Political Violence: This is how you get Hitler, Stalin, etc…
I’ve become concerned as of late by reading the statements of people on the political left condoning political violence against their ideological enemies. I’m resigned to the fact that every political spectrum has its crazies who think it is OK to kill and destroy. They are few and far between enough that I don’t encounter them in day to day life and there is not much I can do about them. When they show up and create mayhem, we try and shut them down, lock them up, and sometimes kill them. When someone uses violence against you, violence in return is a reasonable action, sometimes the best action.
But when I see people who are normally not crazy radicals start to support the actions of those who are, then I start to get worried. And when it is people I know calling for bloodshed, then I feel I have to do something about it, to speak out and tell them it is not right. I have to tell them that what they advocate is both wrong, and ineffective and that I will stand up and speak against it even though we are on the same side in opposing bigotry.
They say they oppose fascism, as personified by Nazis and their many horrors. A police state that used violence as its primary political weapon. Not only did they wield it ruthlessly and powerfully, they used violence on the other side as a justification for its use. To the Nazis, there was no reasoning with the nations that were starving them to death. There was no negotiating with the Jews. There was no bargaining with the Communists. Those groups were all set and determined to put the screws to the good German people. The only answer was to destroy them.
Here is something you don’t see people talk about much with the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. At the same time, there was a rise in Communist agitation to take over the German government. You also had monarchists yearning for the old authoritarian Germany. The Nazi Brownshirts were famously using violence to intimidate and challenge political rivals, and the Communists had Redshirts to do the same. The two groups often clashed in the streets, radicals from both sides engaging in violent political conflict and creating an environment of political chaos with little regard for law, order, or civility. This gave a yearning for someone with the strength to create order and end the fighting as well as to turn around the dismal economic situation.
Both sides point to the other and say, “you can’t stand by while they try to take over!” And indeed people in the middle will pick one side or the other, either out of sympathy or fear. And the end result is that politics becomes violence. Voting gives way to shooting as a means to settle arguments and whomever has the most guns wins. With voting, there is always time to change your mind if you made a mistake. In shooting, there is only one opportunity to win, and when the argument is over, it’s over until someone from the outside comes in with more guns or the political conviction dies with the dictators.
You can read a nice outline of political events leading to Hitler from a Dublin history professor here: http://www.historyhome.co.uk/europe/weimar.htm
When I tell people I oppose punching Nazis or other violent protests they tell me that the Nazis were not defeated with kind words. And while that is true, they were also not defeated by civic political violence either and they had plenty of that. In fact, that is exactly the political environment in which they came to power. One in which the far right and far left both took to violence in a political battle for who could better solve the nation’s ills while the public abandoned the political middle and the democratic institutions designed to protect the peace. Some will say the Nazi’s were elected, and some of them were, but they actually came into power when their numbers were on the decline and their rivals, the communists were becoming more popular. Out of fear, those in the middle betrayed their democratic values, suspended the government, and put Hitler in charge hoping he would restore order to the chaos with his promise of a strong hand. Just how strong they failed to anticipate.
Of course, things can go the other way. Communists and socialists took power in Russia and China, in both cases through violent revolution and opposed every step of the way by whatever state powers opposed them. And in their violent rise to power, they also decided to institute brutal regimes bent on total political control and aggression towards their neighbors, though China somewhat less brutal and aggressive. Their justifications for action were based on the brutality and elitism of those governments they fought against. Whatever their goals, their means of achieving them resulted on only in bloody wars, but in the subsequent extermination of their political enemies and in many cases targeted starvation as a result of economic upheaval and restructuring.
The recipe for an authoritarian regime
- A perceived or real crisis that makes people lose faith in the existing government
- The rise of political parties that think any means, especially violence, is an acceptable way to create political change
- A move by those in the middle to support one of the extremes against the other that places the instigators of violence in charge of the new state
Here is my recipe for avoiding one
- Do not give in to fear or doomsday thinking. Focus on what is good in this country. We have a lot of it. We are not in some kind of terrible crisis.
- Do not support any group that resorts to violence as a political tool. Consistently oppose the use of violence in politics or social engagement.
- Refuse to embrace extreme ideologies and always seek a middle ground. Look to build bridges with people across the divide. Find common ground and focus on it.
- Have faith and embrace our democratic traditions of government. Use the ballot box and social influence to sway opinion and create change. Do not support anyone looking to undermine these institutions.