In the aftermath of the brou-ha-ha in Charlottesville, Donald Trump gave three reactions. First, he condemned all sides for the violence. But, he was met with such a screech of reaction from the main-stream media for his “moral equivalence,” that in his second go around, he pretty much, although not exactly, singled out the alt-right for special condemnation. But in his third time at bat, he reversed field (sorry for mingling football and baseball metaphors, I just couldn’t help myself) and again returned to a more even-handed stance, censuring both sides and all “extremists.”
What are we to make of this to-ing and fro-ing? Before we step into this land-mine, we must clear away a bit of brush. There are really two issues here; they are very different, but they have often been conflated. On the one hand is the question of Who is primarily responsible for the violence that ensued? On the other hand is the issue of which side deserves more moral condemnation, the alt-right or the alt-left. We can answer the former purely as social scientists; the latter, as libertarians.
I. Responsibility for violence?
So, which side is most blameworthy for the fighting? That is an easy one: it is the alt-left. Proof? Once upon a time, a long time ago (1977) there was a neo-Nazi march in Skokie, IL. That town was comprised to a large extent not only by people of the Jewish faith, but many who had personally experienced the horrors of the Holocaust. Was there any violence on that occasion? To ask this is to answer it: there was not. Why not? Because in them thar far away days, the alt-left had not yet begun their pattern of intimidation of the sort suffered by Charles Murray, Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos and other conservatives and libertarians. And not only them. The “antifa” has made a habit of protesting, with the use of violence, pretty much any and all verbal or other manifestations with which they disagree. Had the alt-left stayed away from Charlottesville totally and completely on the day of that march, the almost certain presumption is that there would not have been any violence committed, not any more, in any case, than occurred in Skokie in the long ago 20th century. The unwarranted and horrid death of Heather Heyer could have been prevented. This is not to excuse her cold-blooded murderer, but this young woman would not have perished did she not attempt to interfere with the free speech rights of others. Further, those two policemen who died in a helicopter accident would still be alive. As well, some dozens of other protesters would not have been hospitalized. Here is another bit of contrary to fact hypothetical history: if the neo-Nazis had been unarmed, and thus at the mercy of their ideological enemies, some of them, many of them, would have been hospitalized, if not killed. Peter Brimelow wrote “There will be blood” on VDARE (the link is no longer available thanks to the banning of this periodical’s output) warning that violence of the left would be met by counter violence on the right. In the event, no truer words were ever written.
Before considering which side deserves more moral condemnation, let us tip our hat to the ACLU. They were instrumental in protecting the rights of the neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, 40 long years ago, and courageously stuck to their guns in behalf of this group in Charlottesville this year. Free speech rights, they correctly assert, belong to all, no matter how odious or obnoxious the message. And, I might add there are few more odious or obnoxious messages emanating from any other group other than the neo Nazis, the KKK, et al.
II. Moral condemnation
The heroes of the neo Nazis are of course the National Socialists. Those of the anti-fa are the Communists, or the International Socialists. When the Communists and the Nazis are at odds with one another, how is the libertarian to react? One possibility is to support both groups, in the hope that they will each reduce the power of the other, and thereby their own. Both are 180 degrees removed from the freedom philosophy. However, if finer distinctions are called for, we note that the Communists murdered far more innocent people than did the Nazis: Mao: some 60 million, Stalin, roughly 20 million, Pol Pot, about 3 million; Hitler, only an estimated 11 million. So, if we absolutely had to pick and choose (no such choice is incumbent upon us) the nod goes to the, gulp!, Nazis. Then, too, the Communists had a far more all-encompassing theory than their fellow socialist counterparts. As long as you were not a Jew, or a black, or gay, or Romany, and did not oppose them, the Nazis would leave you more or less in peace. The same cannot be said for the Communists. So, I agree with the critics of Mr. Trump for his so called “moral equivalence.” For the libertarian, the case for moral equivalence is weak. The left is to be more bitterly opposed than is the right.
Libertarians, of course, are neither of the right nor the left. We are unique. We maintain that the initiation of violence from whatever source, with no exceptions, is unlawful, uncivilized. Apart from the numbers of innocents murdered, see above, we take equal exception to the right wing National Socialists and to the left wing International Socialists. As to the alt-left and the alt-right, pale carbon copies of both, we abjure both. Equally. We libertarians simply have no dog in this fight between the two of them.
What of the cry of some of the Charlottesville marchers: “The Jews will not replace us!” I am Jewish. I am a non-practicing Jew, but, for all of that, when and if, horrors!, the Nazis make a resurgence, here or anywhere else on the planet, I, and my family, presumably, will be on their list. Naturally, then, purely out of self-interest, I cannot help bearing a special animosity toward this group. I may be a member of the vermin, but I am a proud vermin. (For an alternative view of this phrase, “The Jews will not replace us!,” see here.)
And yet, and yet. I cannot help but note that most of my fellow co-religionists are socialists (of the international not the national variety). With the honorable exception of such eminent Jews as Ludwig von Mises, Murray N. Rothbard, Milton Friedman and but a paltry few score others (Chassidim by and large are another exception) members of this community overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party. They are disproportionately overrepresented among Hollywood, the mainstream media, and other institutions intent on undermining the “deplorables.” This is not to excuse their anti-Jewish animosity, but if we cannot even understand them, we are far less able to deal with them.