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“Punching the Nazi in the face was the only way that Améry could resist being reduced to a mere body, a passive object, a thing. ” —ERIC ANTHAMATTEN revisiting philosopher Jean Améry’s case for violent resistance, featured in #CHAROLOTTESVILE: WHITE SUPREMACY, POPULISM, AND RESISTANCE from TANK Magazine

Friday, March 22nd, 2019

Punching Nazis in the face: a philosopher makes the case for violent resistance

As white supremacist Richard Spencer was being interviewed on camera, a masked protester punched him square in the jaw. Many conservatives looked at this as evidence of cry-baby liberalism: when unable to handle alternative points of view, leftists resort to violence to stifle free speech.

Fifty years ago, philosopher Jean Améry made a sustained argument for punching Nazis in the face, not only as an acceptable action, but one that might be required. A victim of torture by the Gestapo and a survivor of the Holocaust, Améry described his disturbing experience of torture at the hands of fascism, and defended, contra Nietzsche, the role of resentment (ressentiment) as an essential element of human identity, dignity, will, and freedom, including its manifestation in violence, as in the time he punched a Nazi in the face.

Punching the Nazi in the face was the only way that Améry could resist being reduced to a mere body, a passive object, a thing. He had to punch to restore the boundary between his personhood and the intrusion of the torture, the fascist, the racist: the boundaries of my body are also the boundaries of myself. My skin surface shields me against the external world. If I am to have trust, I must feel on it only what I want to feel.

Améry’s argument for Nazy face-punching isn’t a version of the argument for defence, however. Crucially, he acknowledges that his punch was not only futile, but would lead to even more pain being inflicted upon him, perhaps even death. In this way, Améry’s argument cannot be seen as a mere act of self-preservation, but as something that was demanded of him, as a human being, to preserve the integrity of the human world. His reasoning for Nazi-punching moves beyond ethical discourse into an ontological justification: what is at stake is not his individual body, but all of our bodies, and, perhaps, our world itself.

ERIC ANTHAMATTEN’s essay from #CHARLOTTESVILLE is featured in TANK Magazine

Read ERIC ANTHAMMATEN’s essay featured in TANK Magazine here.

#CHARLOTTESVILLE: WHITE SUPREMACY, POPULISM, AND RESISTANCE is available for purchase. Order your copy here.

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