I have devoted a fair amount of space on this blog to studying the recent frightening progressive embrace of political violence—the growing drumbeat, sounded tacitly by liberal politicians and quite openly by liberal commentators and voters, to violently assault people with whom they disagree. Under other circumstances—if this zeitgeist were the province of just a few loser nobody leftists with no influence whatsoever—I would not be given to writing about it so frequently. But these are not loser nobodies; the phenomenon is being touted and encouraged and championed by visible, famous, influential people from high up in American political and cultural society. This is, to say the least, deeply concerning.
As we saw earlier this month, the political violence trend has spread from its original target—neo-Nazis and white supremacists—to people who have openly denounced neo-Nazism and white supremacy but who nevertheless happened to piss off progressives in the wrong way. This brutal mission creep is inevitable, of course. But even I have been surprised at how quickly it has spread—even, seemingly, across the pond:
In England, whose cultural politics often echo our own, the “self-defense against fascism” excuse was used the other day to justify the beating of a 60-year-old feminist. The disturbing incident, also caught on video, took place in London’s Hyde Park as a few dozen women waited to find out the location of a controversial debate between transgender activists and “gender-critical feminists” who believe biological sex determines who is a woman. (The location had been kept secret due to concerns about violence.) The victim, who was filming arguments between the would-be attendees and protesters, was set upon by four people, hit in the face, and thrown to the ground; the attackers also smashed her camera phone and destroyed the memory card.
Despite the shocking video, some activists were unapologetic. “Violence against TERFs is always self-defense,” said a tweet from the Edinburgh chapter of Action for Trans Health, using the derogatory acronym for “trans-exclusionary radical feminists…”
The whole “self-defense” argument, upon which this violent zeitgeist mostly rests, is an interesting and terrifying one, chiefly because it seeks to justify violence not against a threat in the present moment but against a threat that theoretically might happen at some future point. There is, of course, no limiting principle to constrain such a dimwitted philosophical belief—I, for one, firmly believe that pro-abortion politics inevitably degrade our society’s valuation of all human life (all of it, not just the unborn), so presumably it would be justified of me to beat up a pro-choice protestor on the grounds that her activism might endanger my life in the future. Am I doing this right? Yes? No?
The absence of such a limiting principle need not be postulated, of course—we can see it in the incident above. The victim claims that she was doing nothing more than filming a political protest, which is perfectly plausible: in Richmond, Virginia, a reporter was assaulted by antifa for doing the exact same thing. In any event, the most notable aspect of this affair is the response from a transgender activist group: “Violence against TERFs is always self -defense.” Always! How wonderfully final, how preemptively justificatory. Apparently if a woman believes that being born a woman makes a woman a woman, it is perfectly okay to beat her face and destroy her property. Good to know.
It is probably the case that, by-and-large, your average progressive is not supportive of this type of political violence. But at a certain point that’s immaterial. A small-enough minority of violent individuals—particularly if they have the blessings of high-status political and cultural elites, as the violent liberals in these cases invariably do, and especially if the wider body politic is mostly unwilling to call them out on it, as liberals largely seem unwilling to do—can inflict enough damage on its own. What matters is that, if you’re a “trans exclusionary radical feminist,” for instance, then you might just think twice about opening your mouth in public from now on—and maybe in the end you decide to keep it shut, just in case. That’s the point. With liberal violence seemingly on the rise, and most progressives apparently willing to look the other way on the issue, it’s not hard to imagine more and more people keeping their mouths shut for fear of being beaten to the ground. Hey, take heart: when they’re mashing your face to the concrete and stomping on your cell phone and beating you about the head, you can be comforted knowing that it’s all done in “self-defense.”