“Schizophrenia is an illness characterized by incoherent or illogical thoughts, bizarre behavior and speech, and delusions or hallucinations.” – American Medical Association
“i·de·al·ism - The practice of forming or pursuing ideals, especially unrealistically." - Google Dictionary
Chanting, jeering, aggressive posturing, black masks, flags, street fights, and an unapologetic ideology. These are the public perceptions of a collectivist affiliation known as Antifa. Their tactics are questionable, their members overwhelmingly anonymous, and their motivations seemingly scattered. But within this maligned movement is a radical brand of political activism that deserves philosophical analysis.
As a libertarian conservative, I stand by free speech, free expression, and free association (regardless of the ideology being espoused) and deeply detest violence, coercion, and authoritarianism. This is why I empathize with Antifa when they are targeted by certain governments, smeared in particular media sectors, and generally misunderstood as “terrorists”. However, it is also why I disagree with their more extreme tactics, and their philosophical underpinnings.
Overall, Antifa, and their Far Right enemies are not the real threat. The more ominous danger is, and always has been, the pathological altruism of collectivist ideology. The solution that prevents fascistic governance cannot be a band of chaotic idealists who find common cause in aggressive self-righteousness. I believe that the law, the people, and the socio-economic order of Western civilization are the greatest bulwarks against fascism and totalitarianism. Libertarian governance would only serve to strengthen this reality.
“The only power of a mob…is brute force. The attempt to solve social problems by means of force is what a civilized society is established to prevent. The advocates of mass civil disobedience admit that their purpose is intimidation. A society that tolerates intimidation as a means of settling disputes…loses its moral right to exist as a social system.”
The modern incarnation of Antifa is an illiberal outgrowth of social justice progressivism that, unlike other leftist organizations, is neither a specific group nor a systematized political entity. They are a collection of collectivists wherein progressives, communists, anarchists, anti-capitalists, radical environmentalists, and socialists find common cause in defeating or preventing fascism from evolving or governing. Their non-violent tactics are creative, admirable, and I would argue more effective, than the demonstrations/counter-protests that routinely devolve into unproductive aggression and circular violence (especially when these scenarios allow right-wing and extremist media to propagandize the events). In commendable and unremorseful fashion they reject racism and authoritarianism (albeit only from the Right, without mention of the crimes of the Left) and willfully put themselves into harm’s way to discourage destructive politics. They are an ardent movement who are genuinely disgusted by injustice, but do not seem to understand how “two wrongs do not make a right”.
Antifa’s philosophy is comprised of vague categorical criteria, intersectionality, moral relativism, and anticipatory action. This is diametrically opposed to the libertarian ideals of individuality, voluntarism, objectivity, and justifiable self-defense. Their gauge for categorizing fascistic individuals is a fluid and evolving list of “phobias” mixed with a proclivity for racism, misogyny, nationalism, xenophobia, and authoritarian rule. A fair appraisal, but this formula seems vulnerable to exaggeration, and misinterpretation, based on exponentially increasing “wokeness” from their disparate cells.
Adam Bray explains: “Anti-fascism is [the] illiberal politics of social revolutionism applied to fighting the Far Right, not only literal fascists.” Furthermore still, the Antifa majority seek to abolish “prisons, [nation] states, and the very notion of citizenship” in order to build a “classless, post-capitalist society” where they would work with dissidents around the world to overthrow “oppressive regimes”. If that is not the definition of an “unrealistic” and “incoherent” set of motivations (fraught with insurmountable obstacles that have nothing to do with fascism) then I do not know what is. Would it not be easier to just scale back the state, grant people more autonomy, and encourage voluntary interactions in society? Why should we have to destroy everything great about Western civilization because a relatively small group of extremists want to impose their arbitrary will (from the Far Left and Far Right)?
Anti-fascists also embrace “hallucinations and delusions” which manifest themselves in “bizarre behaviour and speech”. Demonstrating these schizophrenic tendencies are the protests, de-platforming, and accosting of Andy Ngo, Ben Shapiro, Candice Owens, and Tucker Carlson. A Jewish man, a Black woman, an Asian man, and a Fox News host cannot appear publicly without being shouted down or threatened. Why do their intersectional ideals seem to be applied selectively and opportunistically? Historical Antifa fought actual fascists who adamantly proclaimed their illiberal intentions, modern Antifa is a scattershot pile of indignation and youthful righteousness motivated by “anti”isms. Which leads to another problematic element of their philosophy: an attachment to identity politics that is unsettlingly dedicated.
Their embracement of intersectionality (i.e. “incoherent or illogical thought”) is a philosophical dead-end that denies the intrinsic value of individual liberty and the equality of opportunity (as opposed to outcome).
Antifa would have us go down a road of perpetual victimhood for groups (genuinely aggrieved or not) as opposed to admitting that we are all equal under the law, the political order, and to each other regardless of our immutable characteristics.
This should be obvious to its adherents who are themselves splitting into Feminist Antifa, Trans Antifa, and Gay Antifa (hint hint, the divisions will never end and they may start to detest one another).
Lastly is Antifa’s anticipatory action ideal wherein they aim to knock out fascism before it can take root. This is a surprising and morally troubling proposition, especially when juxtaposing it against its more prominent incarnation of the “Bush Doctrine”. Preemptive attack is a losing argument because it requires a moral certainty of proximate evil where it is yet to be proven. Bray explains how “[Antifa] prioritizes the political project of destroying fascism and protecting the vulnerable, regardless of whether their actions are considered violations [of basic rights].” Assuming guilt, and requiring evidence for innocence, is an unabashedly corrupt logic to operate on. Through this flawed reasoning, Western governments should, hypothetically, be able to crush revolutionary Antifa groups by adopting their philosophy. The radical left’s connection with authoritarianism, corruption, mass incarcerations, and the suppression of civil liberties/human rights is indisputable. So the State would, in theory, be justified in pursuing this end.
Yet, and rightly so, Antifa is protected by the very laws of “peace, order, and good government” that permit them to anonymously pursue their agenda of illiberality and radical leftism.
Liberty is the Answer
“Fascism, Nazism, Communism, and Socialism are only superficial variations of same monstrous theme…collectivism.” ~Ayn Rand~
Collectives lead to groupthink, groupthink leads to the categorization of “the other”, and this leads to aggression/coercion inflicted upon “the other”. The only answer to fascism from the Right, or totalitarianism from the Left, is individual liberty. All of Antifa’s aforementioned philosophical elements are easily avoided by a libertarian ethics and governance structure because we offer a definitive measuring stick in terms of defying socio-political norms, and engaging in evil behaviours. This is the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP), which is simply the inverse of the Golden Rule: “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.”
The NAP includes threads of personal sovereignty, voluntarism, and limited government. Libertarianism renders fascism untenable because there would be relatively little state power to capitalize on, the citizenry would be supremely protective of their extensive freedoms (plus well-armed), and the propaganda techniques of economic collectivism would be futile in the face of free-market competition and increased prosperity.
Antifa ignores the intrinsic rights and liberties you hold, as an individual person, that should never be subjected to destruction by competing “altruistic” interests. A person’s right to life, liberty, and property are inalienable regardless of where you live, or, what power structure reins over you. Fascism and radical Leftism desire to strip these ideals from you and incorporate you into the collective. High-minded utopian promises have never materialized and at least libertarians are honest about providing a just state wherein there will still be problems to solve. But we can address them fairly, through the legal and political systems, without resorting to extremism, coercion, and a trampling of basic human rights.
“Associated with the loose Antifa array are fringe groups that have initiated the use of force in ways that are completely unacceptable and are a welcome gift to the far-right and the repressive forces of the state” ~Noam Chomsky~
Nobody, aside from actual fascists, desire to be governed by an authoritarian government. People living in liberal democracies are quite aware of the historical realities and repercussions of humoring fascists. The taboo against embracing and espousing authoritarian ideas is a deeply embedded reality in the Western consciousness. Regular people overwhelmingly seek the political centre and less than 8% of people agree with the Far Right. Indeed 85% of people do not want anything to do with political extremism on either side. So there is an unnecessary streak of arrogance in Antifa’s proclamations that they can detect fascism where others cannot.
I agree with Antifa’s anti-statism, I appreciate their efforts in exposing and confronting the Far Right, and I know they are not a terrorist entity. But we have to ask ourselves, “Would we really be living in a tyrannical dystopia without Antifa?” Or is it our constitutions, laws, bills of rights, economic prosperity, participatory liberal democracy, and the general affluence these elements have helped foster that has prevented dictatorship? We should always push for more individualism and more liberty because this will serve us better than anything the collectivists can ever offer.
Mark Bray – Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook
Ayn Rand – Civil Disobedience