Free Speech and Punching Politics


Many Americans, and not only those on the left, were rightfully outraged in August by the sight of hundreds of torch-bearing “white nationalists”—i.e., white supremacists, explicit racists and fascists, the KKK, and Stormfront—marching through the streets of Charlottesville to protest the removal of a monument to a warrior “hero” of the slave system of the Confederacy. And hundreds of counter-demonstrators, from various political and religious tendencies, were on the scene to make that outrage known.

The melee that resulted, which ended in the killing of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, brought to a boil the debate about free speech and aggressive physical violence that has been percolating among various corners of what’s called “the left” in this country since the sucker punch of Richard Spencer during his on-the-street TV interview in January.

The question is: In our country today, is it acceptable, even necessary, to deny right-wing, characterizable-as-“fascist,” political opponents the right to express their views in public, with whatever means necessary, whether that be legal censorship or preemptive physical force?

There is now a significant cohort of people—40% of millennials, according to Pew Research—who answer that question “Yes.”

Of course, some of those answering “Yes” would qualify that they only endorse legal and non-violent means of restricting objectionable political “hate speech.” But, especially since Charlottesville, the…

Read more