It should be obvious to everyone, but as I’ve cataloged here, it isn’t happening. And, believe it or not, I understand the temptation to do it.
It’s very, very compelling and dramatic to make Nazi comparisons when you’re arguing a point. It may be, though I haven’t looked, that I’ve even done it on this very blog. (If so, I’m sorry.) The Nazis epitomize evil in modern-day discourse, and when you’re arguing against something, it’s pretty much of an easy out to call it “evil”. Makes everything sound more exciting, too. But it’s absolutely poisonous in discourse, for two reasons:
- Obviously, it implicitly trivializes the Holocaust. Now, some may say “well, I wasn’t comparing [who/whatever] to that aspect of the Nazis.” Like hell. The thing that made the Nazis different, and infinitely more horrible than other gangs of thugs, was the Holocaust. That was what separates them from the typical evil of many another government, and it is for this monstrous crime that we remember them today. To say otherwise is incorrect. Therefore, the only conceivable reason for Nazi comparisons is, effectively, to make implicit Holocaust comparisons. And unless you’re actually talking about people who are actually committing genocide, that’s stupid and wrong.
- Beyond this, however, there is another reason never to use this technique: It is, intellectually, about the laziest thing you can do. The fact that many a troll has thought to himself: “I know! I’ll compare my opponent to the Nazis” really ought to tip you off to the fact that this isn’t a useful debating tactic. Yet, many prominent writers and politicians cannot resist Reductio ad Hitlerum. Oh, they dress it up and try to be clever about it, but they do it all the same.
So, anyone who uses this technique of saying: “[X person/policy I oppose] is like the Nazis, because [Y trivial thing that may or may not actually be like something Nazis did]”, is simultaneously trivializing mass murder and failing to actually make any sort of a useful argument against X.
What’s really frustrating here is that everyone knows this; I’ve read lots of other people make the same point I made above. And yet, the Nazi comparisons continue unabated. What the hell does it take?