The 2016 election season has seen the United States become more polarized than at any time in recent memory. The rise of Donald Trump on the right and of Bernie Sanders on the left has emboldened radical elements on both sides which had formerly been politically homeless. This has led to a greater number of protests, some of which have resulted in violence and threats thereof. Even third-party candidates have found themselves in danger from violent extremists.
Of course, the establishment media has condemned the violence, though most of the blame has predictably been levied upon Trump and his supporters rather than upon radical leftist elements. Most alternative media, with the notable exception of Christopher Cantwell, have followed suit. But there is a case to be made that politics in America have become too tame, and that more violence in politics would actually be beneficial. Let us consider that case.
First, let us note the hypocrisy of those who call for peace. For example, Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in an interview with Wolf Blitzer, “There should never be a ‘but’ when comes to condemning violence and intimidation. Violence and intimidation are never acceptable under any circumstances.” Yet she is the chairperson of one of two organizations which control the United States government, the most powerful and dangerous criminal organization in human history. In this role, she has presided over the use of violence and intimidation of the American people (and the rest of the world, by way of foreign policy) on a scale scarcely imaginable to an individual Sanders (or Trump) supporter. Most of the others who have made such statements are less directly connected to the state, but still bear vicarious liability for its crimes to some extent.
Second, libertarianism allows for the use of violence in self-defense. As such, when protesters attack people, those people may defend themselves with any amount of force necessary to end the threat. Moreover, when statists seek to wield state power against people to do what would be considered criminal if they were to attempt the same actions on their own, those people have a right to defend themselves not only from the state, but from the people who would employ it against them. In fact, using force against a group of citizens in this case is likely to cause less bloodshed than using force against agents of the state while achieving a similar result.
Third, for much the same reason that the Cold War never went hot and gun-free zones are disproportionately targeted by criminals, the very possibility of political violence tends to foster greater mutual respect. The knowledge that both sides of a dispute are able, willing, and even eager to forcefully defend themselves makes an attempt by either side to violently impose their will upon the other side more risky and therefore less attractive. However, if one group is willing to use force and the other group is not, then the group that is willing to impose its will upon others will win. As Vegetius said, “If you want peace, prepare for war.”
Fourth, the possibility of political violence can have the same effect on politicians that it has on citizens. Back in the days when dueling was common, a person who spoke ill of someone else risked having to either back up his words with deadly violence or be considered a coward. With this custom removed, political discourse is not necessarily harsher, but the harshness is more widespread because one need not back up one’s words with any show of force. (Notably, such duels occasionally managed to not only resolve a personal dispute, but to change the political course of an entire nation, as when Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton.) One could even make the case that a system of dueling would be preferable to a system of voting for determining political leaders.
Fifth, the past few years have seen the rise of a radical left-wing element, and this element has become increasingly violent and hostile toward civil liberties. Whenever someone says something with which these people disagree, their response is not to present a reasoned case against it, but to shout down speakers, deny them a platform, get them fired from their jobs, get them banned from social media platforms, ruin their reputations, and physically assault them. Private property rights also mean nothing to them, as they have shown a willingness to do this not only on public university campuses, but at private venues as well. These people are unwilling to peacefully coexist with people who are different from them, and their detachment from reality is capable of destroying civilization as we know it if they are allowed to triumph. The only sensible option, then, is to violently suppress these radical left-wing elements as a matter of self-defense. Leaving this up to the authorities risks pushing us closer to an authoritarian police state while making us less self-reliant for our own protection, so political violence by right-wing groups against left-wing groups in order to, as Murray Rothbard wrote, “take back the streets, crush criminals, and get rid of bums,” is essential. Such a move could also help to establish the sort of culture of resistance needed to abolish the state for the long-term.
Sixth, given that the state is the most powerful and dangerous criminal organization within its geographical area, it is entirely unreasonable to expect efforts to gain control of it to result in anything other than violence. In this sense, democracy is an unhealthy historical aberration. When voting with bullets is replaced by voting with ballots, the risk of using force against one’s fellow human beings is immensely reduced. It is much safer to have the state send a tax collector to take property from one’s neighbor than to take up arms and try to rob that neighbor oneself. This risk differential and the potential to profit from what Frederic Bastiat termed ‘legal plunder’ is great enough to make using violence to gain control of the state apparatus appealing to people of a certain mentality.
Finally, the ultimate check on state power, the greatest source of violence of all, is the ability and willingness of the populace to use force in self-defense against the state. In the words of Frederick Douglass,
“Find out just what the people will submit to and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
Ideally, this would be an anti-political form of violence intended to permanently abolish the state, but such a revolt would be far more likely to replace one form of statism with another at present. The American nation was founded with political violence in the form of a long and bloody war for independence from Great Britain. But as soon as political violence ceased to be used successfully by the American people (usually dated to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791-94), the new American state began to grow into its current monstrous form. But such defensive violence need not overthrow a state to be effective; it need only make government agents think twice before victimizing the innocent. The 2014 Bundy standoff was one example of this, as the presence of militia groups caused the Bureau of Land Management to back down from its efforts to seize Bundy’s cattle. Another example was the killing of two NYPD officers in December 2014, after which most non-essential police activities were significantly curtailed. As explained above, an activity becomes less appealing if there is a greater risk of experiencing violence for engaging in it, and being an agent of the state is no exception.
Whether the goal is to protect oneself on the street, reduce political cowardice, suppress destructive degenerates, prevent rivals from gaining control of the state apparatus, or to alter or abolish the state apparatus, we do not need less political violence; we need more.