Friday, August 18, 2017

On Naming Nazis

Yesterday, Pacific Standard published a piece of mine on Naming Nazis. Please read and share!

One general theme I'm noting a lot in the Trump era is a question of how we defend our principles. I wrote:
Over the last few days, I've been struck by the ways in which the debate over naming Nazis mirrors other arguments about the limitations of abstract principles. Should Milo Yiannopoulos be allowed to speak on college campuses if his goal is to incite harassment against transgender or undocumented students? Should the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia fight for the rights of Nazis when the Nazis' goal is to move from public speech (clearly protected) to mob violence and even murder (clearly not)? How do we respond in a moment when the norms that allow us a pretense of civil society are being so thoroughly disregarded? Trump, Richard Spencer, Yiannopoulos, and so many others have learned that they can hack our norms in order to spread their agenda, while never being held accountable to the norms themselves. It's an old play. Fascists always want to defend freedom of expression right up to the moment when they can throw you in jail for speaking against them.
When we take a principle and defend it on an abstract or absolute level, that usually means (if one is honest) accepting that other principles, and likely other people, will suffer. The men with guns outside a Synagogue demonstrate the tensions between the first and second amendments, for example. A pacifist recently talked to me about how his absolute pacifism means accepting that people might get harmed. He accepts it as a consequence of his belief.

Which is really what I want. I want people to think about the implications of absolute commitment to abstract principles in a moment when fascists are trying to hack those principles to cause harm.

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