Via Andrew Sullivan, I see Glenn Greenwald is defending the Nazi comparisons I hate so much:
“The very notion that a major 20th Century event like German aggression is off-limits in political discussions is both arbitrary and anti-intellectual in the extreme. There simply are instances where such comparisons uniquely illuminate important truths… To demand that German crimes be treated as sacred and unmentionable is to deprive our discourse of critical truths.”
This would be true if not for the fact that the Nazi comparison tactic has been abused quite recklessly by virtually all sides in all arguments about anything in the past few decades. It has almost no meaning at this point.
Greenwald uses the example of Andrew Sullivan’s comparison of then-President Bush’s “enhanced interrogation” policy with Gestapo orders. That’s interesting and all, but did that actually change anybody’s mind about torture? I suspect not. (If so, please mention it in the comments.) The people who think torture is wrong felt good about themselves, the people who thought it was justified thought Sullivan was engaging in Reductio ad Hitlerum.
I’m not saying the Nazi-comparisons are all that’s standing in the way of everyone understanding each other; rather, I’m saying that bringing it up introduces a needless layer of issues into your argument, and whoever you’re arguing with can talk about that instead of your actual point. It’s so overused it’s become an argument unto itself: “who is more like the Nazis in this debate?” And that isn’t really a productive thing to debate.
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?
Another damn Nazi comparison.
As Private Buffoon might say: “Stop the madness!”
UPDATE: Apparently, Sowell’s column has formed the theme of many a Conservative politician’s opposition to the escrow fund:
(Hat Tip to: Little Green Footballs.)
He nails it:
“Analogies between present-day America and Nazi Germany are historically absurd and morally unseemly. Every time President Obama is accused of being a Nazi, every time a controversial Democratic policy or a woman’s legal right to abort a fetus is compared to the greatest carnage ever perpetrated, every time a Democratic politician evokes Third Reich imagery in describing a Republican opponent, our civil discourse is dumbed down and the memory of millions of murdered men, women and children is trivialized and desecrated.”
So true. It is madness, the way this comparison is so lightly bandied about in political discourse.
“I’m not calling [Sarah Palin] a Nazi, but that’s the same kind of tactic that the Nazi troopers used in Germany in the ’30s.”–Joe Mcginniss.
Will this I-don’t-like-it-so-it-is-like-the-Nazis garbage never end?