In 2016, a video of white nationalist Richard Spencer being punched in the face by an unidentified assailant went viral. As it did so, a question that was first asked in World War Two rose to the surface of public debate again: is it morally permissible to punch a Nazi? Some consider these increasingly-publicized acts of violence to be slippery slopes that endanger free speech and compromise morals, while others consider games of whack-a-fascist to be their God-given right, as well as their moral duty.
No, it's not okay to punch Nazis
Punching Nazis might sound satisfying, but if we want to uphold our morality, both individually and societally, we must find other means to mitigate the threat of fascism.
It's not okay to punch anyone
On a gut level, it might feel good to see someone as evil as a Nazi get punched. However, pacifists realize that violence is an evil in and of itself, and even the worst people deserve to be treated humanely.
In the face of evils like bigotry and fascism, it’s tempting to take the eye-for-an-eye route, punching Nazis as an attempt at retribution. However, this approach only causes more of the violence we are trying to avoid.
They made their choice to be hateful so they must accept the consequences
It is not up for outsiders to judge resistance movements
We (as observers) will never know the full extent of the harm caused by Neo-Nazis and other hateful groups. Morally policing the actions of a group is a further act of opression that works to de-legitimize their struggle and give the illusion that there is some kind of shared culpability, when a group is actually acting in defence.
Whether it is OK to punch Nazis or not doesn't fit in to the "yes or no" framework
Justification for violence must always be contextualised.
The appropriateness of punching a Nazi is determined by actual circumstances
Because violence doesn't work in predictable ways, there is no universal answer about whether it is okay to punch a Nazi. The consequences of violence should be weighted against the distinct threat of harm posed by the specific Nazi in question. One would have to look at the circumstances of the situation, such as deciding if there is an immediate risk of supporters retaliating.