|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. The reason this is idiotic is because Hitler wore pants, so by this logic wearing pants makes you a fascist.
- 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.
To be clear: I don't personally believe all rational discourse has ended when Nazis or the Holocaust are invoked. … But I'm pleased that people still use Godwin's Law to force one another to argue more thoughtfully.
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.
Historian Timothy Snyder has coined the word 'schizofascism' to refer to actual fascists who make Nazi analogies against other people.:145 As an example, fascist Russian politician Aleksandr Dugin has blamed Ukrainian Jews for the Holocaust,:145 which is just literally adding insult to injury.
Russian propaganda has used schizofascism extensively during the 2014 invasion of Crimea, the Russian-sponsored coup attempts in Ukraine, and the Russian-backed insurrection in eastern Ukraine.:145-148 During this time, Russian President Vladimir Putin, head of a regime labeled as crypto-fascist, defined Ukrainian opponents of Russian incursions as fascists.:147 In February 2022, Putin called for the "de-nazification" of Ukraine, just prior to the
“special military operation” full-scale invasion of Ukraine in March 2022 in which Putin gave de-nazification as a justification for his war of aggression, despite Ukraine's democratically-elected president (Volodymyr Zelenskyy) being ethnically Jewish. Lavrov went further stating, "I could be wrong, but Hitler also had Jewish blood. [That Zelensky is Jewish] means absolutely nothing. Wise Jewish people say that the most ardent anti-Semites are usually Jews."
Further, writer and antisemite Alexander Prokhanov compared Russia's failed 2014 coup in Odessa, Ukraine to the Holocaust.:170,184-185 Alexander Zaldostanov, leader of the Night Wolves motorcycle-gang, made similar pronouncements at the same rally as Prokhanov.:184-186 Vladimir Antyufeyev, who has been in leadership positions in self-declared fascistic puppet-states within Moldova (Transnistria, founded in 1990/1991) and within Ukraine (Donetsk People's Republic, founded in 2014), claimed that Russia was at war with fascists who were aligned with an international Freemason conspiracy.:175
"Schizofascism is an example of what philosopher Jason Stanley calls 'undermining propaganda': using a concept to destroy that concept. Here anti-fascism is being used to destroy anti-fascism.":315-316 The intent of the undermining propaganda is generally in the furtherance of fake news, including but not limited to attempts to stain the credibility of one's opponents and maintaining the ideological
brainwashing purity of one's followers.
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.
A corollary for feminists is:
The exact history of Arken's Law is debatable,[note 2] but it is claimed that Arken's Law has its roots in the days of Web 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, Oliver Cromwell (for the Irish), Napoleon Bonaparte, and King George III (for Americans), 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,[note 3] 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
- Freeways, including the Dwight D. Eisenhower Interstate Highway System, which was inspired by the Nazi-era Reichsautobahns.
- 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. In fact, they killed huge numbers of homosexuals, including Röhm himself.
- Islam[note 4]
- Japanese people
- Occultism and Magick
- People who have health problems
- Pro-science attitudes
- Socialism — you can't spell "national socialism" without "socialism", although Hitler had the left-leaning Nazis, the Strasserites, purged in the Night of the Long Knives.
- Vegetarianism — Hitler was vegetarian
Overlap with Holocaust denial
Inappropriate Nazi analogies can have the effect of downplaying the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity of the Third Reich. This is particularly the case when the thing being compared to the Holocaust is not only less bad than the Holocaust but entirely unobjectionable.
For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many anti-vaccine protesters have taken to wearing yellow stars to protest vaccine mandates. Antivaxx leader Del Bigtree started doing this before the pandemic. As international relations scholar Nicholas Grossman has pointed out, “This is a warped form of Holocaust denial. … [T]he core point, charitably interpreted, is that the Holocaust was public pressure in response to a voluntary choice, when it was actually the industrialized mass murder of millions just for who they were.”
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.
A reverse effect happens when people's views or actions are compared to those of well-known sages or heroes, such as Einstein, Lincoln, etc. The basic idea is that "if you think or do like them, you will be like them". And just like Hitler, they are often the authors of false quotes or the subjects of spurious stories.
While both Hitler and Einstein adopted a vegetarian diet at some point of their lives, two distinct pieces of information that are conveniently brought up by both proponents and critics of vegetarianism in separate occasions when they see fit, this hardly means you will be as bad as Hitler or as intelligent as Einstein only because you don't eat meat. Citing historical examples (when backed up by proper historical evidence) can be an important part of supporting a cause, but are far from being a sufficient argument by themselves.
Want to read this in another language?
تقلیل_به_هیتلر in Farsi
- See the Wikipedia article on Reductio ad Hitlerum.
- 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...)
- Given that fascism is right-wing by nature, this is a contradiction in terms. Left-wing totalitarianism can and does exist, but left-wing fascism cannot and does not exist.
- 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).
- Not unlike conservatives in general… heck, not unlike humans in general!
- …Okay, there are some legitimate arguments that can be made against Islam, but we don't want to go into that can of worms.
- 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. comment by rupucis (Dec 1, 2015 1:17 PM) Ars Technica.
- 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.
- What Makes Us Smart: The Computational Logic of Human Cognition by Samuel Gershman (2021) Princeton University Press. ISBN 069120571X.
- Extended Analogy Logically Fallacious.
- 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.
- Including a reference to Grammar Nazis.
- The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America by Timothy Snyder (2018) Tim Duggan Books. ISBN 0525574468.
- Putinism: The Slow Rise of a Radical Right Regime in Russia by Marcel Van Herpen, page 107: "Putin is too shrewd to let himself and his regime be labeled 'fascist,' but this does not mean that his regime is not developing traits of a fascist regime. [… In this case a regime must be labeled crypto-fascist […]."
- Putin says he will ‘denazify’ Ukraine. Here’s the history behind that claim. by Miriam Berger (February 24, 2022; Updated February 25, 2022 at 1:44 p.m. EST) The Washington Post.
- Putin's claim of fighting against Ukraine 'neo-Nazis' distorts history, scholars say by Rachel Treisman (March 1, 20223:02 PM ET) NPR.
- Israel outrage at Sergei Lavrov's claim that Hitler was part Jewish (May 2, 2022) BBC News.
- Is Ginni Thomas a Threat to the Supreme Court? Behind closed doors, Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife is working with many groups directly involved in controversial cases before the Court. by Jane Mayer (January 21, 2022) The Washington Post.
- How Propaganda Works by Jason Stanley (2015), Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691164428.
- Fawlty Towers: 20 of Basil's best rants by Oliver Smith (27 November 2015 • 12:00am) The Telegraph (archived from May 10, 2016).
- David Kopel, "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.
- Ribbons Across the Land: Building the U.S. Interstate Highway System Linda Hall Library
- 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.
- Anti-Vaccine Protesters Misappropriate Holocaust-Era Symbol to Promote Their Cause (April 5, 2019) ADL.
- This is a warped form of Holocaust denial. Might not seem like it at first, but the core point, charitably interpreted, is that the Holocaust was public pressure in response to a voluntary choice, when it actually was industrialized mass murder of millions just for who they were. by Nicholas Grossman (4:50 PM - 12 Nov 2021) Twitter (archived from 4 Feb 2022 19:37:36 UTC).
- Authoritarians: An existential threat by Robert J. Sawyer (December 18th, 2015) Science Fiction Writer.
- Bullock, Alan (1962). Hitler: A Study in Tyranny. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-013564-0.
- Toland, Joh (1976). Adolf Hitler. New York; Toronto: Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0-345-25899-1.
- "History of Vegetarianism – Albert Einstein".
- Alice Calaprice (Hrsg.): The Ultimate Quotable Einstein. Princeton University Press 2011, Template:ISBN, S. 453–454. (Template:Google books)