Friday, July 15, 2005

Repealing Godwin's Law

David Weigel, a contributing writer at the libertarian blog Hit and Run, tells us that it is time to consider repealing Godwin's Law. Godwin's Law, formulated by Mike Godwin, basically states that the first person in a discussion to invoke Hitler (or later, the Nazis) as a conmparison has automatically lost the argument. For example, 'Bush is the new Hitler' or 'Mike Moore is the new Goebbels' would be considered automatic losers. Weigel does make a good point, I think, when he says that

You can't really downplay this stuff or cheapen it through overuse. Think about this another way: You can say your sandwich tastes like a urinal cake. This emphasizes that the sandwich is truly awful, and gives your listener an idea or image of exactly how awful. But you don't lose sight of how bad the urinal cake can be. It's a poisonous sanitary product, and nothing will ever change that.

While it had never occured to me to compare anything to a urinal cake, his analogy is disgustingly apt. Just because you compare something to the Nazis, or a Nazi, or the Holocaust, it does not cheapen or minimize the horror that was Nazi Germany.
Weigel continues later in the piece:
But obviously, Nazi analogies in humanitarianism and foreign policy aren't intended to cheapen Nazism and the Holocaust. They're meant to put underreported, ugly stories into a frame that everyone immediately understands. It's the same thing with the workaday Nazi arguments, and with situations like Durbin's.

Thus, despite all efforts at regulation, the market has repeatedly decided in favor of the N-bomb. There simply isn't any other tableau, in history or fiction, that offers the same variety of evil and oppressive examples as the Third Reich. Why compare some propaganda to 1984 and some slaughter to Srebrenica when you can double down and link both of them to Nazism?

In other words, there should be nothing wrong with dredging up the horrors of old to discuss the horrors of today.
That being said, I myself am often quite reluctant to compare anyone to Nazis. Many on the left like to compare President Bush to Hitler, and it seems that the left tends to throw around the word 'Nazi' just as much as the right likes to throw around the word 'Communist' (or 'traitor'). I don't like it; to me, it cheapens the dialogue and does nothing to further the debate. While it may, as Weigel says, be time to repeal Godwin's Law, I wonder whether it is a good idea.
I think I am having a hard time expressing myself on this issue. I'm a Pole; while we were victims of the Nazis, my people were often complicit in the Nazi horrors, and were at times active participants. A bit of ethnic guilt on my part, perhaps. I just think that it does cheapen the debate and should be avoided at all costs. I will stop ranting now.
(Crossposted by Bostondreamer at FloridaBlues)
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