My Godwin-Sense was tingling

CRUZ Budget_Battle-0a51e

In Godwin’s Law news (and another instantiation of the Ad TyrranemAd 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).

6 thoughts on “My Godwin-Sense was tingling”

  1. I’m of two minds on Godwin here. On the one hand, it’s sad that so many disagreements are hitlerized (health food? You’re Hitler!). On the other hand, the invocation of the ad hiterlum and related forms seems to suggest arguments that fall below that threshold don’t merit such animosity. So, by way of response, what if we show Cruz (I know, stop laughing) that Obamacare isn’t really like Hitler at all. What does he say then?

  2. Hey John,
    This seems right, and it’s a function of the fact that the ‘appeasement’ analogy is a dependent form of the ‘ad hitlerum’ form. Both have the same, one might say, argumentative heat, but the latter, being a dependent form of the analogy, should rationally have that heat only if the direct form is correct. But it seems that (and I think this is the point you make about laughing) this wouldn’t have the effect we’d hope. Even if we break the hitler analogy, it seems the rheotrical force of the appeasement analogy persists.

  3. That’s right (this is somewhat of a corollary to my point, but the indirect is dependent on the direct).

    My other point is arguments of the ad tyrannem class bring with them a great deal of risk, as a pragmatic matter. If they’re an all-in kind of strategy, if they fail some kind of empirical test (say, Obamacare is nothing like Hitler as a matter of fact), then two things. First, in a rhetoric composed of Hiltler analogies, no argument is left. Second, perhaps as a consequence of the argumentative heat (great phrase), the Hitlerizer has wasted time and credibility.

  4. I missed your second line of thought, John. And that’s really the important one – that if you stick with the indirect ad hiterem after the direct is undermined, it says more about you than the situation.
    This is a thing we’ve touched on a few times here at the NS – that reverse ad hominem is certainly appropriate. That it may be inappropriate to infer that someone’s got a terrible argument from the fact he’s a jerk, but if someone keeps up a bad argument in the face of clear counter-evidence, it’s evidence he’s a jerk.

  5. It sounds like you’re developing a useful Hitler test. (Alas, irresponsible Nazi references have been rife in health care discussions the past several years.)

    (Newt Gingrich’s love of Hitler references also comes to mind.)

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