Behind hue and cry over the alt-right/ctrl-left clashes lurks the big stakes game for control of the state. Past tyranny operated through control of the state, via organs of censorship, surveillance, the criminal justice system and propaganda. Without these it is merely an impotent spirit of malice, condemned to haunt little bookstores and beer gardens. Neither Nazism nor Bolshevism was possible with a small state. From the Third Reich to Maduro’s Venezuela amts, diensts and bureaus have been the true foot inside the boot in the human face. Without Deep State actors ready to exploit it the Reichstag Fire would have just another alarm for the Berlin fire department.
Knowing this, Western societies built great states to protect themselves from tyranny’s return, armed with speech codes, reputation indexes and speech laws. “We have drawn a different lesson from history”, was how some European commentators reacted to violence in Charlottesville. That lesson can be summarized thus: “strict laws against hate speech are at the heart of the European’s reckoning with the Nazi past.” They’ll not give up the state — just make sure that it never falls into the wrong hands.
It’s about the hands, always about the hands. What happens in riots is unimportant except as it affects control of the state.
The asymmetry in the strategic goals of Red and Blue derives from the importance of the state to each. For progressives, survival means retaining ascendance over the state. For the Red or Populist side, the goal is merely to keep the state from being ascendant over them. This asymmetry is the great weakness of the Progressives. If they don’t win they lose. For Rebels, if they don’t lose they win. Consider Google’s firing of James Damore for questioning the company’s diversity policies. It wasn’t about opinion, it was about control. Everyone can have an opinion but only one side can be in control. Damore had to be thrown out to “win”. Glenn Reynolds writes:
The Damore firing, and Pichai’s disgraceful handling of it, represents colossal damage to Google’s brand. In essence, it’s an announcement — by a company that has access to everyone’s data — that it endorses the notion of thought-crime.
Yet even Google cannot pursue this strategy of control forever. Sooner or later the costs of witch hunting will be too high. A progressive movement that has routinely regarded the pacification of Vietnam, Iraq or Cuba uneconomical must surely realize the suppression of half of America is infeasible. The raised tone and heightened warnings of cultural elites inspires little confidence. They are reminiscent of lion-tamers shouting to keep the beasts under control. It’s strategic asymmetry at work. For progressives, the show means controlling the lions. For the lions all they have to do to end the performance is walk out of the ring. They don’t even have to bite the tamers.