OKAY Year 9, a show of hands: who agrees that throwing a milkshake at Hitler is acceptable? So began my philosophy lesson last week, as I attempted to get the class to delineate a continuum of acceptable protest. If you’re curious, Year 9 does condone the hypothetical milkshaking of Herr Hitler. However, unlike ‘literal communist’ Ash Sarkar, most of them vehemently disagreed with the milkshaking of Tommy Robinson, Carl Benjamin and Nigel Farage in the weeks leading up to the European elections. They thought, again unlike Sarkar, that debate was a more effective weapon – a naïve and outdated view, which I admit I’ve relentlessly indoctrinated them with.
Sarkar is not the only prominent regressive Leftist who endorsed common assault. Tom Peck, writing for the Independent, wrote of the sheer hilarity of it all, justifying assault on the grounds that the offenders do not have a platform to debate Farage’s ideas. Although, oddly, he drew the line at attacking female MPs. John Elledge writing in the New Statesman went one better: throwing milkshake isn’t violence because Nigel Farage has said some very nasty things which is actual violence, okay? Aditya Chakrabortty agreed, and detailed a long history of hurling projectiles. It’s a time-honoured institution, you see? The ‘appeal to tradition’ – what an odd fallacy from a Left-winger.
The common thread which linked these commentators (and many more) was the obstinate refusal to define lobbing a milkshake as a violent act. This premise allowed them to shelter from the claim that violence begets violence – something else my Year 9s were able to point out. Indeed, John Elledge tried to justify assault on the grounds that ‘no far-Right politicians have so far been murdered by a liberal assassin. The same is not true the other way around’.
Such selective amnesia. Pim Fortuyn, a Dutch Marxist academic turned superstar politician, was an outspoken critic of Islam, immigration and multiculturalism. In 2002, Fortuyn was pelted with pies filled with faeces and vomit (there is a video which I’d urge you to watch). A few months later he was assassinated by a far-Left activist. It’s almost as if dehumanising someone sends a message.
So who was surprised by the milkshake assault on an 82-year-old Army veteran? Don Naughton, a Brexit Party supporter who was wearing a party rosette and standing outside a polling station, was the victim of a cowardly assault by a man on a bicycle days after Farage was hit. Does the psychological trauma of not knowing whether acid has just been thrown in your face count as the type of ‘no harm, no foul’ politics which Sarkar and co endorse?
I hope Sarkar, the aforementioned columnists and the Twitter mob would condemn the entirely predictable attack on Naughton. I’m sure most would. But that leaves them in enmeshed in another contradiction if they won’t condemn the behaviour which caused it. Assaulting figureheads such as Farage is a message of vicarious humiliation. It says, ‘your ideas are also not worthy of engagement’, and, presumably, ‘we would assault you too’. How else does a scumbag justify attacking Don Naughton or assassinating Pim Fortuyn?
We should note that Sarkar’s sleight of hand was to redefine the rubric of civil disobedience to include common assault. This is the regressive Left in a nutshell. It’s a clever and insidious tactic, because they slip in the premise that means justify ends. What’s more, they then no longer have to worry about the bewildering politics of simultaneously denouncing speech acts like misgendering as violence (and lobbying for its criminalisation), whilst also denying that common assault is just that, assault. Speech is violence, physical attacks are not. Somebody order a few copies of 1984.
Apparently, what Sarkar is really concerned about is “stochastic terrorism” – language which can fuel far-Right killers. She reminds us that such terrorists have been found to quote the likes of Ben Shapiro and Melanie Phillips in their manifestos. Hence, we cannot allow the likes of Farage on to the BBC any more. Debate is so 2010. Assault is the hipster, millennial way forward. Because, quite clearly, if we humiliate and demonise the people who lone-wolf terrorists admire, they won’t view that as further justification to enact violence.
This is emblematic of the arrogance of a Leftist cadre who constantly try to police the borders of acceptability. They think that if they can just derail these people, the mass movement underneath them will be shamed into melting away. This is the height of stupidity.
All who defend the recent assaults will be the ones judged by historians as inciting more division in a dangerously fractured society. They may caveat their endorsement of lobbing milkshakes at those you disagree with as being far from the apotheosis of democracy. But this understatement belies the millennial Leftist ethic of instant gratification politics over difficult, long drawn-out conversations about boring things, like policy and evidence. My year 9s could see that, why can’t they?