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Nazi punching. Repressive tolerance vs liberating tolerance. Hi Marcuse

Can we please stop those dumb Nazi-punching memes? Yes, neo-Nazi Richard Spencer got punched and ran away. Suddenly there were oh-so-clever woke memes about how if you want to punch a Nazi, be sure to keep your wrist straight. There are two important things to consider here. 1) If you need to be told to keep your wrist straight while punching, you have no clue what a real fight is about. 2) Spencer apparently had never been in a serious fight. There are some neo-Nazis who if punched like that are quite capable of putting their attacker in the hospital, who then might be arrested for assault.

So, let’s stop the mock heroics. If you want to street-fight Nazis, have at it. However please don’t delude yourself into thinking if you do, maybe a Nazi might get punched in the nose, won’t that be grand, and then you go home. More likely, people will get hurt and that person might be you.

Whether it’s punching Spencer, trashing things at Berkeley when Milo was there, or the recent assault on a faculty member when “Bell Curve” author Charles Murray spoke at Middlebury, Bloomberg columnist Stephen Carter points how, whether they are aware or it or not, these protesters are following what leftist philosopher Herbert Marcuse said about repressive tolerance vs liberating tolerance.

Basically, Marcuse says protesters on the Left showing tolerance to all reinforces the power of the state and the Right. Thus, tolerance should only be shown to the Left, not the Right, even if what you are doing is undemocratic. Seems like this view, taken far enough could end in fanaticism, purges, and of course the Dictatorship of the Proletariat which is somehow supposed to liberate as it represses.

Yes, evil needs to be fought against! However I’m pretty sure attacking an old man at Middlebury, no matter how noxious his views, is a brain-dead tactic. In the 1960’s the Weather Underground planted bombs in carefully chosen government locations. They explained in detail why the sites were chosen. No one was ever hurt in these bombings. If they meant to send a message, it backfired. Most people thought they were fucking crazy and the Right capitalized on this. Our tactics can certainly be militant. They also need to be effective. Standing outside with signs at Berkeley or Middlebury, if done right, could have drawn plenty of positive media attention.

For Marcuse, the fact that liberal democracies made tolerance an absolute virtue posed a problem. If society includes two groups, one powerful and one weak, then tolerating the ideas of both will mean that the voice and influence of the strong will always be greater. To treat the arguments of both sides with equal respect “mainly serves the protection and preservation of a repressive society.” That is why, for Marcuse, tolerance is antithetical to genuine democracy and thus “repressive.”

He proposes that we practice what he calls a “liberating” or “discriminating” tolerance. He is quite clear about what he means: “tolerance against movements from the Right, and tolerance of movements from the Left.” Otherwise the majority, even if deluded by false consciousness, will always beat back efforts at necessary change. The only way to build a “subversive majority,” he writes, is to refuse to give ear to those on the wrong side. The wrong is specified only in part, but Marcuse has in mind particularly capitalism and inequality.

Opening the minds of the majority by pressing one message and burdening another “may require apparently undemocratic means.” But the forces of power are so entrenched that to do otherwise — to tolerate the intolerable — is to leave authority in the hands of those who will deny equality to the workers and to minorities. That is why tolerance, unless it discriminates, will always be repressive.