James Leroy Wilson's blog

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

In Defense of Referencing Hitler

BK Marcus at lowercase liberty:

The moment the words Hitler, Holocaust, or Nazi come up, the assumption is that the speaker has left the bounds of good taste and rationality and slipped into the realm of hyperbole and name-calling.

In Internet culture, there is even a name for this phenomenon: Godwin's Law, which states, "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." There is also the tradition online that once such a comparison is made the discussion is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress.


Think of a reference to Jim Crow, Hitler, Stalinism, Pol Pot -- whoever or whatever is your most effective symbol of political evil -- as a rhetorical shortcut to the reductio ad absurdum. The question is this: are you willing to stand by your logic when I apply it in the extreme? That is absolutely not an unfair question. If the history of the 20th century teaches us anything, it's that these extreme cases are relevant. They do happen. And they not only can be part of a rational conversation about political principles, I would argue that they should be.

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