Dada is the sun, Dada is the egg. Dada is the Police of the Police.

5/27/2005

Repeal Godwin's law

'Godwin's law' commonly refers to a general rule that says that invoking, via analogy, the Nazi regime is generally out of bounds. In other words: don't compare your opponents to Nazis unless they are literally acting like Nazis (i.e., committing genocide).

I don't like this rule. I don't see why Nazi analogies should be out of bounds. Sometimes they are quite useful. Yes, they can be taken too far--he may be evil, but Bush is no Hitler--that doesn't mean they should never be used. Anything can be taken too far.

I think references to fascism are entirely appropriate when worrying about a growing authoritarian trend in political discourse or public policy, for instance.

Plus, for some reason almost everyone seems to find Godwin's law hard to follow. Inevitably, Nazi references creep in. Kevin Drum approvingly cites Jon Chait, who asks:

What's the value in having the greatest bad example of all time if you can never use it?

I think this gets to the heart of the matter. In Hitler, the world saw a level of evil that is still startling today. Other leaders have killed great numbers of people--Stalin killed even more. But Hitler was unique in that he seemed to kill not achieve any political end, necessarily, but just for the sake of killing. Or, killing was his political end. There is a meaningful way in which the whole of human history can be divided between the pre-Hitler world and the post-Hitler world. 20th century history is defined in reference to him. His figure still haunts us.

In the pre-Hitler world, when people talked about evil, they invoked the name of Satan, betraying a human need to personify evil. There was no human embodiment of pure, infinite, nearly omnipotent evil, so one was invented, basically.

In the post-Hitler world, we still have a need to personify evil this way, but we no longer have to create myths to do so. All we have to do is open a history book.

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