Tag Archives: Godwin’s Law

Season of the Godwin

Godwin’s Law is, roughly, that as a political discussion proceeds, the likelihood of an analogy to Hitler increases.  Long discussions have it as a relative certainty that Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or Mussolini references will not only happen but perhaps multiply. (We’ve done a number of bits on Godwining here at the NS.  I’ve tried a reconstruction of the argument form here.)

Enter our favorite Orange Furher-analogue and the variety of ways folks have made the argument.  There’s the nationalism, the militarism, the authoritarian style, threatening the free press, the racism.  And there’s the fact that even his supporters holler out ‘Heil Trump.’   So much to work with!

It’s worth paying attention to a small difference in argument criticism here — you can criticize an argument against some claim or individual without really defending the claim or person.  That is, you don’t have to be a Trump sympathizer to think that some analogies between him and Hitler are off base.  You’ve just got to think that this analogy isn’t quite right.  (See John’s older post about how to evade in these lights.)

David Harsanyi at NRO has a bit of argument criticism with the wide phenomenon Godwining/Ad Hitlering with our Great Orange Leader.   He has one line of argument that there are bad consequences to the overuse of Ad Hitlerum:

Comparing everything to 1933 is now a big part of our national discourse, not only that of angry partisans but also that of people who should know better than to habitually make these correlations. This isn’t Mel Brooks’s Springtime for Hitler. Whether you’re a fan or a detractor of Trump, these gross false equivalencies belittle the memory of millions who died in unimaginably horrifying ways. Moreover, exaggeration and historical illiteracy undermine the very cause these people claim to care about, unless that cause is desensitizing people to the terror of the Holocaust.

Well, we have to note that the argument here depends on the analogies being false.  So the main line of argument, then, depends on the case that there are relevant dissimiliarities between Trump and Hitler.  Here’s how Harsanyi breaks the analogies when they come to deportation:

[E]ven if the authorities . . . were to start deporting illegal immigrants, not one of those unfortunate people would ever be sent to anything resembling the ovens of Treblinka and Auschwitz. Not their children. Not anyone else in this country. Most often, in fact, deported illegal immigrants, who have broken the law, are going back to their home in Mexico, where they can often apply for legal entry into the United States.

Two things.  First, the Jews weren’t sent straight to the ovens.  They were sent to internment camps, which were billed to the rest of Germany is pretty nice places.  Second, given the way the laws were sold to the public, they don’t sound like matters of targeting illegal immigration, but are more matters of ethnic or religious identity.  It’s that part that merits the Hitler analogies, not whether the consequences are nicer or not.   That the policies could be worse (as in exactly like Hitler’s policies) is a very weak defense.  And, again, as we’ve said many times: analogies are not identities.

Never go full Godwin

From NPR’s All Tech Considered:

Godwin explains that the comparison is usually out of desperation. “Discovering what other people think when they disagree with you is quite disturbing. So there’s a tendency to escalate,” he says. He adds that the Internet created the first opportunity for such a diverse range of people to interact in an unmediated space.

To this I would add that dealing with disagreement is time-consuming, fatiguing, and emotionally distressing. Finding an easy way to do it is the name of the game. Hitler will do just fine.



You don’t have to be good at maths to be rich.  Here’s Godwinizer Tom Perkins on taxing the “1 percent” (from TPM):

“The fear is wealth tax, higher taxes, higher death taxes — just more taxes until there is no more 1%,” he said, as quoted by CNN Money. “And that that will creep down to the 5% and then the 10%.

In addition to failing to understand marginal tax rates and basic math, this also a slippery slope.  This is probably worse than his proposal that every dollar of tax paid ought to equal a vote:

“The Tom Perkins system is: You don’t get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes,” Perkins responded, as quoted by CNNMoney. “But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes. How’s that?

It might be easier just to give people who pay no taxes less than an entire vote, say 3/5ths.

Keeping up with the Godwins

“Godwin’s Blog” ought to exist (probably does actually).  If it did, hardly an hour would go by without something to write about.  Here’s novelist Danielle Steel’s ex-husband’s letter to the editor of The Wall Street Journal comparing criticism of income inequality with Kristallnacht :

Regarding your editorial “Censors on Campus” (Jan. 18): Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich.”

From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these “techno geeks” can pay. We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a “snob” despite the millions she has spent on our city’s homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.

This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant “progressive” radicalism unthinkable now?

Tom Perkins

San Francisco

Mr. Perkins is a founder of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Yes, it’s unthinkable now, because, in part, this comparison makes no sense.

Ad Fuhrer-em

We’ve been doing a lot of Ad Hitleremspotting 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!)

The Godwinator

Fig.1: Obamacare analogy

George Will, whose pseudo-logical musings at the Washington Post inspired our work here so many years ago, has moved from ABC to Fox News.  In keeping with the tone of his new employer, he waxes historical about the legality of Obamacare (via Talking Points Memo):

In an interview with NPR’s “Morning Edition,” host Steve Inskeep asked Will about President Barack Obama’s argument that Republicans are short-circuiting the system by using government funding and the debt ceiling as leverage to dismantle Obamacare, rather than repealing the law outright.

“How does this short-circuit the system?” Will said. “I hear Democrats say, ‘The Affordable Care Act is the law,’ as though we’re supposed to genuflect at that sunburst of insight and move on. Well, the Fugitive Slave Act was the law, separate but equal was the law, lots of things are the law and then we change them.”

Many here are familiar with Godwin’s law, where as a discussion grows longer, the probability of a Hitler analogy approaches 1.  We might now offer two variations on that.  Given any possible disagreement, the probability of a completely inept Hitler is initially 1.  The second variation is implied in the first: Hitler is a mere stylistic choice: the invoker can select any other moral abomination according to need.

One further rule: some iron-manner will come to the defense of the Godwinator:

I generally agree with TPM, but this headline is an outrageous distortion of what GW said.

His view is that Obamacare law is wrong, which is a legitimate view (not  mine).  He then points out that we have rescinded laws that we all regard as wrong.  He was speaking to the process, not the content.

Nah.  That isn’t his view and this ignores the inappropriate analogy.  Looking past these kinds of rhetorical outrages keeps them alive.

Not the way to conduct reasonable political discourse

It is very hard to have an adult discussion about distributive justice when the very notion sends some people’s minds sliding down slippery slopes to Hitler and Stalin (see yesterday on the ad stalinem).  A recent exchange illustrates this point.  Last month, fellow Chicagoan Harold Pollack wrote a reply to Greg Mankiw’s defense of the 1 percent.  Pollack argued for some version of distributive justice.  This prompted the following comment from John Goodman, health care policy person:

In some ways this is all very surprising. After all, the 20th century was the century of collectivism. It was the century of communism, socialism, national socialism (fascism) and the welfare state. Each and every one of these isms was devoted to taking from some and giving to others. After all these years and all that misery you would think that someone, somewhere would have perfected an argument for forcible redistribution of income. And yet what we find today at the leftwing blogs is truly pitiful.

I have said this before, but it bears repeating. The left is intellectually bankrupt. It has been that way for almost a half century.

Sorry, but this is moronic and just a bit insulting, as Pollack himself notes in a comment on the post:

“In some ways this is all very surprising. After all, the 20th century was the century of collectivism. It was the century of communism, socialism, national socialism (fascism) and the welfare state. Each and every one of these isms was devoted to taking from some and giving to others. After all these years and all that misery you would think that someone, somewhere would have perfected an argument for forcible redistribution of income….”

Having grown up with refuseniks and the children of holocaust survivors victimized by the first three isms you mention, I find this crude paragraph especially insulting. Social democracies and liberal welfare states–whatever faults they may have–should not be likened to to criminal authoritarian regimes. That’s not the way to conduct reasonable political discourse. Harold Pollack

That bolded sentiment is exactly right.  Goodman, ever clueless, responds:

Harold makes a point that deserves a thoughtful response.

I do indeed see all the collectivist isms of the 20th century as forming a continuum. Some were more brutal than others in practice of course — a lot more brutal. But ideologically speaking, the differences among them are differences of degree, not of kind.

This is how people in the 20th century also saw things. Roosevelt, Stalin and Hitler all believed they were more ideologically similar to each other than to classical liberalism. In fact for all three, the principal philosophical enemy was liberalism. This is also how Woodrow Wilson and other progressives thought. (See Jonah Goldberg’s lay history of the early 20th century progressives for a very readable summary.)

Also, this is the way they thought in the universities.

It’s a slippery slope, he insists (also, Jonah Goldberg, seriously?).  Pollack replies:

My last comment on this unfortunate thread. The distinction between the first three isms and the rest resides in institutions which respect political liberty, the rule of law, checks and balances, and other features of constitutional democracy. The U.S., Sweden, Britain, France, and year-2013 Germany have these institutions, laws, practices, and political norms. Nazi Germany, the USSR, and many other authoritarian regimes of the right and left did not.

That was nice of Pollack to try one more time, but Goodman’s entire approach is a textbook slippery slope to Communism and Hitler.  I don’t know if any more refutation is necessary.


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.

You know who also voted in high numbers? Nazis, that’s who.

Here is George Will on why the Obama administration’s attempt to make voting easier (i.e., to remove various local impediments to voting) is not desirable:

In 1960, 62.8 percent of age-eligible citizens voted. In the 13 subsequent presidential elections, lower turnouts than this have coincided with the removal of impediments to voting (poll taxes, literacy tests, burdensome registration and residency requirements). Turnout has not increased as the electorate has become more educated and affluent and as government has become more involved in Americans’ lives. There are four obvious reasons for nonvoting.

One is contentment. Americans are voluble complainers but are mostly comfortable.

Second, the stakes of politics are agreeably low because constitutional rights and other essential elements of happiness are not menaced by elections. Those who think high voter turnout indicates civic health should note that in three German elections, 1932-33, turnout averaged more than 86 percent, reflecting the terrible stakes: The elections decided which mobs would rule the streets and who would inhabit concentration camps.

Third, the winner-take-all allocation of electoral votes in 48 states — an excellent idea, for many reasons — means that many state races are without suspense. (After their conventions, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney campaigned in just eight and 10 battleground states, respectively.)

Fourth, gerrymandered federal and state legislative districts reduce competitive races.

Even if you disregard the Godwinism (which you really shouldn’t, by the way), the idea that high voter turnout correlates with lack of civic health doesn’t square with the facts.  Check out Sweden, or just about any other advanced democracy; their turnout is largely higher than ours.  I know what you’re going to say: but Sweden is in Europe, and didn’t Hitler come from Europe?

via Balloon Juice.

See also Alex Pareene, on the Washington Post’s op-ed page.  Here’s a taste:

When George Will isn’t being dishonest, he’s usually being wrong. He lies about climate change. He claims that anti-voter suppression efforts are actually about mandatory voting, something few liberals and no elected Democratic leaders support. George Will decided that college football is “liberal” because he doesn’t like football and he doesn’t like liberal things, so things he doesn’t like must be liberal. George Will said that if Obama won it would be because he was lucky enough to be black, and Americans didn’t want to look racist by voting against him. That was another entry in his long history of worrying that America was being too nice to black people. Will also predicted Romney would win 321 electoral votes and that Minnesota’s marriage amendment would swing the state Republican.

Read the whole thing.


You Lie!

In an article on why it's wrong to call someone whose accuracy is deeply questionable a liar is out of bounds, Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal goes full Godwin:

The Obama campaign's resurrection of "liar" as a political tool is odious because it has such a repellent pedigree. It dates to the sleazy world of fascist and totalitarian propaganda in the 1930s. It was part of the milieu of stooges, show trials and dupes. These were people willing to say anything to defeat their opposition. Denouncing people as liars was at the center of it. The idea was never to elevate political debate but to debauch it.

The purpose of calling someone a liar then was not merely to refute their ideas or arguments. It was to nullify them, to eliminate them from participation in politics. That's what is so unsettling about a David Axelrod or David Plouffe following accusations of dishonesty and lies with "whether that person should sit in the Oval Office." And that is followed by President Obama himself feeding the new line in stump speeches without himself ever using the L-word.

For those who are new to the idea, Godwin's law has it, on one corollary at least, that one loses an argument as soon as one compares one's opponent to Hitler.  What's ironic about this employment of it is that there is a much easier argument against the "liar" accusation: it's not true. 

Sadly, that is a road Mr.Henninger has not taken.  He can't, of course, because that road is closed.