Here’s a good Vox explainer from Zack Beauchamp on the Proud Boys/Antifa/Andy Ngo incident.
For all his judiciousness, Beauchamp is still a little too willing to buy into the “violence in anything other than immediate self-defense is always wrong” line of thought.
This kind of argument — that “violence is always wrong” — is pushed by people who, intentionally or not, are obscuring the fact that any modern society requires enormous amounts of violence to be deployed in order to maintain itself. That fact itself is obscured by the simple device of defining state violence as something else, typically described as the maintenance of “law and order.”
This isn’t an argument against state violence per se, but simply a recognition that violence doesn’t become something else just because it’s legitimated by the state. (Max Weber famously and correctly defined the modern state as that entity which defines itself as the social institution that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence).
The practical upshot of this is that, once you’ve acknowledged the necessity/legitimacy of state violence, as anybody who isn’t a radical anarchist must, then questions of when non-state violence can be justified become a lot trickier, because the statement “violence is always wrong” is now by definition obviously false.
All this may seem far afield from Andy Ngo getting beat up by (probably) Antifa members at a Proud Boys counter-demonstration, but it isn’t. Ngo is, to use an old-fashioned term, a fellow traveler in the mainstreaming and legitimation of resurgent fascism in America.
The question of it’s ever OK to use non-state violence against fascists and their enablers isn’t nearly as straightforward as the people who claim the answer is obviously “no” claim it is.
Put it this way: is it obvious that it would be a bad thing for people like Stephen Miller and Richard Spencer to be at least a little afraid to show their faces in public? If so, why?
Donald Trump is someone who thinks it’s a good thing for “strong leaders” to murder dissident journalists, and who would undoubtedly order such murders himself if he thought he could get away with it. As is so often the case today, this hyperbolic-sounding claim is merely a straightforward reporting of the literal meaning of Trump’s own words on many occasions.
Donald Trump is not a member of an extraordinary marginal left-wing movement that has zero support from any Democratic politician. He is the leader of a violent right-wing political movement that is in control of two-thirds of the American federal government, including all of those parts of it that can be ordered to deploy state violence at level of lethality that are almost infinitely higher than anything Antifa could ever possibly imagine doing.
The moderate pearl clutching types who are so horrified by even the most mild manifestations of left-wing violence are, I suspect, temperamentally incapable of understanding where things actually stand in this country at this moment.
The political movement Donald Trump leads must be destroyed. This is an existential matter, both for the country, and for millions of its most vulnerable residents. Left-wing violence — which as Beauchamp points out still only exists almost wholly in the feverish imaginations of right-wing inventors of “concrete milkshakes” and the like — should be condemned only to the extent that it hinders rather than helps advance that goal.
In the end, avoiding left-wing violence on principle will do nothing to squelch the rise of fascist violence, since the sort of fascist movement Trump leads considers violence something to be actively celebrated, rather than to be avoided as anything but a last resort.