I use Nazis as a catch-all for any systemic atrocity that egregiously violates human rights. I know the appeal is a false equivalence to Nazis and my argument. However, I notice that often times when people get upset in an argument they end up proving Godwin's Law true (probability in discussion evoking comparisons to Nazis/Hitler approaches 1 as t -> infinity).

Is there a term for the erroneous comparison or evocation of hyperbolic evil in an argument? What labels are there for such fallacies?

  • In most cases it would be better to use the word “fascism”, or “fascist”. – Gordon Nov 13 '19 at 16:33

Some texts call the fallacy of an appeal to a Nazi comparison to be "Reductio ad Hitlerum" or 'argumentum ad Hitlerum' (in this case 'Hitler' and 'Nazi' are synonymous or interchangeable).

The nice thing about informal logic is that an argument made in a natural language often require us to paraphrase it so that it can be presented as an actual argument.

Paraphrasing provides us with flexibility, and depending on how it is done, the argument could be guilty of a number of different fallacies.

It could be a persuasive ad hominem when the argument is suggesting "You can't believe X, that's something a Nazi would say!"

Appeals to Nazis could also be considered a faulty analogy, when the accusation takes the form: X is like what the Nazi's said/did therefore X is false/wrong (provided X isn't about mass-murder!)

It can be considered a non-sequitur since it does not follow from the fact that Hitler believed X, that X is false. Hitler (presumably) believed that Germany is a country, that the earth is round, that the sky is blue, that Pi is 3.14159, that the acceleration due to gravity is 9.8 m/(s^2), and many other facts. These facts are not magically 'undone' because a monster recognized them to be true.

The previous examples also show that such appeals to Nazi's are absurd, and thus we can also critique them via reductio ad absurdum.

Finally these arguments can be construed to commit the association fallacy, or guilt by association.

And those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. The point is that you can stick with Reductio Ad Hitlerum but you have other options as well.

  • 1
    There is a danger though that these criticisms of Nazi comparisons "prove too much" in the sense that they could be used to dismiss such comparisons even in a situation where a state was actually sliding to a Nazi-like regime or genocide, or worse that, they could be used to dismiss any historical analogies between a present situation and a past one whatsoever. So assuming one believes historical analogies are at times relevant, one needs some criteria for how to distinguish cases where they are from cases where they aren't. – Hypnosifl Nov 13 '19 at 6:49
  • @Hypnosifl you are correct! There do seem to be circumstances that warrant a legitimate comparison. I am curious if anyone has published work on this? I would caution that because so many people abuse the analogy, If you chose to use it-- even when appropriate-- you will have to justify your decision. I personally try to avoid using it in debates because interlocutors who don't have a strong case for their own position will exert considerable effort to shift the discussion to the analogy itself, and thus put you on the defensive. It's cheap rhetoric, but that doesn't stop people. – Rob Nov 17 '19 at 15:32

The Just Like Hitler Maneuver is an example of affirming the consequent, which produces an invalid conclusion. The argument, if that is the word, goes like this:

Hitler and His Nefarious Ilk all liked ice cream.

You like ice cream.

Thus: You are just like Hitler.

The minor premise affirms the consequent (ice cream) of the major premise. The reasoning says that because the consequent is true, so is the antecedent (Hitler); but this is incorrect.

See the web page: Logically Fallacious > Affirming the Consequent.

Also, the syllogism has an undistributed middle term (ice cream), which also invalidates the argument. See: https://philosophy.lander.edu/logic/middle_fall.html

  • To be a clear example of affirming the consequent the first premise of syllogism should be changed to "All Nazis like ice cream" and the conclusion to "you are a Nazi", "just like Hitler" isn't putting you in some clearly-defined category that the first premise made an assertion about. But I don't think people who make analogies between present situations and Nazis are generally making arguments with this structure, see my comment to Rob about the issue of proving too much--you could take any historical analogy and strawman it as this form of argument. – Hypnosifl Nov 13 '19 at 8:05
  • @Hypnosifl You are correct about the need to revise the premises for precision. But Jagthegr's question asks about "comparisons" to Hitler, so the "just like" phrase is appropriate. – Mark Andrews Nov 14 '19 at 2:38

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