Tag Archives: Ad Hitlerum

Das Eisernes Kreuz

There’s a strategy to going ad hitlerum–at least I imagine there is (but I’m not sure I hope there is).

It’s difficult to break through the enormous media clutter without bringing in the rhetorical heavies.  The subtleties of tax policy or gun control are lost on most people, so you may think; if you want to contribute to a discussion, you have to go big.  Once you do, you’re assured of a prime place on Talking Points Memo, the Huffington Post, and so forth.  Here’s from yesterday’s Talking Points Memo:

The billionaire founder of Home Depot just pulled a Tom Perkins.

Ken Langone, a major GOP donor, was among “the denizens of Wall Street and wealthy precincts around the nation” who spoke to Politico for a piece published Tuesday and titled “The rich strike back.”

“I hope it’s not working,” Langone told Politico, referring to populist political appeals. “Because if you go back to 1933, with different words, this is what Hitler was saying in Germany. You don’t survive as a society if you encourage and thrive on envy or jealousy.”

Politico noted that Langone’s comments would inevitably “draw ire from those who find such comparisons to Nazi Germany insensitive” and that he “showed no hesitancy” in invoking the Nazis.

The last part’s the hilarious part–even Politico has noticed the cravenness of the strategy.

Naturally, your Nazi analogy is absurd, and hopefully you know it.  This requires you “to apologize.”  Here again, Talking Points Memo:

The billionaire founder of Home Depot apologized late Tuesday for taking a page from the Tom Perkins playbook in comparing the fight against income inequality to Nazi Germany.

“My remarks were intended to discourage pitting one group against another group in a society,” Ken Langone said in a statement obtained by the New York Daily News. “If my choice of words was inappropriate — and they well may have been that — I extend my profound apologies to anyone and everyone who I may have offended.”

Langone had told Politico that populist political appeals currently en vogue parallel the rhetoric Hitler used in Nazi Germany, albeit in “different words.”

It’s the words you see–not the thought.  What we have here is a kind of self-iron manning: I say we call it the “Iron Cross” in honor of the Nazis who dominate the form.

Here’s how it works:

Step one: go ad hitlerum to get attention: modest adjustments in tax reform are just like the populism that carried Hitler to power!  Wait one day while news organizations report on your absurd analogy.

Step two:  “apologize” for the “words” you’ve used, but caution that the thought–though much altered to exclude the Nazi part–stands.  Wait one day while news organizations report on your apology.

Step three: reap the rewards of a discussion turned your way.  Though you began with a manifestly absurd move that ought to have earned you STFU points, it doesn’t, because you come back with the apology.  Your opponent–the critic–in other words, has to waste a move (and you only get so many) pointing out how wrong you are.

I wonder, short of ignoring the likes of Iron Crossers such as Langone, etc., is there any move open here to the critic?

Ad Fuhrer-em

We’ve been doing a lot of Ad Hitlerem-spotting these days at the NS, but, hey, it’s the season of the Godwin.  Check out the statement from Brenda Barton (R) from Arizona on Facebook:

Someone is paying the National Park Service thugs overtime for their efforts to carry out the order of De Fuhrer… where are our Constitutional Sheriffs who can revoke the Park Service Rangers authority to arrest??? Do we have any Sheriffs with a pair?

I object for a few reasons.  First is just linguistic.  It’s der Fuhrer.  Second is analogical – how in any way is using the force charged with protecting the parks to close the parks like Hitler’s abuse of power in Germany? And park service rangers are given police force training.

Here’s the rich part.  Barton’s responded to criticism of her post, and she’s issued the following clarification.

What I did suggest, rather directly, was that the National Park Service enforcement personnel (referring to them as ‘thugs’ for their reported behavior) were simply following orders of ‘their leader’ – and I used the German phrase for emphasis, Der Fuhrer. . . .I am referencing the Presidents behavior as indicated by his actions. The Merriam-Webster New Collegiate Dictionary defines ‘Fuhrer’ as ‘(2) a leader exercising tyrannical authority. . . . As many are aware, some recent comments of mine on Facebook have touched a sensitive nerve with many people. Additionally, many have simply taken my posting out of its contextual environment. . .  Had I chosen my words differently, or had the President offered to use the power of his office to lessen or mute the public impacts of this impasse in Washington, we might not be having this discussion.

OK, so the defense is as follows:

1. When I use ‘De Fuhrer’ I just mean ‘tyrant’

2. When I used the term it was for emphasis, and to take it as more is to take it out of context.

3. It’s the president’s fault that I had to compare him to Hitler.

Point-for-point, silly.  In fact, to use 1 and 2 together is inconsistent.  The term ‘Fuhrer’ has the emphasis it does not because its usage as leader, or even tyrant, but as THAT tyrant named Adolph.  The context of using ‘Fuhrer’ is the context of exemplifying Godwin’s Law.  3 is amazing.  In effect – it’s not my fault that I can’t think of another apt analogy… I mean the guy’s literally like Hitler when he does this!   (This is, really, a case of instead of backing away from the Ad Hitlerem, but embracing it!)

My Godwin-Sense was tingling

CRUZ Budget_Battle-0a51e

In Godwin’s Law news (and another instantiation of the Ad Tyrranem -Ad Hitlerem), Ted Cruz’s recent Senate speech has a classic:

I suspect those same pundits who say [defunding Obamacare] can’t be done, if it had been in the 1940s we would have been listening to them. . . .They would have been saying, ‘You cannot defeat the Germans

In this case, it’s not an argument that what’s being opposed is wrong, but that not actively opposing the thing is wrong.  I think, then we have two different forms of the ad Hitlerem.

Direct Ad Hitlerem:

You do X or propose X

Hitler did X or proposed X

Therefore, you’re like Hitler and X is wrong.

Here, I  think Cruz is making an indirect form of Ad Hitlerem.  It runs roughly:

He does X (and X is wrong)

We can stop him from doing X

His doing X is like Hitler’s doing Y

Therefore, he’s not only wrong to do X, but we’re wrong (read: appeasers) to not actively oppose and stop his doing X.

My view about Ad Hitlerem is that it’s a weak analogy, and that’s the case for both direct and indirect.  A further thing about the indirect form is that it depends on the direct form.  Essentially: This guy is like Hitler , so this guy is bad (Direct form); If you can stop a guy who’s bad like Hitler, you should as to fail to do so is appeasement (Indirect form).


We’ve had discussions of the use of persuasive comparison with the Ad Hitlerum and Godwin’s Law here at the NS a few times.  (Just a sample from John HERE and from me HERE).  Here’s a stealthier version (hence, sneakyGodwin), one that uses invocations of the Holocaust to make the analogy.  Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) invoked Martin Niemöller’s famous line about the temptations of ignoring Nazi oppression:

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist…

Foxx, as reported by IHE, in defending for-profit colleges from govermental regulation:

” ‘They came for the for-profits, and I didn’t speak up…’ ” Foxx said. “Nobody really spoke up like they should have.”

The trouble, as with all the Godwins, is that government regulation of an industry isn’t akin to sending people to the camps.  The objective of the regulation is to keep people from amassing debilitating debt to these colleges. But, you know, sometimes it’s worth a shot to appropriate the vocabulary of resistance to oppression.

What would Martin do?

Fig.1, Prominent gun advocate

You have the argumentum ad Hiterlum, whereby any proposition p consistent with Hitler’s beliefs b or actions a is ipso facto wrong.  Now you have the ad regem (still working on the name), where any proposition p consistent with the beliefs b or actions a of Martin Luther King, Jr. is ipso facto correct.

By way of Think Progress, and last night’s Daily Show, we have an example:

WARD: I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would agree with me if he were alive today that if African Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from day one of the country’s founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history.

This obviously suffers from terminal factual problems, but so powerful is the thought of Martin Luther King, Jr. that no one bothers to check what he believed any more.  He’s good, therefore he supports any view that’s good.  Hitler is bad, therefore he supports any view that’s bad, like gun control (which he didn’t support, actually).  But thus the fallacy.

Embrace the Ad Hitlerum

Ad Hitlerum arguments are arguments by analogy — you criticize your opponent's views or proposals on the basis of their similarities either to those of Nazi Germany or Hitler himself.  And so: Vegetarianism? No way — many Nazis were vegetarians.  Or: The Nazis favored euthanasia, so it must be wrong.  The crucial thing for these arguments is that Nazis or Hitler favoring X means that X is morally unacceptable.  But this is a pretty unreliable method of detecting immorality, as the Nazis also were avid promoters of physical fitness, environmentalism, and classical music.  So ad Hitlerum arguments regularly suffer from problems of relevance.  But that failing of the argument hardly ever prevents folks from using it. Regularly.

Godwin's law, one of the oldest of the eponymous Laws of the Internet, runs that: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."   Given that the argumentative strategy has regular relevance problems, there's a widely recognized corollary to the law, which is that whoever makes use of the argumentative strategy has thereby lost the argument.  It's in the same boat with appeals to the subjectivity of an issue, after having had a heated argument about it.  It is an argument that is a last-ditch grasp at straws.

So far, none of this is news.

Here's the news: Hal Colebatch, in  his post "Don't Be Scared of Goodwin's So-Called Law" at the American Spectator, is urging conservatives not to be deterred by the charge of "Goodwin's Law."  The law of the internet, instead of being used as a tool for improving discourse, has hampered good argument. He writes:

Try mentioning to a euthanasia advocate that the Nazi extermination program started off as an exercise in medical euthanasia. And as for suggesting that Jews and Israel are in danger of a second holocaust if Muslim extremists have their way, just wait for: "Godwin's Law!" "Godwin's law!" repeated with a kind of witless assumption of superiority reminiscent of school playground chants.

The first question is: with whom has Colebatch been arguing?  Nobody, at least nobody serious, in any of these debates does that chanting stuff. (I smell weak-manning here.) The second question is why would anyone serious about the issues even be bothered by this response?  His article urges people not to be "afraid" of Goodwin's law — who is afraid of people arguing like that?

Colebatch, first, seems to think that the counter-argument is in the chanting.  Or maybe in the thought that someone's lost the argument.  But the real point of noting Godwin's law in a discussion with someone who's just made an Ad Hitlerum move is to challenge the aptness of the analogy.  So take Colebatch's own example — wouldn't the point of bringing up Godwin's Law there be to say something like: euthanasia programs aren't out to do anything more than allow some people to die with dignity.  It's not a cover for something else, and there are oversight programs to ensure that it doesn't turn into something else.  Unless it's shown that there are other plans for euthanasia, there's no relevance to the analogy.

So Colebatch is not being silenced or intimidated when someone says "Godwin's Law" to him — he's on the receiving end of a rebuttal.  But he can't recognize that:

Personally, I don't intend to be intimidated by chants of "Godwin's Law" or any other infantile slogan, used to smother debate in a way reminiscent of something from George Orwell or, if you'll excuse me saying so, a Nuremberg Rally. I have come up against echoes of Nazi thought-patterns and arguments many times and not only am I not going to be bullied into keeping silent about this, I believe every civilized person has a positive duty to speak up about it whenever appropriate.

But Godwin's Law isn't smothering debate at all.  It's a move to point out a fallacy.  Or at least a challenge to demonstrate relevance.  Since when is criticism of an analogy a form of intimidation or something infantile?  That's what good debate is about!