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Reductio ad Hitlerum

Reductio ad Hitlerum (/ˈhɪtlərəm/; pseudo-Latin for "reduction to Hitler"; sometimes argumentum ad Hitlerum, "argument to Hitler", ad Nazium, "to Nazism"), or playing the Nazi card, is an attempt to invalidate someone else's position on the basis that the same view was held by Adolf Hitler or the Nazi Party,[1] for example: "Hitler was against tobacco smoking, X is against tobacco smoking, therefore X is a Nazi".

Coined by Leo Strauss in 1953, reductio ad Hitlerum borrows its name from the term used in logic, reductio ad absurdum (reduction to the absurd).[2] According to Strauss, reductio ad Hitlerum is a form of ad hominem, ad misericordiam, or a fallacy of irrelevance. The suggested rationale is one of guilt by association. It is a tactic often used to derail arguments, because such comparisons tend to distract and anger the opponent.[3]

Fallacious natureEdit

Reductio ad Hitlerum is a form of association fallacy.[3][4] The argument is that a policy leads to – or is the same as – one advocated or implemented by Adolf Hitler or the Third Reich and so "proves" that the original policy is undesirable.

Another instance of reductio ad Hitlerum is asking a question of the form "You know who else...?" with the deliberate intent of impugning a certain idea or action by implying Hitler held that idea or performed such action.[5]

An invocation of Hitler or Nazism is not a reductio ad Hitlerum when it illuminates the argument instead of causing distraction from it.[6]

HistoryEdit

The phrase reductio ad Hitlerum is first known to have been used in an article written by University of Chicago professor Leo Strauss for Measure: A Critical Journal in spring 1951;[7] it was made famous in a book by the same author published in 1953[1] Natural Right and History, Chapter II:

In following this movement towards its end we shall inevitably reach a point beyond which the scene is darkened by the shadow of Hitler. Unfortunately, it does not go without saying that in our examination we must avoid the fallacy that in the last decades has frequently been used as a substitute for the reductio ad absurdum: the reductio ad Hitlerum. A view is not refuted by the fact that it happens to have been shared by Hitler.

The phrase was derived from the legitimate logical argument called reductio ad absurdum. The argumentum variant takes its form from the names of many classic fallacies, such as argumentum ad hominem. The ad Nazium variant may be further derived, humorously, from argumentum ad nauseam.

In 2000, Thomas Fleming described its use against traditional values:

Leo Strauss called it the reductio ad Hitlerum. If Hitler liked neoclassical art, that means that classicism in every form is Nazi; if Hitler wanted to strengthen the German family, that makes the traditional family (and its defenders) Nazi; if Hitler spoke of the "nation" or the "folk", then any invocation of nationality, ethnicity, or even folkishness is Nazi ...[8]

Limits to classification as a fallacyEdit

Some historians[specify] studying the Holocaust argue that not all comparisons to Hitler and Nazism are logical fallacies since if they all were, there would be nothing to learn from the events that led to the Holocaust. That would undermine the entire significance of studying the Holocaust to avoid future genocides.[9][10]

AntecedentsEdit

Although named for and formalized around Hitler, the logical fallacy existed prior to the Second World War. There were other individuals from history who were used as stand-ins for pure evil.[11] In the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries the Pharaoh of the Book of Exodus was commonly seen as the most villainous person in history.[11] In the years prior to the Civil War, abolitionists referred to slaveholders as modern-day Pharaohs. After VE Day, Pharaoh continued to appear in the speeches of social reformers like Martin Luther King Jr.[11] Judas Iscariot and Pontius Pilate were also commonly held up as pure evil. However, there was no universal Hitler-like person and different regions and times used different stand-ins.[11] In the years after the American Revolution, King George III was often vilified in the United States. Andrew Jackson was also called King Andrew the First. During the Civil War, some Southerners spoke of Lincoln in Hitler-like terms; some Confederates called Lincoln a "modern Pharaoh".[11]

InvocationsEdit

In 1991, Michael André Bernstein alleged reductio ad Hitlerum over a full-page advertisement placed in The New York Times by the Lubavitch community, following the Crown Heights Riot, under the heading "This Year Kristallnacht Took Place on August 19th Right Here in Crown Heights." Henry Schwarzschild, who had witnessed Kristallnacht, wrote to the New York Times that "however ugly were the anti-Semitic slogans and the assaultive behavior of people in the streets [during the Crown Heights riots]... one thing that clearly did not take place was a Kristallnacht."[12]

The American Conservative accused Jonah Goldberg's book Liberal Fascism of employing the reductio fallacy:

That Nazism and contemporary liberalism both promote healthy living is as meaningless a finding as that bloody marys and martinis may both be made with gin. Repeatedly, Goldberg fails to recognize a reductio ad absurdum. ... In no case does Goldberg uncover anything more ominous than a coincidence.[13]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b "Natural Right and History". University of Oklahoma. 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-11.
  2. ^ Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965 [1953], p. 42.
  3. ^ a b Curtis, Gary N. (2004). "Logical Fallacy: The Hitler Card". Fallacy Files. Retrieved 2007-10-08.
  4. ^ Curtis, Gary N. (2004). "Logical Fallacy: Guilt by Association". Fallacy Files. Retrieved 2007-10-08.
  5. ^ "You know who else ___? Origin? - catchphrase meme". Ask MetaFilter. Retrieved 2013-01-10.
  6. ^ Gabriel H. Teninbaum, Reduction ad Hitlerum: Trumping the Judicial Nazi Card. Michigan State Law Review, Vol. 2009, p. 541-578, 2009
  7. ^ Hutchins, Robert Maynard (1951). Measure: A Critical Journal. H. Regnery Company. Retrieved 5 February 2014.
  8. ^ Thomas Fleming, editor, Chronicles (Rockford, Illinois), May 2000, p. 11.
  9. ^ Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen 1997
  10. ^ "Eichmann was Outrageously Stupid". Hannah Arendt: The Last Interview: And Other Conversations. November 9, 1964.
  11. ^ a b c d e Brian Palmer (October 4, 2011). "Before Hitler, Who Was the Stand-In for Pure Evil?". Slate. Retrieved November 27, 2014.
  12. ^ "Foregone Conclusions". Escholarship.org. Retrieved 2011-07-07. The Lubavitcher community itself, in the form of the 'Crown Heights Emergency Fund,' placed a full-page advertisement in The New York Times on September 20, 1991, under the heading 'This Year Kristallnacht Took Place on August 19th Right Here in Crown Heights.' Their version of Leo Strauss's reductio ad Hitlerum was rightly perceived by those who had been in Germany on Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938) as an outrageous comparison.
  13. ^ Austin Bramwell (January 28, 2008). "Goldberg's Trivial Pursuit". The American Conservative. Retrieved 30 January 2014.

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