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.

3 thoughts on “sneakyGodwin”

  1. Amazing that a poem about right-wing repression of communists, trade-unionists, Jews, and Catholics is invoked by someone for whom the first two items on the list are people who deserve it.

    Or perhaps can we generalize the Godwin move: First they came for x, but I was not x, where x is any x. So, first they came for the Nazis, but I wasn’t a Nazi.

  2. Hey John, I like the way the reductio works. I wonder, though, if there’s a qualification with the universal quantifier, so: where x is any morally tolerable x. That might keep the communists and laborers in, but Nazi Party members out. That said, the power of the Niemöller poem is supposed to be based on the thought that members of those groups aren’t merely morally tolerable, but that their membership in those groups is morally irrelevant to the way the state treats them as individuals. Or am I being too much an old liberal about that?

  3. Scott that is totally correct. However, I think the flexibility of the poem as a rhetorical weapon resides in the fact that it doesn’t say why they’re being pursued. A more accurate reading of the poem would be “where x is any persecuted social/religious minority,” such as for-profit industry, obviously.

Comments are closed.