Admittedly, I don’t write as much history as I intended to when I started this blog. I write a fair amount of book reviews that relate to history, and a fair amount of music history as well, but not nearly as much in the way of historical analysis that I wish to, because it takes a while to think about and write and because the business of life gets in the way. That said, there are definitely aspects about our contemporary sociopolitical context that greatly worry me as a student of history. Among those is the rampant ignorance of history among those who attempt to use it against others. As someone who lives on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, anytime I see or read the local news, there is almost always some reminder of some kind of Antifa outrage gone wrong, some sign of the leftist of the area going in a particularly horrific direction with baleful consequences for the area where I live.
It is perhaps for the best that hipsters are so fond of irony , because there are few ironies in our political scene greater than the fact that a group labeling itself as anti-hate is among the most hateful participants in our contemporary cultural wars, and a group that labels itself Antifa in a professed opposition to the illusory fascism of our present government itself behaves like the SA brown shirts of pre-fascist Germany. How is it that an avowedly anti-fascist group can mimic so assiduously the tactics of the anarchic but simultaneously well-organized ground troops whose civic disorders helped to encourage Hitler’s rise to power in Germany? One might argue that Antifa were useful idiots (although useful to whom is perhaps difficult to say), but questions of their idiocy depend on their awareness of history. To the extent that Antifa is deliberately naming itself in a traditionally ironic leftist way in the way that Democratic Republics of the leftist variety are invariably neither democratic nor republics, we may consider them to be hypocrites, but not idiots. However, it does not appear as if many antifa supports, especially on the ground level, are that aware of history, although their leaders may be.
There seems to be a widespread blind spot on the left that argues that only those who are right-of center can be fascists. To be sure, many conservatives (although not I) have read Liberal Fascism, a book that seeks to connect many of the contemporary behaviors of the left with those of fascist regimes of the period during and shortly before World War II. Yet while it is fairly obvious among those who are more conservative (or more open-minded to historical truth in general–the two may not be exclusive) that fascism is not strictly on the right or the left, no matter how much neo-Nazi movements may be connected with the far right in the United States and elsewhere, it is not so obvious to those on the left. It should be noted that while some people define facism as “an authoritiarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization,” as my web browser helpfully tells me, in general use it is used to label practices or views that are authoritarian, oppressive, or intolerant. And while the first definition would appear to exclude contemporary leftists who are certainly not nationalistic in their views, it certainly does include antifa in its second direction, given the oppressive and intolerant nature of the contemporary left.
How would a better understanding of history help us with the scourge of the ironically fascist anti-fascists among us? Historical perspective could help out in multiple ways. For one, a better understanding of history would allow people to realize that the public position of avowedly racist groups is not simply a matter of contemporary society but has a long history in the United States, even if not a positive history. Such knowledge as the presence of xenophobic public protests in the early 1990’s or the popularity of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920’s could put contemporary white nationalism in its proper context as a fringe and extreme minority, and not something worth disrupting the peace of our republic for. Additionally, a better understanding of the attempts of Hitler and his associates in using urban disorder through the brown shirts of the SA in encouraging the rise of law-and-order support for his party would remind contemporary imitators (whether intentionally or not) of the SA that history generally is not kind to those who are on the side of disorder in supporting the rise of authoritarian regimes. After all, the SA was decimated in the night of the long knives when Hitler realized that the SS was better suited than the SA to being his paramilitary group of choice once power was achieved. It is very possible that contemporary leftism could make the same sort of choice to strike against those whose urban behavior has been such a troublesome aspect of contemporary political activity in our own society. If those who were a part of Antifa were more aware of the tragic history of the brownshirts, they would likely be a lot less interested in copying their example, or in exposing to the world their ignorance of history by adopting fascist behavior under the name of avowed anti-fascism.
 See, for example: