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The Hitler/Nazi comparison is one of the most common analogies in informal debates and political arenas. Quick and dirty, a user seeks to put an opponent on the defensive by associating them with evil. It doubles as a personal attack.

It usually comes in the form of either ideas or people. The Nazis supported x, therefore it is bad to support x. Hitler supported idea y. When this other person supports idea y, they are just as bad as Hitler.

The case for the extension of reductio ad absurdum is more straightforward, but

Does the overuse of an analogy contribute to its weakness? Is there a limit to how much an analogy can be used before it loses its argumentative power? Do analogies have to be original to hold weight?

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  • "Do analogies have to be original to hold weight?" In what sense? Jun 14, 2022 at 7:20
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA Novel enough that your opponent hasn't heard of it, or simply not as common.
    – DdogBoss
    Jun 14, 2022 at 7:22
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    See e.g. Analogy: "In ancient Greek the word αναλογια (analogia) originally meant proportionality, in the mathematical sense, and it was indeed sometimes translated to Latin as proportio. From there analogy was understood as identity of relation between any two ordered pairs, whether of mathematical nature or not." Maybe not "identity of relation", but we need some sort of "proportionality: in Hitler-dog vs Hitler-nazi ideology and society there is no proportionality between the relations. Jun 14, 2022 at 7:24
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA Ok. Hitler would exist in his own category of making him disproportional to others. Got it. But there are probably other aspects of what make the analogy so terrible, no?
    – DdogBoss
    Jun 14, 2022 at 7:38
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    I don't think it's so much overuse as trivial use. The reason the Nazis were such a symbol of evil is because of the genocide they committed, and because that genocide was recorded in photos and videos so it has a more visceral effect than a mere recounting. But the attack is routinely used against political opponents who have nothing particular in common with the Nazis philosophically, and who have never advocated nor done anything remotely like genocide, so it has degenerated into nothing but a smear word. It has come to mean nothing more profound than "I hate you". Jun 14, 2022 at 12:47

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Reductio ad Hitlerum. According to Leo Strauss who coined it, this can be a form of ad hominem, ad misericordiam, or a fallacy of irrelevance. See also Godwin's Law, coined to describe how partison non-Socratic-dialogue arguments online tend to deteriorate until Hitler comparisons are made, at which point total polarisation of views has happened and no emergent consensus or agreement can be reached.

It's an example of an informal fallacy, which is most certainly a category that can recieve valid criticism. Fallacy theory or discourse about fallacies, is basically a way to improve debate. You can respond 'that' s just an ad hominem argument' say, & it's a shorthand that can avoid the rhetorical sophist intents of something said in bad faith, what might be called philosophical bullshit, 'arguments intended to pursuade without regard to truth'.

In a discussion about 1930-1940s Germany, or about defining the term fascism, it could be crucial to make analogies and comparisons to Hitler. But as per Godwin's Law, in ordinary debate accusing other participants of being like Hitler tends only to indicate the meaningful part of discussion has ended and sides are now only hurling insults.

The idea of the fascia, the bundle of sticks with an axe, was related to how pillars in antiquity were made from bound logs - this is still referenced by the grooves on columns and decorative flourishes at the top. These were associated with temples and palaces of antiquity, and the idea of reclaiming something lost in the fall of Ancient Rome (ironically to the Germans). The key components of fascism were, uniting power in one person like the emperor of Rome in contradistinction to seperation-of-powers, and corporatism which is a collectivisation of businesses under that central power, and nationalism with attendant cultural imperialism. I always liked Umberto Eco's observations, especially:

“By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak."

How weakened the charge of fascism or of being like Hitler is, can be found in how Trump and Putin really have to be described as fascists - totally authoritarians believing they should have unlimited power, see business and commerce only in relation to serving their interests, and ultranationalists. The Great Replacement conspiracy theory is just a reworking of guiding Nazi concept 'lebensraum'. And Putin's great influencer Alexander Dugin openly advocates for fascism. But Putin & Trump don't get called Nazis or like Hitler, because that doesn't achieve anything useful, if anything it distracts from their specific crimes, rather than drawing focus to what they represent and advocate.

The deeper problem is, the formless shifting nature of fascism, was what enabled it's rise to lead to the bloodiest war in human history. And if that happens again, we will have nuclear weapons, likely wiping out most of the biosphere and humans in a nuclear winter.

After WW2 a great deal of attention was paid to what the warning signs were before the war, and even before it with It Can't Happen Here a 1935 novel about the rise of a direct US equivalent to Hitler that eerily describes qualities of Trump's rise from nearly a century ago. Yet, the parallels between the Sturmabteilung that got Hitler into power and groups like The Proud Boys that stormed the Capitol, seem still to be widely ignored or downplayed.

The overuse of Hitler comparisons, has distracted from the very real dangers we face and lessons to take from the past. I see it as crucial not to give up on defining fascism, but to argue it out, every generation; or the dangers will be forgotten and disguised until it's too late. It is not simply about an enemy 'out there', but an atavism constantly at risk of reemerging from human history, because:

"The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart -- and through all human hearts" -Solzhenitsyn

It is all too easy to fall for promises from the worst parts of our own natures, if you don't understand where they lead.

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  • Interesting. Just to clarify, a Nazi comparison is justified when it is used to prevent the rise of fascism?
    – DdogBoss
    Jun 14, 2022 at 16:27
  • @DdogBoss: I'd say it's not useful any more. Instead point to the specific problematic action or behaviour, & if needed to explain the danger go to history
    – CriglCragl
    Jun 14, 2022 at 16:47
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    Feedback on downvotes is always appreciated.
    – CriglCragl
    Jun 14, 2022 at 21:24
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Does the overuse of an analogy contribute to its weakness?

Yes, in the same way that familiarity breeds contempt.

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  • I guess there is truth to that.
    – DdogBoss
    Jun 17, 2022 at 2:52
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The Hitler/Nazi comparison is one of the most common analogies in informal debates and political arenas.

I mean those are basically the blitz chess versions of discussions where it's about your personal aptitude to be charming, witted, fast on your feet and to produce meaningless hot air statements that sound profound but offer no real angle of attack for other people.

That might be a fun exercise, but it's not really any meaningful. A solid argument should also hold under scrutiny and if you give the other person time to think about it. So that shock value and surprise attacks aren't really working. Like it's not a sign of defeat when you say "hold on, I need a second to think that through". It might even be harmful because speed comes with repetition, but ideally you want to learn something new and interesting or at least expand on what you know, not repeat the same thing over and over again.

And even if your idea is activism and winning a dispute no matter what then you'd probably go for broadcasting and propaganda (propagating your idea) rather than having repetitive 1on1 discussions.

That all being said. It's still a little more complicated than that transitive relation of a bad faith argument along the lines of "your actions" = "nazi actions", "nazis"="evil" therefore "you"="evil" and the non sequiturs you may have along the way.

I mean the larger problem is that it's undisputed that the outcome of the Nazi regime was horrific. That it murdered more than 10 million people and cost almost 100 million lives in the world war, BUT what is however much more difficult to pin down is "what was it about", "where did it start" and most importantly "How can we prevent it from ever happening again".

Like it's still hard to pin down what fascism even is and quite some definitions only list adjectives of the classical fascist regimes (Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, etc). Like seriously it's a mess: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Definitions_of_fascism

So I'd argue (take that with a grain of salt and if there are more knowledgable people feel free to correct me), that it's less of a coherent ideology and more about something performative. Like a "society at war". Picture something like Orwell's 1984 where the hatred towards "the enemy" keeps the system together, the propaganda, the hatred, the solidarity in order to achieve a common goal, the purpose that glosses over the desperate conditions, but also the paranoia, the ultra nationalism, seeing the enemy in everyone that is not in line, that is not doing their best, that is not necessary for the war but consumes resources needed for the war and the hatred that comes with that due to the sacrifices already made for the cause.

And so "the enemy" is crucial for the continued existence of the war and so for the continued existence of the system that can only justify itself through "necessity of war". But "the enemy" isn't necessarily even a physical being, because if that system would defeat it's enemy then it would be exposed that all the societal problems are still there, none of them are solved and that nothing of had anything to do with any enemy. So at that point the system would either collapse or the ruling class that profited of this unquestioned position of power due to a savior status would just conceive a new enemy and turn the destruction inwards.

However if you'd define fascism like that, then fascism can crop up anywhere and almost everyone could be susceptible to fascism. Wherever you can define an "enemy" and form a community to fight it you could fall into the pitfall of fascism. Either deliberately, in that you stir fear and hate so that people accept your savior status or involuntary as hatred and fear put you in a dangerous autopilot. And that's a daunting thought and it's not anywhere reasonably preventable as forming communities is necessary and in and of itself not really a problem, people usually agree that solidarity and working towards a common goal is a good thing.

So fascism would start somewhere around making "an enemy" front and center and dehumanize "it". So problem is that can happen rather fast and once such a group dynamic takes a life of it's own it becomes increasingly harder to stop it from the inside. As you'd be in cahoots with "the enemy" and thus you'd receive a lot of hatred too.

So afaik consensus seems to be that if you want to disrupt it you'd need to do it early on: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_stages_of_genocide And it's not enough to "fight it" either, as that would just create a mirror image. You'd need to provide a positive alternative.

So comparisons to the Nazis are not just bad faith accusations. Like several definitions of fascism more or less rely on that and pointing out that a group or person has fascist tendencies is not necessarily a judgement of their character and a bad faith ad hominem attack it could also be a necessary warning to calm things down.

Likewise the attempt to argue "it's lost all meaning", "If I'm a fascist and everyone's a fascist, then nobody is a fascist and fascism is ok, cause I am ok" are the much more dangerous bad faith arguments. Because they push back the point at which action is taken and thereby make it much more difficult to take action.

Last but not least, coming back to your question. Well no it doesn't make an argument weaker if it's repeated, if it fits, it fits, if it doesn't, it doesn't. Though if you repeat the same argument over an over again it's likely that people will develop bad faith rhetoric against it. "Oh again the Nazi argument", "nothing but ad hominem attacks", "it lost all meaning" and if they find an audience gullible enough to buy that shit, then this can be a problem. Though that is not really the arguments fault and rather the problem with the audience being gullible or deliberately misinformed and uneducated to not realize the bad faith counter for what it is. You can to a degree rephrase the argument with your own words without distorting the power of it, but if you're unlucky that just leads to a "gotcha! that's the same argument". Well yeah a good argument doesn't have to reinvent itself, only a falsehood should need to.

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  • "And it's not enough to 'fight it' either, as that would just create a mirror image. You'd need to provide a positive alternative." Excellent point. The hopeless economic situation from WW1 reparations was a big part of Nazi rise. Declining rural & ex-industrial areas tend to be where extreme politics take hold, & increasing geographical partisan sorting is making that worse. Fascism doesn't appear from nowhere, but from a long history of government failure to give people hope.
    – CriglCragl
    Jun 14, 2022 at 15:23
  • The use of an enemy is a rhetorical trick when one is preaching to the choir. Back to the original analogy definition, Hitler comparisons are only strong when you tell it to the people who believe it.
    – DdogBoss
    Jun 14, 2022 at 16:31
  • @CriglCragl The political, economical, military and demographic situation in post-WWI Germany was "difficult" but that's not to say that it was hopeless. Also what do you consider as "a long history"? Because the Weimar Republic lasted from 1918/19 depending how you count till '25 (election of Hindenburg), '30 (Presidential Governments) or 33 (power grab by Hitler). And the NSDAP only really got traction after 1930 so 3 years and the actual power grab from being appointed government to dictatorship took weeks. And before the WR it was a military dictatorship so an entirely different system.
    – haxor789
    Jun 14, 2022 at 21:00
  • @haxor789: I said the economics were hopeless, hyperinflation etc. "The German people saw reparations as a national humiliation; the German Government worked to undermine the validity of the Treaty of Versailles and the requirement to pay. British economist John Maynard Keynes called the treaty a Carthaginian peace that would economically destroy Germany." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_reparations Historians take a more nuanced view now I admit. Post-industry decline inc militarily, is peculiarly corrosive. Ok 'long history' was overstating, but substantial failures of government
    – CriglCragl
    Jun 14, 2022 at 21:23
  • @CriglCragl It's a little more complicated. The Treaty of Versailles is at least partially a result of the Treaty of Frankfurt where Prussia forged a reason to go to war with France, demanded massive reparations (1450 tons of gold) which financed the economic boom in Germany in the following years and as an additional middle finger declared the 2nd German Empire in Versaille. So after the aggressive wars of 1870+1914 France actually intended to break Germany's ability to strike again. And because of the ridiculous sums they were often reduced and/or suspended.
    – haxor789
    Jun 14, 2022 at 22:10

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