I just read the Antifa handbook,” a timely work which turned out to be surprisingly dull and scholarly. Still, I hope my discussion of it is more lively than the book itself.
It’s officially called “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook,” but it feels like false advertising. You open the book expecting advice on how to hide a baseball bat in your coat, or how to destroy someone’s iPhone so your actions can’t be recorded.
Instead, this small paperback (you couldn’t even break a window with it) isn’t an instruction manual so much as a treatise on the history and philosophical underpinnings of the Antifa movement.
The author, Mark Bray, a lecturer at Dartmouth and an Occupy Wall Street organizer, is a true radical who wants to smash the system. And he hopes to explain why the violence and intimidation of the present-day Antifa movement is not only acceptable, but necessary.
Antifa gets to decide who the fascists are, and don’t look now, but it’s you.
More than half the book deals with the history of anti-fascism, starting in the 1800s and taking us up to the present. Who knows how much more fascism there’d have been otherwise, muses Bray, vaingloriously. This material is of some interest, even if Bray’s political take tends to be one-sided. (Bray is the kind of guy who uses the discredited Southern Poverty Law Center as a trusted source.)
But then we get to the great crisis of today—the election of Donald Trump. Since that fateful event, the American Antifa movement has gone into overdrive, disrupting speeches and rallies across the U.S.
And so we get to the real heart of the book, where Bray finally explains why it’s okay to deny some people freedom of speech, or even basic safety. The argument isn’t hard to follow. In essence, tolerance and reason don’t work, and you don’t wait for a small problem to get bigger.
There are obvious objections to this. And though Bray struggles mightily to overcome them, he’s simply not up to it.
To pick a basic example, he claims the Antifa movement has the right to be judge, jury and executioner because they’ve identified a deserving enemy and won’t get it wrong. But even if this was sound in theory (and it isn’t), they’ve already shown they can’t be trusted. This is not a group that simply shouts down neo-Nazis, they disrupt and commit violence at mainstream Republican rallies.
In other words, Antifa gets to decide who the fascists are, and don’t look now, but it’s you.
Mind you, Bray does attempt to explain what fascism looks like. Its hallmarks include a preoccupation with victimhood, a cult of purity, abandonment of liberty and redemptive violence.
I know, you’re ahead of me—that sounds like the Antifa movement. But they can’t be fascist because…Bray says they can’t. Fascists can only be only be the people who don’t share the left’s views on race, gender and immigration (their views at present—not necessarily what they believed a generation or two ago).
Now don’t get me wrong. Ideas have consequences. Indeed, the biggest irony in this unintentionally ironic book is that while Bray wants to save the world, the revolutionary socialism he calls for would actually impoverish and enslave everyone. And I don’t consider that conjecture—it’s the verdict of history.
But the point is not whether I’m right or wrong (because I am right, after all), but whether or not I should adopt the logic and tactics of Bray. If I did, he wouldn’t be allowed to express his ideas. He couldn’t publish books, gives speeches, and perhaps not hold a job or even walk in public unmolested. And to Bray, that should be business as usual—as long as he gets to schedule the beatings.
The value of “The Anti-Fascist Handbook” is it strips bare the radical roots of the Antifa movement. It is in strict opposition to a liberal society, and Bray isn’t afraid to say it out loud, and at length.
It’s good to see that lately some Democrats (perhaps after glancing at the polls) have denounced the Antifa movement. The only mystery is why haven’t they all?
Steve Kurtz is a producer for the Fox News Channel, and author of “Steve’s America (the perfect gift for people named Steve)”.