There has been much talk over recent weeks about the potential threats to our tolerant society and concern about the possible threats from growing fascist groups. However, much of this has been both wrong and counter-productive.
It has been wrong as there has been no real growth in neo-nazi numbers, no true rise in racist beliefs and generally we are a more mixed society which doesn’t have real concerns that its people come from any various backgrounds. Our past history, often dreadful on account of its racist biases and bigoted attitudes, has not been undone but there has been general steady progress. What modern society considers appropriate and acceptable behaviour now is greatly different to a generation ago. To imagine that a few dregs, washed out from under stones, indicates we are heading back to the 30’s is puerile and wrong. It is also counter-productive for the simple reason that it magnifies the effect that this small group of odious people. They have made a mark much bigger than they could ever have hoped for on their own, and this is largely due to the work of the, so called, “Antifa“.
But Antifa have not just acted as the publicists for these loathsome groups they have also advanced the very cause that they purport to oppose. The best way to counter odious ideas is to demonstrate that they are wrong, to make those undecided aware that those ideas are erroneous and to make the convinced aware that most people do not share their opinion and find them despicable. The chubby young man below now knows this and also knows he is a figure of ridicule. The likelihood of him being a successful recruiting agent for his views have been destroyed by the expression of counter opinion.
In the UK it is arguable that the thing which stopped the National Front (a local extreme right racist and fascist party) which had been gaining popularity in elections (local and national) was the appearance of their leader, Nick Griffin, on the BBC’s “Question Time“. When he, and his party, were exposed to scrutiny and tackled in debate their bubble burst and they faded away from significance in UK politics. Defending and promoting free speech is the best safeguard against fascism.
Karl Popper, in “The Open Society and Its Enemies“ was aware of the “paradox of tolerance“. He knew that” We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant” recognising the great dangers that can sometimes exist in a tolerant society :-
Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant
He was clearly aware that there were lines that could not be crossed in a tolerant society if we wished to keep it tolerant. That line was the refusal or denouncing of argument – the blockage of free speech – and the use of violence (fists or pistols) to answer arguments. Antifa’s actions cross these lines, they do not permit other groups to state their ideas and use violence to suppress their expression, they strike at the core of our tolerant society. They also do this so inexpertly that they give ammunition and succour to the enemies of the open society. When Antifa attacks groups simply because they are on the right, not because they are fascist (as happened in Boston for example), they give strength to their enemies who can claim moral superiority and they also alienate their natural supporters (such as Noam Chomsky ).
These activists really should think about their actions. If you find yourself dressed in a black-shirt, in a militaristic gang, waving banners, and making threats of violence in order to intimidate your political opponents and silence their arguments then you are not part of the solution – you are the problem, the fascist is staring back at you from the mirror.