When it comes to political violence such as we witnessed in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend, there are no partisan “sides” to the issue. In an enlightened society, you either believe violence is an acceptable means to an end, or you do not. In this parity, there is no room for equivocation, where the perceived nobleness or virtue of one’s agenda can excuse it. Initiating force against any group or individual for the sake of achieving a political goal or simply making a political statement, is morally and legally wrong. Full stop.
Last weekend was a national embarrassment in every sense of the word; from the pathetic display of a bunch of wimps carrying Tiki torches trying to look tough, to yet another appearance of masked “Antifa” thugs sucker-punching anyone with whom they disagree. Initially too, President Trump, missing what could have been a defining moment for his young presidency, tip-toed over the violence rather than offering a dose of his trademark blustering and rage to blast the neo-Nazis who reflect the worst side of humanity. Instead, Trump, like so many others on the Left and Right, once again attempted to distill the deplorable conduct into a political blame game, insinuating one side would have been “right” if not for the provocation of the other.
Attempting to ascribe degrees of blame to the protest groups in Charlottesville misses the point entirely about today’s political violence. The Alt-Right’s venomous racism is no more, or less, contemptible than the Alt-Left’s belief that offensive speech must be banned at any price. Violence is violence, regardless of the politics behind it.
If there is a side to the violence in Charlottesville, both of these groups are on it and deserve our scorn as practitioners of a toxic, post-modern mindset that there is no objective truth other than how they see it, and that protecting their truth is the true public good. In fact, aside from differing political agendas, these neo-Nazis and Antifa-ites are cut from the same cloth. Both wallow in delusions of self-righteousness, and embrace violence as an acceptable, if not noble, means of achieving their political goals. Most of all, they suffer from the same paranoia of oppression that drive them into virulent tribalism.
“Tribalism is a product of fear,” declared philosopher Ayn Rand, “and fear is the dominant emotion of any person, culture or society that rejects…reason.” The reality is that our true enemy today is not a Nazi flag or a black balaclava; those are only physical manifestations of tribalism. Rather, our real enemy is the philosophy of those who use such symbols. It is the rejection of reason in favor of emotional sophistry driven by fear and designed to produce more of it. This is the source of today’s violence, and reflects the fact that only violence can exist in the vacuum of reason.
We can point fingers at one side or the other, but neither liberals nor conservatives are blameless in allowing such an un-American, anti-enlightenment philosophy to take root. Liberals traded “free thinkers” for professors who indoctrinate students to “feel” (rather than to reason), and government officials who went from filling potholes to piously tearing down statues. Meanwhile, conservatives traded the thoughtful punditry of Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley for a 24-hour news cycle of talking heads regurgitating just enough soundbites to excuse viewers from having to think for themselves. Over the years, both the Right and the Left were enabled by lazy party leaders fostering the idea that to win you simply yell louder, not think harder.
What is the result of this nonsense? Gunning down congressmen during a baseball practice, ramming cars into protestors, sucker-punching people with whom you disagree, and mass protests every time one tribe feels slighted by another. “You don’t see advocates of reason and science clogging a street in the belief that using their bodies to stop traffic, will solve any problem,” Rand reminds us. That this most recent display of non-reason occurred just steps from the university founded by one of history’s greatest and most reasoned minds, is a sad irony.
The roots of the violence in Charlottesville last week, in Berkeley last April, and in other cities and campuses across America in recent months, go far deeper than a few statues; and removing them will in the end solve nothing. The only solution lies in reigniting a true belief in, and advocacy of reason throughout our culture, to replace the toxic environment of tribalism and violence that has taken hold. And that is far more difficult than tearing down a few statues.