Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rick Santorum routinely violates Godwin's Law

Back in 1990, attorney Mike Godwin made the following observation: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1." Pardon me for citing the Wikipedia entry for Reductio ad Hitlerum, but the definition there is both well-written and relevant:
Reductio ad Hitlerum, also argumentum ad Hitlerum, (Latin for "reduction to" and "argument to" and dog Latin for "Hitler" respectively) is an ad hominem or ad misericordiam argument whereby an opponent's view is compared to a view that would be held by Adolf Hitler or the Nazi Party. It is a fallacy of irrelevance, in which a conclusion is suggested based solely on something's or someone's origin rather than its current meaning. The suggested logic is one of guilt by association.

Its name is a variation on reductio ad absurdum, and was coined by political philosopher Leo Strauss, in 1953. Engaging in this fallacy is sometimes known as playing the Nazi card, by analogy to playing the race card. The tactic is often used to derail arguments, because such comparisons tend to distract and anger the opponent. While an ad Hitlerum is often used to directly compare a statement to a view held by Hitler, it can be used informally to compare any thing to any other thing. The term ad Hitlerum can be used to describe most association fallacies.
The use of Hitler analogies has become pandemic in the American political Right, and few are worse offenders than Rick Santorum, as noted by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post last week.
Nazi comparisons are the most extreme form of political speech; once one ties his political opponents to the most deplorable chapter in human history, all reasoned argument ceases.

Yet this is where Santorum exists, in a place of binary extremes of good and evil, where his political foe isn’t just wrong but adheres to a “phony theology” not found in the Bible. His frequent tendency to go from zero to Nazi over ordinary political disagreements is typical of the emotional appeal he has to conservative primary voters, but it also shows why he’s outside the bounds major political parties have applied to their past presidential nominees.
Read the rest at the Washington Post.

I don't think Santorum is likely to get the GOP nomination, but the fact that his behavior is tolerated and even applauded on the Right is troubling.

No comments: