university.
But “is” debating the best way (or even any way) to defeat the far-right? Absolutely not. Even a cursory glance at the last 80+ years tells you that.
How to defeat the far-right is not a new question. It is an old one. It is also one that has been answered. Over, and over again, all throughout the world, by all sorts of people.
So those who believe debating the far-right “is” the best way to defeat them either: 1) haven’t studied history, 2) have done so, but think things are different now, 3) have done so, but the methods of fighting the far-right make them uncomfortable enough not to care.
If the answer is 2, the onus is on you. Why will this time be any different? Are you willing to risk the lives of marginalized people on that belief? Remember, this is not about how it “should be, but how it “is.”
If the answer is 3, then you don’t oppose Nazis in any real way, beyond intellectually. This means you only dislike Nazis, and are willing to tolerate them as opposed to using effective means to fight them.
Of course, this doesn’t mean everyone is capable of using antifa tactics to fight Nazis. That’s fine. But the question then is, how do you view those who do use these tactics?
If you demonize them, you put your own moral comfort above fighting Nazis, meaning you only dislike Nazis, not oppose them. Not everyone has that “luxury.” Your morals aren’t more important than their lives.
If you do oppose Nazis on the street, or support those who do, then congrats. You’ve just joined a long tradition of heroes.
Some now ask, “Well, doesn’t this viewpoint move you outside liberalism?” The answer may be yes, but regardless, liberalism is wholly unequipped to deal with fascism.
Others ask if these tactics make you as bad as the far-right. This depends on if you see tactics as inherently bad, or if their morality depends on how, and for what, they are being used.
Liberals aren’t effective against fascism because they see means as more important than ends. They see politics as a gentleman’s sport. If you lose, at least you fought fair. When they go low, we go high.
In reality, politics is war for those whose lives depend on it. It’s not a game. The outcome should be prioritized over what it took to get there.
So, does using antifa tactics make you similar to the far-right? If so, only in the shallowest sense. But in reality, of course not.
Using effective tactics to stomp out forces that call for genocide doesn’t make you “as bad” as them, it just means you’re willing to do what it takes to oppose them.
If you aren’t willing to use these tactics, or support those who do, you only dislike the far-right at best, or even end up enabling them by demonizing those who use effective tactics to fight them.
The focus should be on these people. Why aren’t they willing to do what it takes to fight the far-right? Why do they put their comfort over other’s lives? Why do they tolerate the far-right?
To end, Domise sums it up well:
*This article is a slightly modified compilation of one of my tweet threads.