There are some things stupid arguments can't solve. For everything else, there's The Hitler Card.
Also known as "Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies". Originated by Richard Sexton, and popularized by Mike Godwin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (and of the Wikimedia Foundation
until 2010) in 1990 in the form:
As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis
Reformulated in the Net.Legends FAQ
s "Usenet Rule #4":
"Any off-topic mention of Hitler or Nazis will cause the thread it is mentioned in to come to an irrelevant and off-topic end very soon; every thread on Usenet
has a constantly-increasing probability to contain such a mention."
It is generally accepted that whoever is the first to play the "Hitler card"
has lost the argument as well as any trace of respect, as having to resort to comparing your adversary to the most infamous mass-murdering dictator in history generally means you've run out of better
arguments. Thus, once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress. This principle is itself frequently referred to as Godwin's law.
The usage of Godwin's Law also has "Henderson's Law" as a corollary, referring to an observation by Joel Henderson that while Mike Godwin specifically stated this to pertain to "gratuitous Hitler-comparisons", Godwin's Law has been frivolously thrown at any
comparison no matter how accurate or on-point. Case example: Jon Stewart of The Daily Show criticizing comparisons to Hitler.
Note that the Law is not supposed to apply to serious discussions of Fascist Germany or its policies
, but rather describes the logical fallacy of Hitler/Nazi comparisons. The most common forms of this are "The Nazis supported X, therefore X is bad"
, or alternatively, "The Nazis opposed X, therefore X is good"
. Whether using "Nazi" as a random insult falls under the Law is a matter of debate. Unfortunately, this has become so popular as to come full-circle, making any discussion of totalitarian regimes susceptible to "HAY GODWIN'S LAW HURR".
As Quirk's Exception points out, attempting to invoke Godwin's Law intentionally
in order to force-terminate a thread rarely works. All the same, shouting "Hitler!" is a fun way to express your opinion that a thread should be put to rest. Of course, it's also helping Hitler indirectly, as his greatest expressed wish was to be remembered forever, which means that you're just as bad as Hitler, you horrible Nazi-bastard.
However, this corollary is not
in the law itself. Likewise, trying to bait your opponent into breaking the law is poor form too. Sometimes commenters will try to get around mentioning Hitler's name directly (e.g. "You know who ELSE got rejected in art school? THAT'S RIGHT."), but this is really no better.
Events in the Harry Potter
fandom have led Fandom_Wank
to coin the Pacific Theater Corollary
, in which someone invokes the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the same way.
Occasionally Stalin is referenced, often by people who are aware of
Godwin's Law but want to convey a similar message; in this case, this might slip into the Commie Nazis
trope. Some people will be topical and use Osama bin Laden
or slavery (especially America's brand of it) as the canonical ultimate evil. However, any of these can also be seen to have violated Godwin's Law, since the point remains: comparing your argument to a clear and non-debatable atrocity is simply bad debating, since it implies that the opposition has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and is obviously insensitive to real-life victims and their descendants.
A good example of this can be found in one of the debates between Bill O'Reilly and Richard Dawkins. O'Reilly makes the argument that society needs religion to be moral because Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao were all Atheists.
In fan circles, there's the "true fan
" argument, in which anyone who plays the "true fan" card automatically loses the argument:
"After a rather influential message by M Sipher in 1997 the term 'true fan' has taken on a whole new meaning among some TransFans. It's a sort of twist on Godwin's Law where anybody who accuses somebody of not being a true fan automatically loses any argument, and is often discounted as a buffoon afterwards."
Note that some lay claim to the ability to invoke "Bentsen's Defense" (i.e. "I knew Mike Godwin, Mike Godwin was a friend of mine — you, sir are no Mike Godwin") to negate invocations of Godwin's Law. Note, also, that this is only available to those who can truthfully make the statement and that it is designed to foster reasoned discussion — not to deter it.
Pre-Mike Godwin and its prevalence on the Internet, the spoken and written word version of this was called reductio ad Hitlerum
or argumentum ad Hitlerum
, coined by ethical philosopher Leo Strauss in 1953. It means pretty much the same as Godwin's Law: "A view is not refuted by the fact that it happens to have been shared by Hitler."
George Orwell said something similar in his 1946 essay, "Politics and the English Language
", where he noted the new definition of fascism had pretty much become "anything you don't agree with". There's also a very catchy tune
on the subject, as there is with most things.
This trope is (perhaps not surprisingly, given human nature
) Older Than They Think
. Prior to the 1940s, the go-to villains were generally Biblical
, such as the Pharaoh of the Exodus, Pontius Pilate, or Judas.
Showcased on QI
as "Godwin's Rule", giving an example of Hitler's love of animals (and disgust of fox hunting) as a fallacious reason to keep fox hunting legal, though this wiki considers that a wholly separate logical fallacy: Hitler Ate Sugar
Heavily overlaps with demonization
and can be seen as its modern, secular adaptation. See also Abomination Accusation Attack
. Not to be confused with Godwin's Law of Time Travel
. It might
be justified when seriously discussing genocide
, since the Holocaust is pretty much the Trope Codifier
that most other genocides are measured against. The word was even first coined in reference to it.
A more recent subvariant on Godwin's Law doesn't involve Hitler (or even other genocidal dictators), but invokes Pædo Hunt
to draw a quick and emotional reaction by dragging the subject or accusation of pedophilia into a discussion entirely
unrelated to it.
For example, a post on how the United States
should emulate Japan's gun laws will get a comment screaming about whether the US should allow sexualization of underage girls too, never mind that the topics have nothing to do with each other
and it is
possible for a country to have both strict gun controls and strict laws against sexualizing children. A similar example would be someone, in reply to something citing Amsterdam as a good case for legalizing certain plants
, commenting "The Netherlands has a registered political party of pedophiles, should we have that too?" never mind that drug legalization and the party have nothing to do with each other and that said party is not taken seriously as a political party by anyone but its own membership. A more direct form is simple Ad Hominem
and Abomination Accusation Attack
- proclaiming someone one is arguing with to be a pedophile with no
evidence to back the accusation, or with very flimsy evidence ("Your avatar is from Glee
!"). The Daily Mail
for both forms of this, as well, to generate clicks on stories and paper sales.
As Godwin's Law doesn't qualify if the discussion is actually about Nazis or genocide or similar, this subvariant doesn't qualify if the subject can even tangentially
be related to pedophilia, pedophiles, underage sex, depictions of it in fiction, or anything similar, or if the person one is arguing with/fighting is actually a real pedophile, in which a mention of or comparison to pedophiles or pedophilia is valid and justified.
Similar to Godwin's Law, such a comment should be taken as a loss of the debate by whomever was the first to play the "pedo card."
There is one situation where Godwin's Law, where played, can be used to win an argument by default, as in these specific and unique circumstances it can stifle and discredit critical opinion. Any criticism of actions taken by the State of Israel, however minor, however legitimate, tends to be met by floods of accusations that the person making the argument is being self-evidently anti-Semitic and even behaving like a Nazi or acting to carry on where Hitler left off. The more vocal supporters of Israel, including Christian Zionists, use this argument shamelessly and frequently, using the power of the Holocaust to shame opponents of today's Israeli state into silence.