Why ‘Nazi analogies’ are a bad idea

Comparison to the Nazis or actions by the party are often made. I will not deny that there are times when a comparison is apt. I consider it a social faux pas , and inappropriate for a the following reason:

1. Demagogy: To make a Nazi comparison with something is basically a loaded assertion or allegation. The standard reaction to anything that the Nazis have done is unequivocal derision. This works well as a political or rhetorical device. Any good argument, or speech, should appeal to more rational tools than the intellectually impoverished appeal to demagogy.

2. The common logical fallacy: Comparison with the Nazi’s is often an equivocation with moral ascriptions ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’. This is implicitly assumed in a lot of Nazi comparisons. To denigrate a proposal as associated with the Nazi’s in some way suggests that it is implicitly wrong. This asserts or posits as a question something that is basically asserted. This is what one may call ‘question-begging’. This is also an ad hominem response.

3. Lack of imagination: This is an objection that I consider not so much an argument but an appeal. In a practical light, given controversies in the past. It seems highly ignorant, for instance, to call a sense of alleged dogmatism or strict enforcement as being nazi-like. We could say that parking ticket officers are nazis; people who are pedagogic about seemingly archaic rules of grammar are nazi’s, or strict educators are nazis. This is more a lack of imagination than anything. If we are to consider such an expression to be synonymous with strictness or dogmatism; why not consider the anti-facists who in some respects are anti-liberal, to be ‘nazis’? I think that the more extreme of anti-facist campaigners would not appreciate this irony.

One caveat to make is that there are many instances, especially in metaethics, when an examination of the moral psychology of the period is of continuing interest. Historical analogies are also apt when addressing 20thC history, or toward our understanding of current affairs (considering the Berlin wall anniversary, for instance). Nazi analogies are being overused and used often perniciously. Genuine comparison becomes more difficult or apt to make for this reason


As I was thinking about this subject for a blog post, I thought of this possible and ignorant response that made me both fear being misunderstood and perniciously misrepresented. It is this kind of lack of appreciation for the ceteris paribus clause that is problematic with the Nazi Analogy.


One thought on “Why ‘Nazi analogies’ are a bad idea

  1. Like you, I believe these kinds of analogies are usually weakly drawn, spurious and – frankly – pointless. It weakens one’s case enormously to make an analogy that is heavy on sensationalism and light on relevance. This is happening all the time in the US with the furore over healthcare reform… *Everything* seems to be “evidence” that Obama is analogous to the Third Reich. Crazy! 🙂

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