| Cogito ergo sum|
Logic and rhetoric
“” I wonder if there will come a time when Nazis will become primarily known for the ridiculous analogies people make using them and not genocide.
- Reductio ad Hitlerum is, basically, the premise that "everything Hitler supported must be bad and everything Hitler was against must be good". Hitler's opinions serve as the sole parameter to judge something's desirability or morality.
- Godwin’s Law, itself a response to reductio ad Hitlerum, asserts that the longer an online discussion grows, the greater are the odds of someone mentioning Hitler or the Nazis. It is something you can verify by yourself and that demonstrates how common such analogies are.
Those are also known by other names, such as argumentum ad Nazium (a pun on argumentum ad nauseam) or "playing the Hitler/Nazi Card".
“”‘Who was it that said: "Whenver[ ] somebody starts mentioning Nazis on USENET, you know the discussion has gone on too long"?'.. I said it. Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies: As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.
|—Michael Godwin in 1991, one of the earliest invocations|
“”Unfortunately, it does not go without saying that in our examination we must avoid the fallacy that the last decades has frequently been used as a substitute for the reductio ad absurdum: the reductio ad Hitlerum. A view that is not refuted by the fact that it happens to have been shared by Hitler.
How it works
“”It's like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, except there's just one degree, and Kevin Bacon is Hitler!
- P1: Hitler's final solution would have put an end to overpopulation.
- P2: Person X wants to use birth control to solve the problem of overpopulation.
- C: Therefore person X is like Hitler.
Or it could be an ad hominem attack such as saying, "You are just like Hitler and therefore whatever you are arguing for is wrong," without having any reasoning behind how this conclusion was reached.
Godwin's Law does not dispute the validity or otherwise of references or comparison to Hitler or the Nazis. As such a comparison or reference may sometimes be appropriate in a discussion, Godwin has argued that overuse of the Nazi comparison should be avoided as it waters down the impact of any valid usage. In its purest sense, the rule has more to do with completely losing one's sense of proportion rather than just mentioning Nazis specifically. The law was initiated as a counter-meme to flippant comparisons to the Nazis, rather than to invoke a complete ban on comparisons. As Godwin himself wrote in 2008:
“”When I saw the photographs from Abu Ghraib, for example, I understood instantly the connection between the humiliations inflicted there and the ones the Nazis imposed upon death camp inmates — but I am the one person in the world least able to draw attention to that valid comparison.
Additionally, Godwin made an appearance in Glenn Greenwald's Salon comments section in 2010 to confirm, as Greenwald put it in a column titled The odiousness of the distorted Godwin's Law:
“”Godwin himself appears in comments (authenticity confirmed via email) to explain that his "law" sought to discourage frivolous, but not substantive, Nazi analogies and comparisons.
With the increase in the number of media for online discussion, Godwin's Law is now applied to any online discussion — be they mailing lists, message boards, forums, chat rooms, blog comment threads, or wiki talk pages.
Traditionally in many Internet discussion forums, it is the rule that once such a comparison is made, the discussion is effectively finished and whoever mentioned Hitler or the Nazis has automatically lost the debate, though it is considered sort-of acceptable if one immediately says "Pardon me for invoking Godwin's Law." The blogosphere has only heightened the prevalence of Godwin's Law, with Nazi references being dropped across the political spectrum, such as the liberal Daily Kos, right-wing religious strongholds such as Bill Donohue's Catholic League, and intelligent design advocates like the Discovery Institute.
Compared to other known blog-based laws, namely Poe's Law, Godwin's Law is quite well known in more mainstream areas. Just to prove it, the law even has its own Wikipedia article. In 2012 it was added to the Oxford Dictionary, which means that in 500 years' time it will be reviewed by completely mystified college arts majors.
Stormfront and other corollaries
“”This is exactly how Nazi Germany was started! A bunch of layabouts with nothing better to do than to cause trouble!
|—John Cleese as Basil Fawlty|
A number of corollaries have been proposed since the introduction of Godwin's Law.
In a hilarious instance of cosmic symmetry, a similar law applies to neo-Nazi boards such as Stormfront: as the discussion grows longer, the probability of someone calling their opponent a Jew approaches one. (For another version, replace Stormfront with Conservapedia and Jew with liberal.)
Another example of a corollary, and an early example, is called "Sircar's Corollary," which is: "If the Usenet discussion touches on homosexuality or Heinlein, Nazis or Hitler are mentioned within three days.”'
“”As an online discussion of an original post concerning Nazis or Hitler grows, the probability of observing a laboured and unwarranted retreat or appeal to Godwin's Law (of laboured, unwarranted retreat to Nazi or Hitler references) approaches one.
The exact history of Arken's Law is debatable,[note 1] but it is claimed that Arken's Law has its roots in the days of HTML 1.0 and earlier (such as Usenet). Any accusations of Big Brotherism, utilizing newspeak, practicing doublethink, thought policing, sending updates down the memory hole or belonging to the Anti-Sex League would all be invocations of Arken's Law.
Researchers from the University College London attempted to formulate reductio ad Hitlerum into a Bayesian framework, presenting evidence that this is pretty much exactly how people processed the argument:
Before Hitler was a thing, the typical point of comparison for worst person in the world appears to have been the Pharaoh of the Biblical book of Exodus (his identity is uncertain, and he may be fictional, which makes it a weaker rhetorical comparison), although the likes of Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, Napoleon Bonaparte, and (for Americans) King George III were occasional references. Calling something medieval also seemed to work. However, those don't seem to have been used in an earlier version of Godwin's Law, possibly because the internet did not exist.
Evil Nazi things
Because the Nazis were eclectic and often self-contradictory, this is a long list of things which, by the logic of reductio ad Hitlerum, the Nazis were in favor of and which are therefore evil:
- Animal welfare and conservation — especially their fondness for dogs
- Books, since Hitler was a big fan of them and even wrote one himself (though Nazis also burned plenty of books)
- Cheap cars
- Evolution — see Hitler and evolution
- Genetics — even though the science was much more primitive back then
- Gun control which the Nazis actually didn't really do
- Homosexuality — there is a myth that Nazis were pro-homosexual because one of them, Ernst Röhm, was gay; see Dinesh D'Souza's Death of a Nation for a batshit-crazy account of evil gay Nazis; in fact they killed huge numbers of homosexuals
- Japanese people
- Occultism and Magick
- People who have health problems
- Pro-science attitudes
- Socialism — you can't spell "national socialism" without "socialism"
- Vegetarianism — Hitler was vegetarian
Some, such as author Robert J. Sawyer, have criticized Godwin's Law for implying the Holocaust was sui generis, a unique event that can never happen again. Consequently, he argues, people will be reluctant to issue comparisons for future situations until it is too late, and even if they try, Godwin's Law will be used to falsely shoot them down.
- Ad Nazium, Fallacy Files
- Meme, Counter Meme, Wired
- How to post about Nazis and get away with it — the Godwin's Law FAQ
- Before Hitler, who did people compare their political enemies to? (Mostly this guy.)
- Greatest. Godwin. Ever., Dispatches from the Culture Wars
- /r/godwinslaw/ Godwin's law on reddit. The site of bad historical analogies.
- How Godwin's law demeans Hitler, hehe. (Albeit using both Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay as examples...)
- Sophie Wilder did some research and found no references to a user named "Arken" on talk.atheism which turned up no results, and the only source to be UD (existing as early as 2004).
- Oxford English Dictionary, "Godwin's Law" entry (2012) Third edition. The quote is from the group rec.arts.sf-lovers on August 18, 1991.
- "The Social Science of Max Weber" by Leo Strauss" (1951) Measure: A Critical Journal 2(2):204-230.
- Natural Right and History by Leo Strauss (1953) University of Chicago Press.
- Meme, Counter-meme by Mike Godwin (10.01.94; 12:00 pm) Wired.
- As argued by Finnish Usenet personality Jukka Korpela.
- No Nazi comparisons? Sounds like something Hitler would say! The strange history of Godwin's Law, and what it means for our own duties to … by Nate Anderson (9/1/2011, 5:05 AM) Ars Technica
- I Seem To Be A Verb: 18 Years of Godwin's Law by Mike Godwin (April 30, 2008) Jewcy.
- Letters to the Editor: The odiousness of the distorted Godwin's Law by Glenn Greenwald (July 1, 2010 10:27 AM ET) Salon (archived from September 18, 2011).
- Mike Godwin: Man who devised internet Hitler law says, 'Call these Charlottesville s***heads Nazis': 'By all means, compare these s***heads to the Nazis. Again and again. I'm with you.' by Andrew Griffin (August 14, 2017) The Independent.
- Is it ever OK to call someone a Nazi? by Andrew McFarlane (14 July 2010) BBC News.
- See the Wikipedia article on Godwin's Law.
- Including a reference to Grammar Nazis.
- Fawlty Towers: 20 of Basil's best rants by Oliver Smith (27 November 2015 • 12:00am) The Telegraph (archived from May 10, 2016).
- "Nazism, Firearm Registration, and the Night of the Broken Glass" by David Kopel (November 9, 2010 6:12 pm) The Volokh Conspiracy. Caveat lector.]
- Godwin's Feminist Corollary Geek Feminism Wiki.
- Arken's Law (October 31, 2004) Urban Dictionary.
- Adam J. L. Harris, Anne S. Hsu & Jens K. Madsen (2012): Because Hitler did it! Quantitative tests of Bayesian argumentation using ad hominem, Thinking & Reasoning 18(3):311-343.
- Before Hitler, Who Was the Stand-In for Pure Evil? by Brian Palmer (Oct 04, 20115:51 PM) Slate.
- See the Wikipedia article on Animal welfare in Nazi Germany.
- Why Did the Nazis Like Dogs? Canines 'enjoyed supreme social status' in the Third Reich, writes one scholar, but perhaps also symbolized the obedience of the German nation to Hitler. by Avner Shapira (08.04.2013; 24.04.2018) Ha'aretz.
- “Nicotine Nazis strike again”: a brief analysis of the use of Nazi rhetoric in attacking tobacco control advocacy by Nick K. Schneider & Stanton A. Glantz (2008) Tob. Control. 17(5): 291–296. doi: 10.1136/tc.2007.024653.
- Row after Pope's remarks on atheism and Nazis (16 September 2010) BBC News.
- See the Wikipedia article on Volkswagen § 1932–1938: People's Car project.
- Nazism and the Christian Heritage: Robert Carr draws uncomfortable parallels between Christianity and Nazism by Robert Carr (December 2003) History Review.
- Ben Stein's Expelled: No Integrity Displayed. A shameful antievolution film tries to blame Darwin for the Holocaust by John Rennie (April 9, 2008) Scientific American.
- See the Wikipedia article on Reichsautobahn.
- See the Wikipedia article on Nazi gun control argument.
- Guns in the Third Reich - A Response to Ben Shapiro and Others by Three Arrows (Mar 23, 2018) YouTube.
- See the Wikipedia article on Nazism and homosexuality.
- See the Wikipedia article on Religious views of Adolf Hitler § Hitler on Ancient Indian religions.
- See the Wikipedia article on Religious views of Adolf Hitler § Hitler on Islam. Hitler also made private and public statements expressing admiration for what he perceived to be the militaristic nature of Islam and the political sharpness of the Prophet Muhammad.]
- See the Wikipedia article on Religious views of Adolf Hitler § Speer on Hitler's religious beliefs.
- See the Wikipedia article on Occultism in Nazism.
- See the Wikipedia article on Health of Adolf Hitler.
- How Hitler Won Germans Over With His 'Scientific Religion' by Ayelett Shani (17.12.2016) Ha'aretz.
- See the Wikipedia article on Deutsche Physik.
- Were the Nazis Socialists? We look into the burning (at least for some) question of whether members of the National German Socialist Workers' Party were accurately classified as "socialists". by David Emery (5 Sep 2017) Snopes.
- See the Wikipedia article on Adolf Hitler and vegetarianism.
- Authoritarians: An existential threat by Robert J. Sawyer (December 18th, 2015) Science Fiction Writer.